Michael Chopra gives brave assessment of Newcastle's Championship chances under Rafael Benitez

The former Magpies striker believes Benitez would lead the club straight back up from the Championship but says they will struggle without him.

Former Newcastle United striker Michael Chopra has told Sky Sports that Rafael Benitez would lead the club to immediate promotion back from the Championship next season, but has warned that they would struggle badly without him.

The Magpies can be relegated for a second time in eight years before they even kick off their final match of the season if arch-rivals Sunderland win at home to Everton on Wednesday night.

Benitez has inspired a revival of sorts at St. James' Park, with the club putting together a five-match unbeaten run, but their failure to beat already-relegated Aston Villa on Saturday has left their Premier League status hanging by a thread.

Former Magpies hero Rob Lee declared last month that the club will not experience the same success in bouncing back as they did in 2010 as they do not have the right group of players for the slog that is the fight to escape the Championship.

Chopra, who began his career at Newcastle before later joining Sunderland, agrees with that assessment from Lee, but insists that the club still could make an immediate return if they were able to keep Benitez at the club.

The Newcastle-born striker told Sky Sports: "You would think [he would leave upon relegation] because other teams will be looking at him. People forget he was Real Madrid manager this time last year but I'd like to see him stay if they get relegated because he is a great manager, and if he did stay I believe they would come straight back up.

"But if he goes I think they may struggle in the Championship because they don't have the type of players they had last time they went down in 2009. They don't have Kevin Nolan, the Joey Barton, or Andy Carroll; players that know about the Championship and players that are ready to fight for the football club.

"I don't know why the board and everyone left it so late to appoint Rafa and you look at what he's done, what he's done to the defence and the team and how he's got them playing."

Chopra's suggestion is quite a bold one, given that Benitez has not managed in the second tier of any country since 2000, when he led Tenerife to promotion to La Liga.

Newcastle may yet avoid relegation, but would need Sunderland to gain fewer than two points from their last two matches and for themselves to beat likely runners-up Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.

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