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Newcastle hire Rafa Benitez to manage during relegation battle

The Toon Army will hope that Rafa Benitez has a miracle or two up his sleeve as they try to avoid relegation.

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

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After Steve McClaren was sacked early Friday morning, Newcastle moved on quickly, confirming the rumors circulating for much of the week and hiring Rafa Benitez to manage the club.

Benitez is joined by several members of his staff who have followed him from Real Madrid and Napoli, and has signed a three-year contract, and reports indicate that there is an opt-out clause that he can activate if the club is relegated this season.

The former Liverpool boss normally has lofty aspirations like title fights and European nights, but they'll have to take a back seat to simple safety right now. Newcastle currently find themselves in the relegation zone with a hard fight ahead if they're going to stay up, and even with a manager of Rafa's reputation in charge, safety is far from guaranteed right now.

His first match in charge of Newcastle will be against first-place Leicester City on Monday. His second? The Tyne-Wear Derby against Sunderland at home at St. James' Park on March 20. Not the easiest of starts.

Benitez was most recently employed by Real Madrid, who fired him in January after a painfully mediocre run of results. Before that, he spent two years in Italy with Napoli, but he never quite lived up to expectations there, either, with the club letting his contract run out after finishing a disappointing fifth place last season.

Goal of the day

The finish was nice, but the real joy of Borussia Dortmund's third goal against Tottenham Hotspur was that silky-smooth buildup.

In the news

Marouane Fellaini is drawing criticism after his physical incident with Emre Can on Thursday, but Can has asked that Fellaini not be suspended for it. (Liverpool Echo)

Former Manchester United star Paul Scholes said the club's performance was "shambolic" in a Europa League loss to Liverpool.

Swansea City manager Francesco Guidolin has denied that he will resign over his current health problems, but he will have to sit out a third straight match this weekend. (WalesOnline)

The father of Eden Hazard lashed out at Chelsea, claiming that the club has been forcing his son to play through injuries. (Guardian)

Karim Benzema may soon be playing for France again after a judge lifted the no-contact order against him for Matheu Valbuena, his accuser and alleged target in a bizarre blackmail scandal. (ESPN FC)

You should be reading

You really need to read this interview with Eleanor Oldroyd, one of the first British women to heavily cover the sport. (The Set Pieces)

David Conn looks at the bigger cause of Newcastle's problems than any manager's woes: owner Mike Ashley. (Guardian)

Luke O'Farrell thinks that Everton's always-positive attitude is wearing a bit thin since they don't back it up with wins. (ESPN FC)

What happened on Thursday

Liverpool dominated Manchester United to win 2-0 in the Europa League. (Liverpool Offside)

Tottenham Hotspur got humbled by Borussia Dortmind in the Europa League and lost 3-0. (Fear The Wall)

What to watch on Friday (click for listings, all times ET)

Bundesliga: Hertha BSC vs. Schalke 04 (2:30 p.m.): These two teams are just a point apart as they battle one another for the last guaranteed place Germany gets for the Champions League group stage next season.

Ligue 1: AS Monaco vs. Stade de Reims (2:30 p.m.): If Monaco fail to beat relegation-threatened Reims, Paris Saint-Germain can lock up the Ligue 1 title this weekend.

La Liga: Malaga vs. Sporting Gijon (2:30 p.m.): Malaga may be in 11th place in La Liga, but they're not so far clear of the relegation zone yet that they can breathe easy.

Serie A: Juventus vs. Sassuolo (2:45 p.m.): Sassuolo were the last team to beat Juventus in the league this season way back in October, and you know the bianconeri will want to prove that was just a fluke.

MLS: Orlando City vs. Chicago Fire (7 p.m.): Can Orlando ride the momentum of their dramatic comeback against Real Salt Lake to earn their first win of the season?