It’s been a season of ups and down (or downs and ups when you look at how our 2018/19 campaign has panned out!), but we got there in the end, with a solid end-of-season run securing a 13th place finish.
Takeover talk has since taken over, but now the dust has settled following our 4-0 win at Fulham two weeks ago, here’s our players ratings for each and every player to feature over our latest season:
Martin Dubravka – 8 – One of our most consistent players this season. He may have made big errors earlier in the year, letting Son’s shot slip under him in the 1-0 defeat at Spurs and failing to catch a cross that cost us 2 points at Wolves, but he’s won us MUCH more points than he’s lost us this season. He’s been a calming influence from the back, has made several key saves, is quick off his line and was arguably our best player over our difficult first half of the season.
Freddie Woodman – 5 – It was good to see him feature in the FA Cup, with him being rated as one of our top young talents but rarely getting a chance in the first-team. That said, I felt he looked pretty shaky when put under pressure in our home clash with Blackburn, and feel he was beaten too easily in our Cup defeat to Watford.
Fabian Schar – 9 – The Swiss international took a few games to settle into life in England, with him struggling against Daryl Murphy in a early-season cup defeat at Notts Forest, but he’s never looked back since. His exquisite
passing from the back has set up so many attacks, he’s stepped out of defence with ease, he’s scored 4 crucial (and world class!) goals, however he’s also been brilliant at the dirty work in defence, with him loving a battle and defending superbly more often than not on the right hand side of Rafa’s three-man defence. One of our player’s of the season and a stunning piece of business at just £3m!
Florian Lejeune – 7.5 – A knee ligament injury last summer meant he only played 12 times in the Premier League, but it’s no coincidence that we won almost 40% of our points this season while he was in the side. His calmness, composure and quality at the back got the best out of Jamaal Lascelles – a player that had looked shaky prior to his return – with him also helping us to key wins and clean sheets against Cardiff, Huddersfield and Burnley. He didn’t play much and another ACL injury in April was devastating to see, but he played a big part in our surge to safety between January and April.
Federico Fernandez – 7.5 – The Argentinian was one of our few consistent players over the first half of the season and has been hugely unlucky to lose his place in the side since the turn of the year. He’s seemed a good communicator, a leader and a very capable option at centre-back whenever called upon. I nearly gave him a 7, but it’s easy to forget just how brilliant he was early doors when 90% of our side were struggling.
Jamaal Lascelles – 6 – A six out of 10 may seem a little harsh considering he’s been a constant in the 7th best defence in the Premier League this season, but it’s fair to say he’s been a level or two below the player we saw last year. His leadership, no nonsense style, physicality and aerial prowess has been useful, however he’s had a few too many lapses in concentration and more ‘bad days’ than we’ve been used to seeing.
Ciaran Clark – 6 – He’s not played much and has his limitations, but he’s done a decent job the odd time we’ve seen him this season. The Irish international captained the side and scored in our big win at Burnley in November and ended up scoring 3 goals in 10 starts.
Matt Ritchie – 8 – One of our most underrated players this season for me. He struggled to make an impact or get into games from the right-hand side of midfield over the first quarter of the season, but Rafa’s decision to switch him to left wing-back has been absolute masterstroke. He’s now reinvented himself as a player, with this energy, intensity, discipline and decent left foot making him a very capable wing-back. He’s also chipped in with 3 goals and, with 9 assists, no Newcastle player created more goals than him over the 2018/19 season.
Paul Dummett – 7 – He missed patches of the season through injury, but it’s felt like we often look more solid and safe at the back when he’s on the pitch. He’s put his head on everything, is quick to help out his teammates on the cover and slotted in nicely as a left-sided centre-back when called upon. Another solid season from the local lad.
Javier Manquillo – 6.5 – The Spaniard has his limitations and has often been criticised by Newcastle fans (rightly so at times!), but I feel he’s done pretty well at times this season. He set up Rondon in our crucial 1-0 win at Huddersfield in December and has actually came in and done a pretty solid job in Yedlin’s place, bagging 3 assists and defending well in wins over Burnley, Leicester, Southampton.
DeAndre Yedlin – 5 – His speed has given us an outlet on the counter at times, with there being no doubting his effort and athleticism, but his awareness at the back and defensive decision making has cost us on more than one occasion. He’s bagged one or two decent assists and scored in our narrow defeat at Man City, however a few two many left-wingers have given him the run-around, with him being sent off needlessly against Wolves and conceding two avoidable penalties. If I were partial to betting sites, I’d back Benitez (if he stays!) to replace the American with a new first-team right-back this summer.
Isaac Hayden – 8.5 – For a player that wanted a move down south for family reasons both last summer and again in January, he’s been absolutely outstanding. Even if you take away his personal circumstances, his form since the turn of the year has been incredible. He’s covered more ground than any Newcastle United player since then, also making more tackles, however his ability to carry the ball forward and keep it ticking in midfield has shown he’s a very capable both on and off the ball. It’s also worth noting that he scored in our 1-1 draw at Wolves (a game we should’ve won!) and bagged assists in wins over Cardiff, Man City, Huddersfield and Southampton over the second half of the season. His red card against Cardiff on the second weekend of the season was a low point, however he got his head down, showed superb professionalism and let his football do the talking. I hope we can keep him, but if this is to be his last season at the club, we must thank him for his efforts in a time where so many young footballers would’ve spat their dummy out and forced a move.
Sean Longstaff – 8 – Our young player of the season in what has been a brilliant breakthrough year for the 21-year-old. The impact he made in 9 Premier League starts was incredible for a player of his inexperience, with him coming into the top flight like he’d been playing here all of this life. His coolness in possession, quality on the ball, decision making and ability to get back and do the dirty work was outstanding, with many comparing him to Michael Carrick. He scored his first senior goal for the club from distance in a FA Cup win at Blackburn, won the all important penalty that saw us beat Man City at St James’ Park and scored his first Premier League goal in a 2-0 win over Burnley – a game that proved to be his last home game of the season, with an injury at West Ham cutting his season short a week later. Man Utd may want to sign him, but he could stay and soon become a local hero if his displays this season are anything to go by.
Ki Sung-yueng – 6 – A mixed season for the South Korean, who essentially replaced Mikel Merino after arriving on a free from Swansea last summer. Rafa didn’t seem to fancy him early on, with his fitness levels said to be below the standards expected, however he played a huge part in our first few wins of the season. He came on and made an immediate impact in our huge 1-0 win over Watford, controlled the game in a 2-0 win over Bournemouth the week after and then ran the show in a 1-2 win at Burnley a fortnight later. He’s a bit of a plodder and lacks the mobility and energy Longstaff can bring, but he’s shown his quality on the ball at times and looks capable of being a very a handy squad player.
Mo Diame – 5 – If we’re comparing him to the Mo Diame that won midfield battles week in week out over the second half of the 2017/18 season, it’s fair to say he’s been below his best this time around. He’s still come in and done a fairly solid job, giving us a physical presence and ‘tackler’, but his limitation in possession have let him down at times. After all, it’s a little bit counterproductive to be a ‘ball-winner’ only to give it away more often than not when you get it! I personally think he’s still got something to give and could be a decent back up option in midfield next season, but it looks like he’ll leave on a free next month.
Jonjo Shelvey – 4 – He’s not necessarily been all that bad when he’s played, but if we’re rating a player based on how much influence he’s had this season, Shelvey has had an extremely underwhelming year. Injuries have hampered him – and it’s been claimed that he’s tried to come back before he’s been 100% fit – but there’s an overriding feeling that he’s just not a ‘Rafa Benitez’ player, with him finding himself behind Longstaff, Hayden, Ki and Diame in the pecking order at times this season. He scored a stunning goal in our final-day 4-0 win at Fulham, a performance that showed just how good he can be on his day, however I can’t help bu feel this season will be his last at St James’ Park if Rafa sticks around.
Salomon Rondon – 9.5 – This might sound a little too high, with this mark suggesting he’s had an almost perfect season up top, but, in reality, he’s done absolutely everything we could’ve hoped from him and more. 12 goals, 7 assists, superb work rate, brilliant hold up play, a real handful and constant physical presence and someone who’s given us the perfect platform to build on in attack. It’s also worth noting how his link up play has brought the best out of both Perez and Almiron. Our player of the season – and rightly so. Now it’s time to sign him up on a permanently deal!
Ayoze Perez – 8.5 – The Spaniard had a difficult start to the season, with fans getting on his back at times during sloppy displays at St James’ Park, but he’s hit back in stunning fashion with form that should silence his doubters for good. He went on to score 10 goals from late January to mid May – a tally very few Premier League players have bettered over that period – and his all round play also improved considerably over the second half of the season, with him linking up brilliantly with Rondon and thriving of the arrival of Miguel Almiron.
Miguel Almiron – 7.5 – The Paraguayan made an instant impact following his January arrival from Atlanta Utd, transforming our attack and giving us the huge boost we needed – both on and off the pitch – as we headed into the business end of the season. His pace gave us a new dimension down the left, his movement was superb and freed up space for Ritchie and Rondon, his energy levels and work rate was incredible and his ability to create and break on the counter attack was devastating at times. He may not have got on the scoresheet, but his influence and immediate impact played a huge part in our upturn in form. I can’t wait to see what he can produce next season when he’s fully settled in!
Christian Atsu – 5 – He came on from the bench as much as he started this season, but 1 goal in 32 appearances is nowhere near enough for a winger. That said, he nearly always works hard and has had some impressive cameos from the bench over the second half of the season, with him also getting on the scoresheet during an impressive end-of-season display against Liverpool.
Yoshinori Muto – 3 – Considering the Japanese international arrived for just shy of £10m last summer, it must be said that he’s had an extremely disappointing season – even if it feels like he hasn’t ever had a good run in the side to prove himself. He looked sharp when coming off the bench early in the season and scored in an impressive performance at Old Trafford, however it seems he’s not done enough to impress Rafa thus far; with the language barrier said to have been a problem at times. Let’s hope he can start making more impact next season.
Joselu – 3 – He scored in two of our first three games, heading home impressively in defeats to Spurs and Chelsea at St James’ Park, but his all round play has been way below the standard needed unfortunately. The Spaniard bagged a goal and an assist in our FA Cup win at Blackburn in January, but I remember his performance in the next round (vs Watford) being one of the worst displays I’ve seen from a forward at St James’ Park. His composure and lack of hold up play has been shown up since Rondon’s arrival and I suspect he will be shipped out this summer – whether Rafa stays or not.
Jacob Murphy – 2 – Aside from a good bit of wing play that set up Rondon’s goal at Everton in December, I struggle to think what he’s contributed. He got his chance in the Cups but failed to take it and, despite scoring a couple of goals, he has generally been criticised by Baggies fans during his loan spell with West Brom over the second half of the season. I struggle to see him being part of Benitez’s plans at St James’ Park unless he improves quickly and considerably.
Kenedy – 1 – It sounds harsh, but he’s had an absolutely horrific season. Aside from a well-taken goal at Man Utd and a good cross that set up Rondon’s power-header in the win over Bournemouth, he’s done absolutely nothing and looked pretty atrocious when he’s played. A part of me wonders if he never fully recovered from his horror show at Cardiff – our first away game of the season which saw him fail to complete a single pass in the first half, escape a definite red card and miss a penalty to win it in the 90th minute. Since then, his touch has been way off, his decision making has been reckless at best and his attitude has seemed questionable at times too, with his work rate and intensity being noticeably different to what we saw during last season’s six-month loan spell. It’s safe to say he won’t be returning from Chelsea this summer.
Rafa Benitez – 8.5 – Beginning with his summer business, it’s fair to say he did extremely well with what he was given to play with. Schar and Fernandez have proven to be two real bargains at the back, Ki has been a solid signing on a free and Rondon’s arrival has been huge, with him fitting the Spaniard system perfectly and delivering the goods with 12 goals and 7 assists.
The beginning of the season was a real struggle. We looked toothless in attack and shaky at the back, however I’m a firm believer that things might have been different had the board backed him to sign Rondon much earlier in the window – something that would’ve allowed him to get a proper pre-season under his belt and able to hit the ground running.
Once he got fit, we started winning, but Rafa’s ability to stay calm despite our worst start to a Premier League season in over 100 years seems key when looking back. When other managers would’ve panicked, he stayed calm and found solutions, with his decision to move Ritchie to left wing-back, play three-centre backs and get two wingers closer to Rondon in a 3-4-2-1 working an absolute treat.
He fianlly got top target Miguel Almiron ‘over the line’ in January – and it was immediately easy to see why he’d been pushing so hard to sign the Paraguayn. He transformed our attack and played a big part in our upturn in form at St James’ Park, with Rafa also deserving credit for his handling of both Sean Longstaff, Ayoze Perez and Isaac Hayden – three players who’ve had outstanding 2019’s.
Considering how bleak things looked at one stage last summer (which was followed by an appalling start to the season) Rafa deserves huge credit for the fact we’ve escaped relegation and finished 13th with the 7th best defence.
A world class manager and a man Mike Ashley would be crazy to lose this summer.
See online sports betting South Africa here for anyone fancying a flutter ahead of what promises to be another big summer of sport.