“Failure is not an option”. I’m no fan of the psychobabble surrounding the game these days but the words attributed to NASA flight director Gene Krantz, fit perfectly into Rafa Benitez’s team talk this week.
As an aside, Krantz denied uttering the phrase; it was a Hollywood construct, spoken by Ed Harris in Apollo 13.
Rafa could have said it this week to the players. I hope he did, sprinkling a bit of stardust over the squad along the way.
The Chronicle reported that he believes,
“If you win the title it means you are there (Premier League). If you try to be first, then you might be closer to being second.
“If you try to just be second, then maybe you’ll end up being close, and being third. We just have to try to be first.”
Which is true; the lower you aim, the more you miss top spot by.
Where we finish will be defined by the next half-a-dozen games. Overconfidently, I’m claiming three points from the Villa and Bristol City games. Neither side has shown anything recently to suggest we won’t beat them. Let’s be honest, our wounds in the Championship are largely self-inflicted.
The squad can’t afford to think they are games we just turn up for; they need to leave the complacency to the professionals: us fans.
We’re embarking on a run of games where top performances will be needed. There’s no let-up; each of them is tough, so we need to keep a consistent mindset of working hard each week. None of the matches allows us a moment where we can switch off; no mistakes will go unpunished.
And they will dictate where we finish. Wolves, Norwich, Brighton, Huddersfield, and Reading; if we take nine or more points, it almost guarantees us promotion, and not through the playoffs either.
Thankfully, Dwight Gayle is on the cusp of returning. When he is out of the side, you’re never sure whether it’s going to be feast or famine in front of goal. We’ve done well in his absence to an extent. We’re back to the top of the table, and while it’s easy to say that’s down to the failings of Brighton, we still had to take points.
Within the context of a season, we’ll always have ‘iffy’ spells. The ones where you wonder how you won 1 – 0 because you should have had more, or you should have lost. We do need consistency, and we’re short on that at the moment but a (major) contributing factor I always think, is Rafa’s need to tinker with the line-up every five minutes.
Playing the same team is tough, and armed with the performance data from GPS tracking, the manager knows more than ever who needs a rest. But it impacts on understandings and partnerships. It why cock-ups like Clark’s own goal against QPR happen. If we can get a settled side, we can wrap this league up sooner than people expect.
But focus is the key thing. As Rafa said, aim high but if we’re truthful, finishing second in May genuinely is good enough. Promotion is the be-all and end-all for this season and how we achieve it is a distant second.