Eddie Howe disagrees with Rafa Benitez’s assessment of Newcastle amid defensive woes

Eddie Howe will take charge of his first game in the St James' Park home dug out
(Image: Newcastle United via Getty Image)

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Only one club in Premier League history has escaped the drop from this position, and wins against bottom three rivals Norwich and Burnley this week are essential.

Howe has seen enough in Newcastle’s attacking potential to merit defiant optimism, while admitting the back line has to be shored up.

And he’s had a discrete disagreement at ex-boss Rafa Benitez over the merits of the squad he’s inherited.

“It’s a huge challenge ahead,” he admitted. “I was aware of the fixture list in December. But I have been boosted by the players, their reaction to us, their attitude every day.

“If we stay united, together, I know we can achieve good things and achieve our aim.”

Newcastle’s problem is defending. A deficiency at full back, a need for more quality at centre back, and more powerful enforcement from a holding midfielder.

Benitez always claimed Newcastle had a “short blanket” – when they attacked it left the defence exposed and vice versa.

But Howe said: “I don’t believe in copying Rafa’s statement.

“Stretching the blanket would be a better way of putting it. Coaching and educating and helping the players.

“When confidence returns we will see a different team. Attack and defending balance is difficult for any team.”

Allan Saint Maximin has done a defensive job when asked but a balance must be found to release his attacking potential
(Image: NurPhoto/PA Images)

Allan Saint-Maximum played almost as an extra left back in the defeat to Arsenal and needs to be released, without exposing Jamal Lewis who is likely to start instead of suspended Matt Ritchie.

Howe added: “Positives? Going back to our last home game, the chances we created, over 20 shots, we looked like an attacking threat. There were moments the other way when we were not so stable. Same at Arsenal. I’m not saying we had clear cut chances but we will be in games from an attacking perspective.

“We have to improve the defending side, the whole team, not any group of players. Dubravka came back and played very well. There were positive signs but we can’t keep saying that.”

Howe is comforted by how tight the bottom half scrap is, adding: “I think a lot of teams have found it difficult to win this year in the Premier League. Every win is so valuable.

“It’s a really difficult league when you’re down the bottom, in the bottom half of the league, to build momentum and get consecutive wins, which ultimately makes a huge difference to your season if you can achieve that.”

Eddie Howe is confident he can point Newcastle United in an upward direction
(Image: Newcastle United via Getty Images)

Howe is standing up for his existing squad by quashing transfer speculation and because of their reaction since he arrived.

He added: “I will be using various things with the players to galvanise us. But they don’t need extra motivation.

“They are hurting and are proud professionals. They want to win. They are trying, and we are trying, 100pc of our capabilities, to improve results.

“There is a bit of confidence, and a bit of luck, missing this season. There are games they could have won.”