Claudio Ranieri anticipates an intriguing match on Saturday afternoon, against a Newcastle United side managed by someone he holds in high regard.
Ranieri’s second spell as Valencia manager was to succeed Rafa Benitez after he joined Liverpool, and he’s expecting a tactical battle when the pair lock horns at St James’ Park.
“I knew him a long time ago in Valencia,” Ranieri said. “He’s a great manager who’s won a lot.
“He’s very intelligent, tactically he’s very, very attentive, and he created a very good group there. The team is strong, very intense, tight. I think Rafa is more Italian than me!
“It will be tactical, it will be tough, because they are very, very physical and the crowd push behind them. I expect this kind of match.
“[Newcastle] were down two months ago, and in this moment they are safe. For us that could be good inspiration.”
Four matches in 11 days across the festive period represents an opportunity for Fulham to accumulate some serious points.
And despite currently propping up the table, Ranieri is backing his team to rise up with the support of the Whites faithful.
“Our fans are very close to us, and they believe,” he explained. “If I believe, they believe.
“And if they believe, they give to us their warmth, their strength, everything. And we try to transmit to them, our strength.
“For us, these four matches are very, very important. We want to get points wherever we can. And then after this Christmas period, we will see.”
The match will see Aleksandar Mitrović return to Tyneside for the first time since heading south, and Ranieri hopes the striker shows his former club what they’re missing.
“When a player goes back to his previous club, he wants to show something more, because it’s not easy when a player comes from another country to adapt immediately to English football,” he stated.
“But at Fulham he’s adapted very, very well and I hope he can have an outstanding match.”