Rafa Benitez says that going for a meal with Mike Ashley (and 40+ coaching staff, players and Ashley hanger-ons) was no big deal.
Wednesday night’s pizza/pasta party predictably being a big topic of interest at the pre-match press conference on Friday afternoon.
The Newcastle Manager says that these type of nights out have been regular events at his previous clubs and indeed throughout football. However, with the situation being so political at St James Park, little wonder this particular meal got extra attention.
I get the impression that maybe Rafa Benitez isn’t too upset at the distraction the meal has provided, as Newcastle face a very tough match at old Trafford, already sat in the relegation zone.
Despite Manchester United only winning four of their opening ten games in all competitions and none of their last four, Rafa scoffs at the idea that this is ‘fragile’ Man Utd team.
Benitz says he is sure that both clubs will see their teams in far healthier positions come May.
On the injury front, the manager confirmed that Salomon Rondon, Florian Lejeune and Jamie Sterry were the three players definitely ruled out, whilst both Fernandez and Dummett will have to be assessed to see if they are fit enough to return after missing the Leicester match.
Newcastle have only won one league match at Old Trafford since 1972 I’m pretty sure most travelling fans would settle for a point tomorrow.
No doubt Rafa Benitez already has his eyes on the games against the likes of Brighton and Southampton that will follow Man Utd and this upcoming international break.
“It was a pleasant dinner and that’s it.
“Everything that we were talking about will stay between us.
“Normally, in all the teams I have been (at), we used to have some kind of dinner with the owner or the president. It is something very common in football.
“I will not talk too much about that, because we have to concentrate on the game. We have a very important game to play.
“As I said, it was a pleasant dinner, we talked about everything and now we have to concentrate on football.
“There was a good atmosphere, the players are fine, everybody was relaxed and that’s it.
(Asked whether a contract renewal was discussed) “We were talking about Manchester United, how difficult it will be and what we have to do to beat them.”
“In all of my time in England, I don’t remember any ‘fragile’ Manchester United team.
“All of them, every year, have been really strong, with good managers and good players, so I don’t see any Manchester United team being fragile.
“I can see a team that everybody was expecting could be higher, but it is a question of time, it is like us.
“If you remember last year, for example, we were in the bottom three and people were saying, ‘Oh, you are in the bottom three.’
“But, who are at the top of the table in the Premier League? The three teams who have spent more money than anyone.
“And who are at the bottom? The three teams that didn’t spend too much money.
“That is a normal situation. We are in a position that we could expect to be in looking at the fixtures, it is very difficult, but I am also quite positive.
“I say I have to be realistic, but at the same time I am optimistic. If you look at the teams who were at the bottom (this time) last year, it was Everton, Bournemouth and Crystal Palace, and none of those were relegated.
“It’s a long race, and we have to carry on. We have confidence.
“We did it last year, and this year, with this group of players, they work really hard and it is a question of time. We will have teams at our level that we can compete (against), where we can win, and the first win will give us confidence and it will be easier for us to carry on winning games (after that), like we did last year.
“I have to assess Fede (Fernandez) and (Paul) Dummett, obviously (Salomon) Rondon and (Florian) Lejeune are not available, and (Jamie) Sterry has a problem, so he too will not be available.”