Rightly or wrongly, it's Brighton - not Barcelona
Sept. 20, 2019
United will be looking to climb out of the relegation zone in the clash against Brighton this weekend - a far cry from entertaining Rivaldo and co
Who Newcastle United "should" be beating and who Newcastle United did beat was something that used to irk Rafa Benitez.
The reality is that even a home game like Brighton & Hove Albion can't be taken too lightly.
It's a big game in every sense of the word, and in a week in which memories of the famous 3-2 win against Barcelona emerged on social media, it's Brighton that pose the threat 22 years later - and there's no Tino Asprilla on board to illuminate the stage nowadays.
Geordie fans are well aware of that, though, and the tone has been set for a long time, something Benitez decided to immerse himself in.
Back in 2017, after what he deemed a below-par summer transfer window, United started a winter slump but Benitez, on more than one occasion said: "We are where we are because we did what we did."
It wasn't games against the top six that seemed to worry the meticulous Benitez, but more so the clashes against the likes of this weekend's opponents Brighton, AFC Bournemouth, Watford, Crystal Palace or Southampton.
Pundits looked at those games and often said: "Newcastle should win that one."
Behind the scenes Benitez would ask "why should we?", and that in the first season after promotion he felt there was no reason why Newcastle couldn't lose four or five home games in a row due to the minimal amounts spent in the transfer market.
It was Benitez's fear of complacency that helped keep the team afloat for two seasons in the top-flight, but the struggle now takes place without him.
In his view the only way United were going to beat teams with a "smaller" name than Newcastle was by outworking and out-thinking them, because the so called smaller teams were spending much more than United.
His theory was that Newcastle - due to their reluctance to spend big - could not afford to be so arrogant to simply expect to beat teams just because they were playing at home.
Those days are long gone.
Back in the day, when Kevin Keegan's Entertainers or Sir Bobby Robson's Champions League qualifiers used to rack up the goals at St James', it was often a case of how many could the Magpies score.
Yet there will be no supporters walking up to St James' Park with any such thoughts ahead of the Brighton game this weekend.
There's no such thing as a "routine victory" in these parts any more, United will have to sweat blood just to get a positive result from newly-promoted Sheff United this term, after already returning from Norwich with nothing in August.
The arrogance does not lie with Newcastle fans - it lies with pundits and observers who don't spend much time in the city.
A generation of fans don't know any different because for best part of a decade or more now, every victory is savoured because sometimes it's hard to see where the next one is coming from!
The reality is Newcastle - as a club - are in their third season since promotion.
And, rightly or wrongly, Brighton is a huge game for the Magpies.
Brighton is a big game in many ways, from staving off the threat of relegation again, to taking points of a rival club, to Steve Bruce keeping the critics from his door.
A quick glance down the fixtures suggests this is a game United can't afford to mess up in, it's Leicester away, then Man United back at St James' before the international break.
The feeling in the squad is that if the Magpies are to stay there it will be down to results against sides like the Seagulls, Isaac Hayden saying this week: "Our season won't be judged on playing Liverpool away.
"The games for us that we have to capitalise on are against Brighton."
Bruce has also described it as a "cup final" but that's no different to the way Benitez looked at games.
Skipper Jamaal Lascelles says that there is a "bitterness" coming from the Brighton squad after Newcastle pipped them to the Championship title in 2017.
But since then, at St James' Park, Brighton have had the upper hand with a 0-0 draw and a 1-0 win.
Both teams have new managers in Bruce and Graham Potter.
And United just sneaked into the top 10 in terms of money spent this summer (£65m) and spent a little bit more than Brighton (£58.5m) - but neither side will be taking anything for granted this weekend.
If they become too relaxed at any point they do so at their peril.
Losing here could have massive implications.
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