Newcastle United are playing like a different side to the one that picked up just one point from eight games before Christmas.
True, they didn’t even beat Royal Antwerp over 135 minutes in San Pedro del Pinatar and Newcastle are still involved in a relegation battle back home. But it is the way that Newcastle are playing at the moment that gives you every encouragement that they will be safe long before the last couple of rounds of Premier League fixtures.
In their last two top flight campaigns, their fate has gone down to the last couple of matches, staying up in 2015 and only just going down in 2016.
This season feels very different to that.
Benitez also has competition for places with the 135 minute friendly designed in order to give some players a proper run out after 10 or 15 minutes here or there.
The midfield battle to get into the starting XI is intriguing with Jonjo Shelvey in fine form, Mo Diame now playing in his favourite position, and Mikel Merino and Isaac Hayden also eager to push their way into Rafa’s plans.
In the heart of defence the excellent Ciaran Clark can’t even get a game at the moment while Islam Slimani’s impending return should make things interesting in attack.
Chancel Mbemba also reminded us that he still has plenty to offer with a good 45 minute workout and delightful pass for Matt Ritchie to open the scores.
The manner in which United are playing at the moment though suggests that more wins like the Southampton game could be just around the corner.
With Martin Dubravka in the team they look like they’ve got a new dimension.
Being so close to the action in Spain meant fans could hear Dubravka’s calls loud and clear, with a constant request to: “Push out”.
Dubravka is also eager to relieve the team of pressure when they are being pressed and at one stage he yelled: “Gimme, gimme, gimme” to help ease the tension of one particular attack.
Newcastle created over a dozen chances in the first 90 minutes against Royal Antwerp but just couldn’t add to Ritchie’s opener.
Even the Belgian players weren’t arguing after the game because they knew that they got off lightly with just a 1-0 scoreline after the first two periods.
The final 45 minutes did see Royal Antwerp equalise in the first few minutes but it was all one way traffic after that and Dwight Gayle’s penalty should have clinched the win.
Huddersfield will be the next opponents at St James’ Park with David Wagner’s side well known for pushing forward and going for the jugular.
If that is the case, it could well play into Newcastle’s hands as the players are well drilled in the counter attacking game now.
As other sides look a little bit drained going into the final games, Newcastle have just enjoyed a mini pre-season in Spain.
They seem up for the battle and could be just a win away from safety if they see off Huddersfield.