Those words came back to haunt him on Sunday as his expensively assembled team were held to a 0-0 draw at Gijon’s Molinon stadium, with the likes of FIFA Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, the world’s most expensive player, drawing a blank.
It was a triumph for modest Gijon, whose annual budget in 2014-15 was more than 100 times smaller than Real’s, while Benitez was left bemoaning a lack of shooting accuracy from his players but insisting he was still optimistic Real can secure silverware this term.
Benitez, who was a player and coach in Real’s academy before stints in charge at clubs including Valencia, Liverpool, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Napoli, replaced the sacked Carlo Ancelotti after Real failed to win the Champions League, La Liga or the King’s Cup last season.
“We finished up playing a 4-3-3 formation to try to keep the players who could score high up the pitch, have more control in the middle and have the fullbacks offer width,” Benitez told a news conference.
“I think that we managed all that but we lacked precision in the final ball and weren’t clinical enough in front of goal,” added the 55-year-old.
“It’s a matter of steadily improving our precision, our physical fitness and the way we function as a unit.”
Real’s next La Liga outing is at home to Real Betis on Saturday, when the demanding fans at the Bernabeu will be expecting entertaining football and a resounding victory.
Anything less and Benitez could already be subjected to the angry whistling that dogged Ancelotti’s second and final season.
Captain Sergio Ramos said there was no need to worry about the recent lack of goals.
“Obviously the first half didn’t go well and while we had more possession and had more of the initiative in the second, our chances didn’t finish in goals and we weren’t able to kill off the game,” the Spain international told reporters.
“This shows that there are teams in the first division that fully deserve to be here and it is going to be very tough to win at every stadium,” he added. “We have to continue improving.”
(Reporting by Iain Rogers, editing by Patrick Johnston)