AT the end of January, Newcastle United manager Rafael Benitez was sent a thank you message from Liverpool fans. By the time the full-time whistle blows at St James’ Park tonight, he could have to endure missives that are less appreciative.

Benitez, still adored by Reds fans for delivering Champions League success among his four trophies during six years in charge at Anfield, enhanced his reputation on the red half of Merseyside when he guided the Magpies to victory over Manchester City earlier this season.

It was a result that had Liverpool supporters dreaming of doing something Benitez failed to achieve during his time with the Reds; win the Premier League.

But this evening, with Manchester City still leading the way in the battle for top spot, he could effectively end the hopes of his former club winning it for the first time by guiding Newcastle to a win on their final home game of the campaign.

“I have the picture (message) on my phone,” said Benitez. “When we beat City (January 29) it was snowing and they were in the car park and one of the fans wrote ‘Ta Rafa’. It was massive. In the snow. In the street. They sent me the picture.”

But despite his obvious connections and affection for Liverpool, he insists he will not deviate away from his professionalism because he wants Newcastle to do what they have to do – and end the campaign, which could be his final in charge if he doesn’t commit to a new deal, on a high.

That is despite knowing what it feels like to almost win the league. In 2009 he was in charge of Liverpool when they lost just twice all season, but ended up four points behind Manchester United.

Benitez said: “I feel the Liverpool fans, they love me because we won the Champions League in Istanbul, we won four trophies and were in three finals and also the way we were defending the club against (the establishment) yes.

“We were fighting, and believe me we had £20m and the last year was £17m. It’s similar to Newcastle, everything together, we fight and we stick together. That togetherness is the main thing. To go this year and to compete, hopefully you will be objective and you will analyse that.

“They said ‘Rafa is cracking up’ but of the last 11 games we won ten of them, we weren’t cracking up. At Old Trafford a kid with his father, they had a flag ‘Rafa is cracking up’ but we beat them 4-1. OK (smiles). We couldn’t do any more, we did everything but they just did better than us.”

Liverpool ended up losing at Middlesbrough and Tottenham that season, and he knows how it felt to narrowly miss out.

Even if Liverpool won at Newcastle tonight, they could still miss out because of City’s brilliance. Jurgen Klopp is yet to win his first trophy at Anfield but he still thinks progress has been made.

“I think what the fans want is to win, but at the same time they want to see the team doing well and competing,” he said. “So I told you when I signed for Liverpool: ‘In three years’ time we want to compete.’

“They were not telling me that I had to win a trophy or anything, just that they wanted to compete – but then we won in the first year.

“For the fans, they want to see the team doing well, winning games, and winning trophies. It depends ‘how long’, because after winning trophies some people will say: ‘You have to win the league.’ But maybe you cannot.

“The next step maybe you cannot because the other teams are stronger than you, or they have a bigger squad, or they spend more money. That’s it. I think Klopp is doing a very good job, that’s it and I have a good relationship with him. We have to be professional.”