United completed a vital comeback at the Hawthorns to salvage a 2-2 draw in midweek and I after going 2-0 down it was a welcome point. It stops the rot after a run of defeats and shows the character we have in the squad, despite clear gaps in quality.
Our top scorer still only has two goals and like many newly promoted teams, a real threat in the final third is proving difficult. Much debate this season has centred on who Rafa plays up front following the low key arrival of Joselu. It remains a problem for Rafa to solve, so what options does he have?
Joselu’s downturn in form
The Spaniard has been first choice this season following his £5m arrival from Stoke City. He initially played quite well, notably scoring the leveller against Liverpool and offering some decent hold up play. Certainly compared to Gayle, he appeared to offer a more physical threat when playing in Rafa’s favoured 4-5-1 formation.
However, his form has really dipped. It arguably started with a series of chances missed in our win over Stoke but the real alarming factor has been his lack of chances to even miss in recent games. His isn’t getting in the right positions, his build up play has also dropped off and without offering the pace to get in behind – he is not being effective enough for the team.
He has a great attitude and his commitment can’t be questioned – so any abuse is bang out of order – but his poor form can’t go on forever without being dropped. Giving him a rest could take some much needed pressure off him and Chelsea this weekend may be the time to do it.
The case for Mitrovic
It is clear the big Serbian is not rated by Benitez. He has regularly been left out the side ever since his arrival and even struggled for consistent game time in the Championship. He has flaws and has not really delivered on his potential since arriving at Newcastle but with such a lack of alternatives, Rafa may finally give him a chance in the XI.
We need a new striker and takeover or not, Rafa will make this a priority in January. But until then we have a lot of games we need points from and with Joselu’s form being so poor, it is time to give Mitrovic a go. He changed the game at West Brom and we are already lack threat going forward so there is little risk – providing he is finally over his temperament issues.
He’s had no more than 20 minutes in each of his last two cameo appearances against Watford and West Brom, but he’s offered much more of a presence and focal point up top than Joselu has.
Gayle – suited to 4-2-3-1? I’m not so sure
Gayle was excellent last season and has started to look back to that form recently when Rafa switched to 4-4-2. The problem for Gayle is that formation has not worked; we are too open and don’t dominate the ball enough. With Merino fit again it is very likely we will go back to one up front and Gayle doesn’t appear to be able to do this role in the Premier League. He looks a bit lightweight and again, isn’t favoured by Rafa when we tried to sell him on deadline day.
We lack options and players the manger trusts up front but it is time to give Mitrovic a chance. Joselu has had lots of games and so has Gayle recently, so a different approach is needed.
Who would you play up front over the Christmas period?