Even the most ardent anti-Newcastle fan must look at the Magpies and feel a slight pang of sympathy. Time and time again their owner, Mike Ashley, makes finding any modicum of success difficult to find. The rotund Londoner has once again dashed the hopes of the fervent Geordies, by knocking back Amanda Staveley and her consortium’s big money bid.
Newcastle currently sit sixteenth, but with just seven points separating twelfth to twentieth, it would be a foolish man who rested on his laurels. Indeed, so precarious is their position, most bookmakers have Newcastle at 2/1 to feel the sting of relegation, odds enhanced with a Unibet promo code. It is fortunate then that Newcastle have a manager as storied as Rafa Benitez stalking their technical area.
With the future ownership of the club still in the air, a certain Mike Ashley hasn’t been too keen to dip into his wallet and allow Rafa Benitez the opportunity to add to his squad. However, as history has so often shown, hardship breeds ingenuity. A lack funds has forced the Newcastle manager to travel to less salubrious surroundings and pick up players deemed surplus to requirements buy their parent club.
The first port of call was Stamford Bridge, and the opportunity to sign, on loan, the rarely spotted Brazilian Kenedy. In his few appearances since his arrival at St James’ park, the heavily tattooed wide man has looked terrific. All at once appearing to be quick, powerful, technically assured and capable of influencing every game in which he plays.
What will enthuse fans the most is the variation of his play; equally adept at getting to the by-line and whipping in crosses as he is at hitting inviting balls from a deeper starting point. Continue his fine form and he may well lose his label of a ‘trouble maker’ earned in Chelsea’s preseason tour of China and replace it with the far more appealing tag marked ‘Premier League star’.
Kenedy’s fine work out wide will count for little if there is no one in the penalty area capable of converting chances. This, undoubtedly, has been the biggest blight on Benítez and his tenure. While the Spanish manager has constructed a solid defence, one that has conceded far fewer goals than the likes of Everton, West Ham and Watford who sit above them, the scoring of goals, (or lack thereof) has kept them close to the relegation zone.
Currently, Newcastle’s top scorer is Joselu, a £5million recruit from Stoke, with a paltry four goals. Despite all of his hard running, gallons of sweat produced in doing so, and his endless aerial battling, Joselu simply is not clinical enough in front of goal to guarantee his club’s revival.
To remedy this dismal situation, Rafa has once again secured a loan signing, this time looking to Leicester and their stuttering striker Islam Slimani. Slimani, through a combination of a strong 2014 World Cup, and some stellar performances at Sporting Lisbon, earned his £29million move to the Premier League, arriving at the King Power when Leicester could still call themselves reigning League Champions.
Tall, powerful, strong in the air and someone blessed with a turn of pace that is deceptive at first glance, Slimani looked an impressive signing and one that could provide a useful plan B. Sadly, the ‘Dragon Slayer’ found his opportunities limited, with a recent switch to one up top seeing him play second fiddle to Jamie Vardy.
Aside from his own obvious personal qualities, Slimani is capable of linking the play and bringing out the best in Newcastle’s attacking midfielders, Kenedy, Richie and Atsu in particular.
Not a signing that hogged the headlines, but one that looks, to me at least, to be the best of the transfer window.
Newcastle have left things late, operating on a budget, yet with Rafa Benitez’ hugely experience hand on the tiller, few would bet against the Magpies fighting off the seemingly inexorable pull of relegation.