Lucas Leiva admits his deep gratitude to Rafael Benitez will be put to one side for 90 minutes this afternoon as Liverpool host Newcastle United with a fifth consecutive win in mind.

The midfielder was brought to Anfield by the Spaniard back in 2007, midway through a spell at the helm that saw the Reds reach two Champions League finals, winning one, and lift the FA Cup.

On a personal level, Lucas feels genuine appreciation for the role Benitez played in his career, borne out of a belief shown in the No.21 as he initially struggled to adapt to English football during his first few seasons.

Today’s meeting with the relegation-battling Magpies will give the pair an opportunity to catch up and the fans at the stadium a chance to show respect to a former manager still held in high regard.

But Lucas insists it has to be – and will be – a different matter on the pitch.

He told “For the fans it will be special to meet Rafa again. He was a very successful manager here and I know the fans love him.

“Of course, he is coming in a difficult situation, fighting against relegation. They need the three points, he needs the three points. But when the referee blows the whistle, we need to play for Liverpool and try to get three points.

“Rafa always supported me and was very important for me in the time he was here. I will always be grateful for what he has done for me, but when the game starts we have to play for our shirt, our fans and our club.

“After the game finishes, for sure we will be able to talk and share good moments again.”

Nine years and 309 appearances have passed since a series of phone calls from Benitez laid the groundwork for a switch to Merseyside from Gremio for Lucas.

Such was the manager’s influence on the young Brazilian at that time, he wonders if a long stay at Liverpool would have been possible without the crucial advice and support he received.

Lucas added: “I remember talking to him on the phone. He called me a couple of times and called my father a few times.

“I was only 20 at that time so it was a very special period before I signed with Liverpool. I had some very difficult moments at the beginning here, and he really supported me.

“He never gave up and was always very keen to show me what I needed to improve and the way I should do it.

“I will always be grateful because I think if it was another manager or a manager that was not so patient, I probably wouldn’t be here now. It was very important for me.”