The times have turned gloomy for the Magpies right at the beginning of the season as the clouds of uncertainty hover above St. James Park. Be it the ill-fated fixtures, Benitez’s over-defensive tactics or the Mike Ashley’s reluctance to spend cash, or all of these combined, the ship of Newcastle United isn’t sailing where the fans want it to be sailing and they are now an easy choice for punters to put their wager in online sports betting. The black and whites have only managed to get 3 points in their opening 10 fixtures and endless tensions & frictions lurk behind those three points. The absence of owners from the stands, fan protests and the deprivation of good football surround the football club and a majority of fans believe the club’s downward spiral would soon result into the club hitting the rock-bottom — a relegation to the Championship.
What is hurting Newcastle so bad?
Newcastle’s miseries don’t boil down to a single problem and it’s, in fact, astonishing to see them sink precipitously after their crackerjack performance last season. Magpies finished 10th in their previous campaign and it was being anticipated that Rafa will get an ample amount of financial backing from the club owners. However, things went South this season — while other clubs of similar stature were busy spending £100m to bolster their squads, Newcastle made a profit of £20m — however, the word ‘profit’ only helped the owners of the club, not the fans.
The numbers haven’t helped the Magpies either. They’ve failed to secure possession against big teams and numbers reveal their attempts to secure the ball have failed miserably – Newcastle had a 21% possession against Manchester City, 18% against Chelsea and 36% against Arsenal. It’s no surprise that the number of chances created have also decreased miserably. They have only managed to score 7 goals in their 11 games – surprisingly those goals have come against the sides like Manchester City, Manchester Utd, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham. In their game against Chelsea, Eden Hazard had completed more passes than the combined team of Newcastle.
A lot of questions have been raised on Benitez’s defensive tactics this season as the Magpies have often appeared in the 4-4-1-1 or 5-4-1 formation. The likes of Kennedy, Ritchie and Shelvey, who should rather be given more attacking roles to have a more profound impact on the game, are instructed to sit down the flanks and absorb possession. Even the conversion has been poor in the attack and the attackers have often been found guilty of missing easy counter-attacking chances. Pérez has failed to do justice to his reputation and hasn’t been a great troublemaker for the oppositions. Benitez’s unfortunate dissatisfaction from Mitrovic’s disciplinary record led to his sale and it might have been a different story for the club if he wasn’t sold.
Luck hasn’t been on the Rafa Benitez’s side as their attacking option Salomón Rondón, who was borrowed from West Brom, has been struggling with fitness. He managed to make a 2—minute cameo against Southampton in which his mere 2 shots couldn’t help his club to break the deadlock. However, he finally started a game this Saturday and perhaps, inspired his team to get into winning ways against Watford.
Although Rafa still thinks it is too early to decide their fortune this season and in an interview, he recalled how teams like Crystal Palace and Bournemouth turned things around after a poor start of the season.
“If you just analyse the situation now, you are in the bottom three, but Crystal Palace, Bournemouth and Everton were in the bottom three after nine fixtures (last season) but none of them were relegated,” said Benitez, as per the reports by the Northern Echo.
Ray of hope?
Magpies finally got the sweet taste of a win at their home as the St. James Park was fuelled with the blend of anxiety and joy sprayed all over it. The win came against Javi Garcia’s Watford who had a flying start of the campaign and were tipped as the favourites for the game. In fact, the scoreline wasn’t the right reflection of the game. It was an ugly encounter as the tension of another loss was spread into the stands and the Magpies family kept getting minor heart-attacks throughout the game. Newcastle only managed to hit two shots on target and fortunately had luck on their side as Watford missed a lot of easy chances that should have been converted.
Nevertheless, the first win would definitely give United a huge boost, and as it turns out, their manager is a happy man after the game.
“You could see everybody was trying their best and the connection between the fans and the players was there,” said Rafael Benitez. “Everybody was pushing in the same direction. The players are giving everything. We are making mistakes, starting from me, but still trying our best. The fans appreciate that. Even in the worst situations, they were still behind the team.”
But what we saw on the pitch isn’t going to save Newcastle’s sinking ship. They need something beyond these efforts to avoid relegation and find the much-needed stability.
So, what could turn the tables for the Magpies? No matter how much money you spend or how sound your tactics seem, it all comes down to how players do on the pitch. If things need some changing, it’s the players who’ll have to step up and push the envelope. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Newcastle’s squad has brilliance in it and the quality that they have in their team could definitely lift them up in the table and avoid relegation.
Let’s have a look at some of the players who could save Newcastle’s dismal campaign this season:
- Martin Dubravka:
Starting from the backline, Newcastle’s go-to man who has been a revelation since his arrival. Half of Newcastle’s misfortunes have undoubtedly been saved by brave Martin between the sticks. The 29-year-old has saved the day for Newcastle countless times. In their last meeting against Southampton, Dubravka denied plenty of goal-scoring chances and if winds of change strike St.Mary’s, the man in front of the goal would surely play a huge part in the act.
- Jamaal Lascelles:
Second in the list, the man with the armband, a solid leader at the back who cements the brick wall —shouts and commands and doesn’t like nonsense in front of the goal. He’s a threat with the set-pieces and a vital player for the Magpies. A team needs a leader like him and he’s someone who could bring the adrenalin rush in the players with one strong tackle.
- Jojo Shelvey:
Undoubtedly, the most gifted attacking player in the team. On his day, Jojo pulls the strings for the Magpies — be it creating balls when out of the blue, pushing the ball forward or bagging goals when an opportunities come his way. Past has evidently shown us what Shelvey could do with his creative flair. Although, he has failed to find his edge this season and has registered only one assist in the Premier League. Shelvey’s qualities still are an anchor to many fans and perhaps, his manager.
- Matt Ritchie:
Matt is someone who enjoys attacking freedom and creating trouble for the opposition on the flank. He’s known for his sublime set-pieces and scythes a lot of crosses from the right flank. As Rondon and Pérez are good with headers, Ritchie could bring life to Newcastle’s attack if he’s allowed to caper up the flanks. He has been instrumental in Newcastle’s previous two campaigns and could do his magic if he’s given an attacking role in Benitez’s tactics.
- Ayoze Pérez
Goals win you games and who else could give fans the assurance of that department other than their man up-front — Ayoze Pérez. The 25-year-old was Newcastle’s hero last Saturday as his goal in the 65th minute took Newcastle out of the bottom-three and brought a healthy amount of positivity in the dressing room. The goal gave him a huge boost and he’d be looking to continue his form in the impending fixtures.
Newcastle’s poor start had a concoction of everything — bad fixtures, poor tactics and perhaps, melancholic vibes within the club. Although, they’ve avoided a defeat in their last 2 games, this win against Watford is a big indicator that it’s not over for Benitez’s men yet.