Newcastle midfielder Moussa Sissoko believes Rafael Benitez has the qualities to keep the club in the Premier League this season.
The Spaniard signed a three-year contract to become the new manager at St James’ Park last week following the dismissal of Steve McClaren, with the club languishing in the relegation zone.
Benitez was unable to provide an instant response in his first game in charge, as the Magpies lost 1-0 at league leaders Leicester on Monday night, but France international Sissoko is convinced the former Real Madrid coach can still keep the club in the top flight.
He said: “We were surprised to see him come to Newcastle because normally he is playing for the title and Champions League. We were all happy and now we have nine games left. He will bring his experience and we can be in the Premier League next season with him.”
Newcastle are currently second from bottom in the league standings, but they are only one point adrift of fourth-bottom Sunderland ahead of Sunday’s crucial TyneÂ–Wear derby at St James’ Park.
The Magpies have lost the last six meetings between the two teams but Sissoko remains confident his side can buck that trend on Sunday, in what he describes as being a hugely significant match at the bottom end of the table.
He added: “Every derby is a big game, but I think it will be more so on Sunday because we are both in and around the bottom three.”
Newcastle’s last win over Sunderland on home soil came when they secured a 5-1 victory in 2010, but punters may choose to use their free bet to back the Magpies to end that mini-drought in Benitez’s first home match in charge.