Last Updated: 20/12/18 3:36pm
Claudio Ranieri is looking forward to locking horns with “great manager” Rafael Benitez when Fulham travel to St James’ Park this weekend – and joked that the Newcastle boss is “more Italian” than him.
The 67-year-old Fulham boss is very well-acquainted with his Newcastle counterpart, having succeeded him as Valencia manager back in 2004.
Benitez has won trophies in three different countries as a manager, including two La Liga titles with Valencia, the 2005 Champions League with Liverpool and the Europa League with Chelsea in 2013 – another of Ranieri’s former clubs.
“I saw him a long time ago in Valencia as a great manager,” Ranieri said ahead of Fulham’s visit to Newcastle on Saturday.
“He won a lot and is very intelligent. Tactically he is very, very attentive and he created a very good group there.
“The team was strong, very intensive, tight….I think Rafa is more Italian than me!”
A run of four wins from seven matches has, for now, moved Newcastle out of the Premier League relegation fight.
The same cannot be said for Ranieri’s bottom-placed side, but the Italian remains convinced Fulham will be playing top-flight football next season.
“My players continue to fight,” Ranieri added. “And it’s my job to give them the confidence. I believe we will be safe at the end.
“In every country there are teams that are at the bottom and in the end they were safe.
“I remember when I started my career the first time in Serie A (at Cagliari). At the end of the first round we were bottom of the league and in the end we were safe, one week before the end of the season.
“It is important to have belief, it is important to be patient, it is important to continue to work hard and for the players to have confidence in each other.”