Despite their rapid improvement under interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, which has seen United brush aside Cardiff, Huddersfield and Bournemouth, the Red Devils will head into 2019 sitting in sixth place and trailing leaders Liverpool by 19 points.
That gap may be too big to close, but Benitez, who will send his side into battle with Solskjaer’s men at St James’ Park on Wednesday evening, is confident they can still cause problems for the main title contenders.
The Spaniard said: “Do you think the players that they have after spending the money they did are bad players? They are good players on the pitch, they have performed in the last three games – it is a very good team.
“It is a team that has to be in the top four, that is very clear. They can compete against anyone, Liverpool, Manchester City, anyone.
“We are talking about one of the biggest clubs in the world in terms of everything, the players they have, the names they have.
“They are so good, if you want to get points against them, if you want to win against them, you have to perform really, really well.”
Newcastle did just that in February last year when United left Tyneside on the wrong end of a 1-0 scoreline thanks to Matt Ritchie’s strike.
They also stunned Old Trafford into silence in October when they took a 2-0 lead before Jose Mourinho’s United launched a comeback which saw Alexis Sanchez snatch victory at the death.
Benitez said: “If anything you need a bit of luck. Against the top sides, you need even more luck. If you make a couple of mistakes, maybe they will score a couple of goals. The top sides punish you.
“Obviously they have won a couple of games now and have more happy people around, but when you are winning, that is normal, it has to be like that.
“Hopefully they will be disappointed after our game and after, they can do what they want. For us, it is a massive game against a good team. It doesn’t matter the manager now, they have good players and that is the main thing.”
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