Maurizio Sarri admits he owes Rafael Benitez a debt of gratitude.
Chelsea boss Sarri took over from Benitez at Napoli in 2015 and led them to second place behind champions Juventus last season.
It was that success which led Chelsea to turn to the 59-year-old Italian to replace Antonio Conte this summer.
But Sarri insists it was his predecessor who laid the foundations, and he will get the chance to show his appreciation when the Blues travel to Benitez’s Newcastle on Sunday.
“I have to say thank you to Rafa because when I arrived in Naples I had a feeling the team was almost ready to play my football,” he said.
“If I arrived after another coach maybe for me it was more difficult, so I have to say thank you to him.
“I know he is a very good coach. We know on Sunday it will be very difficult for us.
“These opponents are very dangerous for us; last season we lost 3-0, Manchester United lost there, Arsenal lost there, so we know it will be a very difficult day.”
Sarri is a heavy smoker but there is also another habit he cannot give up – his four-man defence.
Chelsea certainly looked defensively frail at times during the 3-2 win over Arsenal last weekend.
Yet although Conte led Chelsea to the title in 2017 after switching to five at the back, Sarri will not be following suit.
“Have we worked on defence this week? Every week,” he said.
“I am not worried about the defence. When I arrive in a new team usually I have problems with the defensive base for two months, so it’s not a problem.
“I am not able to play with five defenders. We are trying to defend by looking only at the ball and if I defend with five defenders I lose metres on the pitch.
“I’m not able. I tried it five years ago, but it’s not my way.”
A 3-0 win over the Blues in May cemented a 10th-place finish for the Magpies on their return to the Premier League and sent Benitez, his players and the fans off on their holidays wearing broad smiles.
Three months on, storm clouds have gathered over St James’ Park once again with the manager’s plans to take the club forward having prompted a distinctly lukewarm response from the club’s hierarchy, resulting in a lacklustre recruitment drive which has angered supporters.
By contrast, Chelsea spent almost £130million on just two players, keeper Kepa and midfielder Jorginho, and Benitez knows that will make a repeat of last season’s heroics all the more difficult.
He said: “We are talking about the Premier League now and the difference between teams now is so big. They are spending a lot of the money on bringing in the best players in the world, so it’s quite difficult to keep this intensity.
“Last weekend, you could see teams with great intensity still conceding a lot of goals. Why? Because the quality of the other teams is really, really good now.
“You have to find the balance and the balance means that you have to try to win, but you have to try to win using the brain, not just the heart.”
The Magpies head into the game having taken just a single point from their opening two fixtures against Tottenham and Cardiff, and kicking themselves as a result having passed up opportunities to snatch a draw against the former before squandering the chance to beat the visiting Bluebirds by missing an injury-time penalty.
Benitez did not like much of what he saw against Cardiff and has urged his players to learn from the errors which have hampered them to date.
He said: “It’s the beginning of the season, so if you don’t learn after two games, then something is wrong.
“We have to be sure that they understand what was wrong and also what we did well because we were quite positive in some things.
“But I didn’t like the game. I was not happy with the way that things were going on and we had too many problems. But still OK, we got one point. It could have been more, it could have been less.”
All three players have been linked with moves away from Spurs this summer, but time is running out if they are to join a foreign club, with the transfer window shutting next Friday.
Pochettino, who has said any player can leave if they don’t show full commitment to the cause, added that all three will get a chance to win a place in the team.
He said: “I expect all the players… I am working as if all the players are going to be here.
“I cannot work if I think they will not be here. Not only these names, different names can get an offer.
“Maybe this afternoon arrives an offer we’ll consider. You’re focused on different names, I’m focused on providing them with an opportunity to play.
“It’s my fifth year as manager. For me, we start from zero and give an opportunity for all players to play and perform and not think about the past or what will happen in the future.
“What happened yesterday is gone. And you can only change your future if you’re in the best condition. The most important thing is to be ready.”
Alderweireld has enjoyed the biggest integration back into Pochettino’s plans after he played 90 minutes against Fulham last week.
The Belgian defender appeared to be frozen out by his manager at the end of last season after contract talks hit an impasse, while Alderweireld’s international team-mate Dembele has also stalled on a new deal, but has featured off the bench twice.
That leaves England left-back Rose, who has fallen behind Ben Davies in the pecking order and looks the most likely to still leave, with Paris Saint-Germain thought to be keen.
Pochettino said of Rose: “Look, I don’t want to talk about individuals who still don’t play.
“Be sure they’re in the squad and will have the opportunity to play. My decision is my decision.
“Maybe he’ll play on Monday. Or maybe not. You need to wait and see what happens.
“We talk a lot and anything I tell them, I tell in private and explain what I expect.
“If they want to ask me questions about football, or on the personal side as a human being, we are so open to helping them.”
Spurs head to Manchester United on Monday night hoping to end a run of four successive defeats there.
Pochettino was given an even bigger headache on Friday when it emerged club captain Hugo Lloris had been charged with drink driving.
It remains to be seen whether the Frenchman will be involved but Pochettino says his team are heading north with belief.
“We must believe. In football, if you don’t believe you lose before you arrive there,” he added.
“We’re confident – just like we were confident in the last four years. Trust in yourself and in your team, believe you can win – that’s always the most important.
“It’s important to arrive in the best condition. In our mind we need to go there and believe we can win.”