Rafael Benitez warns Newcastle they cannot relax in battle to avoid drop

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Rafael Benitez admits keeping Newcastle in the Premier League would be a “massive” achievement – but one which is not yet within his grasp.

A man who has Champions League glory and league titles to his name has guided the Magpies to perhaps as little as one victory from their main aim for the season heading into Saturday’s trip to Leicester.

However, he will not rest until they have reached the 40-point mark – they currently have 35 – and even then, the work will continue.

Asked if securing top-flight football would be like winning a trophy, the Spaniard replied: “It would be massive for me and my staff, and for the city and the club.

“It is the first season in the Premier League and that is always difficult – but we still have to do it.

“I have to do the opposite of what some people think. I have to make sure we do not have any complacency and that everybody is concentrated. It is not done yet. The target is still 40 points and we have to get there.

“I don’t think we can relax. If we get 40, we will try to get more, but 40 is still the number. We don’t need to talk about anything else. How can we win at Leicester and get to 38?”

The game at the King Power Stadium is a repeat of Benitez’s first in charge at Newcastle, a 1-0 defeat in March 2016, and much has changed since with only three of the men who started that night – skipper Jamaal Lascelles, midfielder Jonjo Shelvey and striker Ayoze Perez – likely to do so this time around.

Asked about the transformation since, the manager said: “We knew that was a difficult time. We didn’t have too much time. We had to change a lot of things.

“Relegation was a big change, then we had to move players around and bring in new players for the Championship after that, the Premier League is another challenge.

“We can see a big difference between that team and this one in terms of quality and names, but the main difference is the character and mentality of this group of players.”

Striker Islam Slimani, who finally made his debut as a substitute in last Saturday’s 1-0 win over Huddersfield, is ineligible to play against his parent club, but Joselu has recovered from an ankle injury and could be included.

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