1. ITV Report

Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez has reaffirmed his side's priority as Premier League survival ahead of FA Cup clash

Photo: PA

Newcastle boss Rafael Benitez will embark upon a new FA Cup campaign making little effort to disguise the fact that Premier League survival remains his overriding priority.

The Spaniard will make changes for Saturday's third-round clash with Sky Bet Championship club Blackburn, with his side sitting just two points clear of the top-flight relegation zone after Wednesday night's 2-0 home defeat by Manchester United.

He arrived on Tyneside in March 2016 with high hopes of establishing the club back among English football's elite, but has repeatedly been thwarted by owner Mike Ashley's reluctance to provide funds.

Speaking after fans sent an open letter to Ashley begging him to back his manager during the January transfer window, Benitez said: "What I would say to everyone is that when I decided to come, it was because of the potential of the club and everything.

Credit: PA

"I like to have a project and then think about how ambitious we can be. Try to be in the top 10, that was the first idea, so I understand how they feel.

"At the same time, I have to do the best for the team, the best that I can to do my job to be sure that we stay up and have more chances to do well in the future."

Asked if Newcastle, who have not made it past the fourth round of the FA Cup since 2006, could fulfil their potential this season, he added: "This season? Very difficult.

"What we have to do is be sure we reach our potential, the potential that we can reach this season, not the potential that I hoped or that I was expecting we could reach."

Credit: PA

Benitez's comments came as Ashley's wait for one of four potential purchasers for the club to make a decisive move continued, leaving him with a decision over whether to stick or twist.

Press Association Sport understands none of the interested parties is a super-rich individual and that raising the asking price is an issue for at least two of the suitors.

In the meantime, Benitez is hoping the current owner will at least sanction some January spending to help the survival bid, although it is understood a wage demand in excess of £100,000 a week is hampering the club's efforts to land Atlanta United's Paraguayan playmaker Miguel Almiron.

Meanwhile, Benitez refused to comment on speculation that controversial Nice striker Mario Balotelli is a target this month, although the claim is understood to be wide of the mark.