Former Newcastle United midfielder Jermaine Jenas has said that manager Rafael Benitez could walk away having the last laugh in the club’s relegation battle having come under fire for his tactics this season.

The Magpies currently sit 16th in the Premier League table after Saturday’s 2-0 defeat at the hands of Liverpool, leaving them just two points off the drop zone with nine games left to play in what promises to be one of the tightest hunts for survival in recent years.

Speaking of Newcastle’s hopes of remaining in the top flight, Jenas says that the manner in which Benitez sets up his sides to frustrate the opposition could well be the deciding factor, despite criticism from pundits for his negative style of play.

Speaking on BT Sports’ coverage of the clash at Anfield (17:00, 03/03) he said: “He got heavily criticised for the Manchester City game at home but who knows, Rafa might have the last laugh if it comes down to goal difference.

“If it goes to goal difference he’ll be looking at it and going: ‘That’s exactly why I played the way I did’.

“They might just stay up on the basis of how bad the teams are below them. Where they give me some hope is with Rafa and how he organises his side.

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“I’ve watched them today for 40 minutes and they’re a side that can frustrate teams. At the top end of the pitch they didn’t have enough to counter-attack and get the breather they need. In games against lesser sides they’ll create those chances and they keep that defensive side that they do have.”

Football Insider verdict

Rafa Benitez will have been ignoring the critics targeting his tactics this season, and Jenas’ verdict is exactly why. The battle for Premier League survival is as tight as it ever has been and there is a serious possibility goal difference could be the decisive factor, which makes the results against Liverpool and Manchester City crucial, considering the way they have walked over sides throughout the campaign. The key thing for Benitez and his men is to pick up the points from sides around them, and as Jenas says, the way Newcastle play allows for those chances that the bigger sides do not give you, while remaining resolute at the back.

In other Newcastle United news, Steven Gerrard has slammed the ‘mess’ at the club in a positive prediction for the future of a fans’ favourite.

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