Newcastle vs Burnley - Benitez focused on Burnley clash amid Leicester link

Posted Tuesday, February 26, 2019 by PA

Newcastle vs Burnley - Benitez focused on Burnley clash amid Leicester link

Newcastle boss Rafael Benitez has side-stepped speculation that his name appears prominently on the list of candidates to succeed Claude Puel at Leicester.

The 58-year-old’s current deal at St James’ Park is due to expire at the end of the season.

And with no new deal agreed as he awaits assurances from owner Mike Ashley over his ambitions for the club, fans fear he could head away from Tyneside even if he wins the battle for Premier League survival for the second successive season.

But asked about the shortlist for the vacancy at the King Power Stadium on the eve of a crucial clash with Burnley, Benitez said with a smile: “Short? It’s not very short, it’s quite long now.

“I think you know my answer. I am really focusing on the next games. I know we have to do a job, I know that we have to stay up and if we want to do that, I think we have to just stay focused on that.

“I understand with the issue about my contract and now this position, it’s something that you have to ask, but at the same time, you have to understand that my main target now is to get three points against Burnley.”

Saturday’s 2-0 win over Huddersfield has raised spirits at St James’ Park, although the spectre of Benitez’s departure is one which refuses to go away.

But asked about supporters’ concerns, he said: “I think they will be happy if we get three points against Burnley.”

Standing in their way will be an in-form Clarets team whose manager Sean Dyche feels they are deservedly reaping the rewards of their hard work.

The Clarets were thumped 5-1 by Everton at Turf Moor on Boxing Day but have collected five wins and three draws in their eight Premier League fixtures since then.

Those results have carried them out of the relegation zone and six points clear and Dyche has hailed the resolve of his team.

He said: “The good side of having a tough first half is we certainly never take anything for granted.

“We know every year is a challenge for us in the Premier League. It’s a top, top division and very, very tough, they’ve always seen that challenge.

“I think now they’re getting their rewards for their hard work, there’s no reason to knock off from that.

“We’ve earned it. They’re not lucky wins – you’d take a lucky win but there have not been lucky wins, they’ve earned the wins and they’ve earned the performances and I think they’ll continue to do so.

“That is the challenge and that is the demand we’ll be putting on them, but I think there is a healthy demand on each other to continue pushing the standard and pushing the performances.”

Midfielders Steven Defour (calf) and Aaron Lennon (knee) remain Burnley’s only injury absentees while Benitez has a full-strength squad aside from keeper Rob Elliot (back) and defender Ciaran Clark (knee).

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