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27th Apr, 2017 | 5:55pm

Rafa Benitez takes thinly-veiled dig at Aston Villa following Newcastle promotion

By Matt Farr

Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez has taken a thinly-veiled dig at Aston Villa amid the pronounced gap between the two sides in the Championship this season.

Benitez has led his side to an immediate return to the Premier League, sealing an automatic promotion place with two games to spare, while a title challenge also remains on the cards.

Aston Villa, on the other hand, who were relegated from the top flight alongside Newcastle last term, currently sit 12th in the Championship, and 15 points adrift of the play-offs.

Speaking to Spanish news outlet Marca, the Newcastle chief refused to pass up the opportunity to hit out at Newcastle’s divisional rivals for their failings in the second tier this term.

Benitez rushed to point out that there have been several sides in the Championship that have spent more money than Newcastle this season, yet have struggled to compete at the top.

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He said: “There are teams that have spent more than us and, moreover, we have had to change half the staff.

“Going down is always painful and it is a problem for players to adapt to such a difficult category.

“We have spent money, but there was a £30million surplus. Aston Villa, a historic club, has not even gotten into the play-offs. From there, let each one do the analysis you want.”

Benitez made wholesale changes to the Newcastle first team squad following their relegation to the Championship last summer, bringing in as many as 12 new players at a total cost of £57million.

However, also negotiated the sale of 10 senior players, including lucrative moves for Georgino Wijnaldum and Moussa Sissoko, earning the club a profit of £30million.

In contrast, Aston Villa have brought in as many as 17 players over the course of the season, yet find themselves trailing Newcastle by 27 points.

Moreover, three of Villa’s summer signings are not currently playing for the club, further hinting at the club’s poor recruitment policy.

In other Aston Villa news, Gabriel Agbonlahor has shared an Instagram update on his long-term future at the club.

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