“The players are hugely incentivised when it comes to the cup competitions.
“We’ve made our view clear on the cups in the past but now our view is, and we’ve said this to Rafa: ‘Have a go, try and win a cup.’”
Lee Charnley, Managing Director Newcastle United, May 2018 speaking to The Mirror
A year ago, Aleksandar Mitrovic scored Newcastle's first goal of the season in the first minute of his first start against Notts Forest in The League Cup as The Magpies bowed out of the competition 3-2 despite that and a goal from Rolando Aarons yet it was a loss Rafa Benitez didn't lose much sleep over with his stated aim of Premier League survival.
Yet after finishing an impressive 10th in their first season back in the top flight, have the goalposts changed for Benitez and Newcastle's cup ambition a calendar year on?
Is the stated ambition of the board to win a trophy and allow Rafa what he wants to do about to be attempted to be realised by the decorated, trophy-winning boss?
“It depends. What I’ll say this year is similar to last. It depends on the squad.
“If we don’t have any injuries and we can manage - we will try to compete. But the priority always has to be to stay in the Premier League.”
, Benitez told The Chronicle, yet he may just be keeping his cards close to his chest during Newcastle's nightmare Premier League start when the club have to play Man City and Arsenal next having already faced Spurs and Chelsea, when a 5-4-1 formation led to one wag suggesting the most offensive thing about Newcastle were their white socks.
While the absence of star players JonJo Shelvey and Jamaal Lascelles from Rafa Benitez's team-sheet sent the football grapevine into overdrive on Sunday sparking rumours of training ground arguments, even brawls, the real reason may be something not associated with the modern Newcastle United - the desire to win a football trophy.
The Carabao Cup, the competition in which The Magpies play Nottingham Forest on Wednesday night, represents the Magpies' best chance of silverware this season, perhaps any season, with The Football Association still smarting from the fine they had to pay after Mike Ashley blew the whistle on their shirt price-fixing racket with Dave Whelan, long before the tycoon bought a real "club in the north" - Newcastle United - an incident reflected in Newcastle's treatment by referees with whom the are clearly blacklisted as it is now 132 Premier League since the northern United had an opponent sent off.
Can VAR Change Newcastle's Luck?
The famous St. James' Park club have not won a major domestic trophy since Scottish Captain Jimmy Scoular lifted the FA Cup at Wembley in 1955 after Newcastle defeated a Man City side reduced to 10 men from the 17th minute in the days before substitutes but Benitez - no stranger to seeing dark forces conspire against his attempts to succeed in England - will be delighted to see that VAR has been introduced to the Carabao Cup although only at Premier League grounds where it can be fully operational.
There is also a hint of unfinished business in the air between Newcastle and Nottingham Forest, who were the beneficiaries of a football robbery the last time these two sides met at The City Ground in December 2016, during Newcastle's Championship-winning season when Newcastle had two players sent off - Shelvey and Paul Dummett - both later rescinded yet it was too late to stop The Magpies losing the game and three points.
Of course, if such a worryingly biased refereeing performance were to occur on Wednesday night, then Newcastle wouldn't have the chance to repair the damage as they were able to over the course of a 46-game League season and without any extra time, a decisive win over 90 minutes is the only way to guarantee passage to the next round and hopefully the chance to play on a level playing field with VAR.
Benitez has played down the chances of Lascelles and Shelvey returning against Forest due to continuing injuries yet don't be surprised if the Newcastle Captain starts against his former club who Newcastle paid £3M for his services in 2015 and gives the chance to Shelvey to right the wrong of his dismissal last time out at The City Ground.
Its a chance for the midfield maestro to show not just Forest what he can do but all of his many critics and doubtors especially England manager Gareth Southgate, who left him out of The World Cup squad and may have privately rued the decision after seeing his side lack the creative class and playmaking ability of Newcastle's pass master certainly in extra time versus both Colombia and, ultimately, Croatia, despite Shelvey running rings around Paul Pogba and N'golo Kante, eventual winners of the trophy, in early 2018.
And for Lascelles, it will be a chance to show far he has progressed and moved on since leaving Forest for Newcastle in 2015 amid interest from a wealth of top clubs before gaining promotion back to The Premier League as Newcastle's Captain and most trusted lieutenant under Benitez and being named in the Opta Joe Team of the Year for 2017/8.
Lascelles himself harbours England ambitions and was unlucky to be left out of the England squad by Gareth Southgate as well.
It'll be interesting to see whether either Shelvey or Lascelles or Benitez's other key man, Matt Ritchie makes the trip and team against Forest and it could be an indication of how seriously Benitez is actually daring to take the competition knowing a win could help sustain Newcastle through a very difficult start to the 2018/9 campaign saying,
"To have a cup run is always good for the spirit. But at the end, you know it is very difficult."
Fortune favours the brave, however, and even in the absence of the ABBA penalties that characterised last season's Carabao Cup, the winner takes it all on the night.