Rafa rejects Europe talk

Newcastle United

Rafael Benitez has dismissed talk of a European challenge at this stage and is focused on keeping Newcastle's momentum going.

Newcastle secured an instant return to the Premier League last season after winning the Championship but they started the current campaign in poor fashion, losing 2-0 at home to Tottenham Hotspur before suffering a 1-0 defeat away at Huddersfield Town.

Several reports claimed all was not well at St James’ Park with Benitez unhappy at the lack of transfer activity and West Ham United ready to make a move for the Spaniard, who has been linked with a switch to the London Stadium before.

However, the Magpies beat the Hammers 3-0 before the international break in the north east before recording a 1-0 victory against Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium last time out.

Those results have lifted Newcastle to 10th in the table, just two points behind Watford in fourth, and all of a sudden the talk of a season against relegation has faded away.

It has even been suggested the club could challenge for a European finish this term but Benitez, whose side play host to Stoke City on Saturday, is not setting lofty goals at this stage of the season.

“Obviously it will not be easy, so I am against this idea that now we can compete for Europe and before we were just relegated,” he said. “It’s a long season, when you talk about the Premier League, any league, you talk about nine months so it’s a long season and we have to make sure every week we have a player that has improved a little bit or a group of players that have improved a lot or whatever.”

Newcastle striker Joselu, who arrived from Stoke this summer, will be hoping to get one over on his former employers and add to the one goal he scored in the 3-0 win over West Ham.

Jonjo Shelvey could be reinstalled into the starting line-up and, with Florian Lejeune also pushing for a recall, punters may decide to use their free bet on the hosts chalking up a third straight league victory.