Positives have been hard to come by over the weekend given we slipped into the relegation zone and saw those around us pick up points, but there were three players who stood out on Saturday – Florian Lejeune, Sean Longstaff and Salomon Rondon.
We are light on numbers and short of quality, but Lejeune and Longstaff’s emergence will give Benitez a much needed boost – with their performances made all the more impressive given it was a first start of the league season for both.
Starting with Florian Lejeune, it was as if he’d never been away. He was our best player in the dismal FA Cup draw with Blackburn and he stood out once against at Chelsea. He reads the play brilliantly, has an reassuring sense of calm about him (something that appears to help bring out the best in Lascelles) and has one hell of a right-foot on him; with his pinged passes up top and out wide something Rondon could thrive on.
Then to Sean Longstaff – the local lad who didn’t look phased by the task in hand on his full Premier League debut. He may not have stood out to some, but he did incredibly well in the circumstances, sticking to his task brilliantly up against world class operators like Kante, Jorginho and Kovacic. He looked after the ball well and showed flashes of really quality with some impressive switches of play, but his work off the ball was equally impressive, running 12.8km (more than any other playing on the pitch) and showing real discipline in just about everything he did. Given the lack of options we currently have at central midfield, it was great to see him slot in so well.
And finally, Salomon Rondon. He has so little to work with, yet he manages to hold onto the ball brilliantly, nearly always bullies his opponent and constantly gives 110% in a role that would frustrate most strikers. He missed the odd half chance, but his link up play and ability to protect the ball was priceless for us once again.
I dread to think what’ll happen if he got injured and Joselu was forced to come in..