Belfast Telegraph

Rafael Benitez laughs off prospect of top-four finish for Newcastle

Newcastle boss Rafael Benitez has laughed off the prospect of a top-four Premier League finish despite his side's encouraging start to the season.

The promoted Magpies head into the weekend sitting in fourth place after three successive league victories and targeting another at Brighton on Sunday.

However, while fans may be dreaming of the days when the club regularly rubbed shoulders with Europe's elite, Benitez is refusing to entertain the idea.

Asked in admittedly tongue-in-cheek fashion about Champions League qualification, the Spaniard said: "No. At the moment, I am just thinking about if we can get three points against Brighton, that's it.

"It's not that I am watching the table. Yes, I have seen the table, but I am not really concerned about that.

"My main responsibility is to be sure that they play with the same intensity and we approach every game as if it was the most important. That's it."

Newcastle's return of nine points from games against West Ham, Swansea and Stoke has left them in a lofty position as they prepare to renew hostilities with Brighton, whom they pipped to the Sky Bet Championship title on a dramatic final day last season, and their manager Chris Hughton.

Hughton is remembered fondly on Tyneside for guiding the club back into the Premier League at the first attempt in 2010, although while he may receive a hero's welcome from the travelling fans, it is the future and not the past which matters to Benitez.

Asked if his team is currently exceeding expectations, he said: "It's difficult to say because when you see them training every day, you know they can play at the level they have been playing.

"But you have to win. Sometimes playing well, you cannot win and sometimes playing badly, you win. In this case, what I have seen is the performances of the team are fine and we have got three points in the last three games and we have to try to do the same.

"For me, it's not a surprise when you see them training. But in terms of performance and the way they are doing things, it's more or less what I was expecting."

Striker Aleksandar Mitrovic will sit out once again as he completes his three-match ban, while defender Florian Lejeune will also be missing after suffering a minor setback in his return from ankle ligament damage.

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