Before you proceed let me get one thing straight, this is not an attack on Rafa. The gaffer is the best thing that’s happened to us since the great Sir Bobby and I feel lucky to have such a prestigious figure at the helm of our beloved club.
Rafa has done an outstanding job, looking well on his way to completing the first step of the rebuild, getting Newcastle promoted back to the Premier League.
It is, however, only fair to say that even the godlike figure of Rafa Benitez is not above making mistakes.
Whilst fans are eternally grateful for him staying with the club following relegation, keeping faith in our club when others didn’t, I have made a few observations made regarding the Spaniard’s shortcomings this season.
In light of our recent slump, I’ve highlighted some of the mistakes Benitez has made, which he may benefit to learn from moving forward:
1. Home tactics
Benitez’s defensive approach has worked wonders on the road this season, however his cautious approach has contributed to some timid performances at St. James’ Park this season.
Rafa explained last summer that we were the ‘tail of the lion’ in the Premier League and now must cope with being the ‘head of the mouse’. With this in mind, we have rarely portrayed that ‘top dog’ mentality in the way we have went about home games in particular.
Away from home we’ve rarely dominated sides, but have, to our credit, sat in, defended well and grabbed the necessary goals. Our game plan has worked a treat on the road, however this master plan has not been replicated by Rafa at St.James’ Park.
Calls for 4-4-2 at home have always fallen on deaf ears. Benitez has every right to opt for his chosen formation, he knows the players better than anyone, but his failure to ever try two up top, given our stuttering home form, has been frustrating for the fans.
Benitez likes to have a man in the no.10 role and that’s fine, but Diame and Perez have been consistently ineffective in that position for a while now, leaving Murphy and Mitrovic chomping at the bit to partner Gayle up top.
We are still on course for promotion, so radical changes have not always been necessary, but our recent blip suggests a change may be needed to get us over the line in our push for promotion.
2. Subs too late?
A fairly minor complaint here, but one I and several surrounding season ticket holders have made reference to.
Yes Benitez wants his plan A to work, so keeps faith with his chosen 11 for as long as possible, but there’s been times where 52.000 fans have seen things need to change while it appears Rafa hasn’t.
Monday’s game against Ipswich being a fair example. Despite Murphy’s goal, we never looked likely and struggled throughout. The game was crying for an offensive change, however, Aleksandar Mitrovic only entered the field with 8 minutes remaining and by this point we were 2-1 down.
This points towards Rafa’s stubbornness, a trait all top managers appear to carry, but one I feel he would benefit from adapting.
At times this season he’s made changes later than i’d have preferred and gotten away with it. It must be said, however, that if a player is visibly running on empty or things are clearly not working, we won’t be afforded the luxury to leave it so late should we be playing Premier League football next season.
3. Rotation not always necessary?
A season in the Championship makes for a hectic schedule, seeing several weeks consist of two fixtures, meaning Rafa’s fondness to rotate has often been justified. Sometimes, however, I feel rotation can do more harm than good.
Repetition builds consistency and with consistency comes performances and results. The core of our team has often remained the same, but there’s been times where players have been given their chance, grabbed it with both hands, yet found themselves benched for the following game.
For example, Mbemba and Mitrovic were brilliant in the unbearable 1-1 draw to Leeds last Friday, yet found themselves benched for Monday’s dismal defeat at Ipswich.
Sometimes it makes sense. Players can be fatigued and those waiting in reserve may deserve their chance, but i’d also argue that momentum and form are things of equal importance to consider, meaning rotation isn’t always the answer.
We’ve worshiped Rafa and rightly so, but maybe to the extent where some fans feel incapable of accepting his occasional error. Again, the above examples are just observations, not an attack on the brilliant Benitez.
Given Rafa has swapped magical night’s in Madrid for midweek battles in the Midlands, he’s adapted very well and I dread to think where we’d be without him, but hopefully the gaffer can learn from his mistakes and address some of these potential issues moving forward.