After another revealing interview this week at Newcastle’s Spanish training camp, Benitez quite rightly has insisted that things need to change at Newcastle for us to be successful at the right end of the table.
For the third window in succession, Rafa was short-changed by Mike Ashley in the transfer market and even with all his experience, he will privately admit the limited movement he was given, couldn’t have worked out much better.
The signing of Islam Slimani was a prime example. He’s a quality player, but he’s not fit – although his signing has done wonders for us without him even kicking a ball yet.
Here’s why amongst other positives to take from a surprisingly fruitful January transfer window:
Slimani’s arrival has pushed Gayle to up his game
A big point to consider on the striker front is the impact Slimani has had on Gayle without playing. Having that competition there appears to have spurred the former Palace man on and he has been impressive ever since. Gayle’s known he’s HAD to perform, with Slimani ready to take his place as soon as he’s fit if he didn’t take his big chance.
With two goals and two assists in his last four, you could even argue that it’s now not even a given that Slimani would start over Gayle vs Huddersfield (if he was fit that is).
Gayle has been missing the odd chance still (Southampton), but he’s played a key part in almost every goal we’ve scored in the last few weeks. He got a nice assist for Ritchie against Man.Utd, scored two at Bournemouth and set up Kennedy superbly in the last game too; playing a role in 4 of our last 6 goals.
He’ll still play a part and has put paid to the unhealthy Mitrovic situation
Arriving far too late in the window but nonetheless, Slimani was the bit of quality we were missing up front and on the face of it looked a coup on loan. He of course has not been fit since and hasn’t even kicked a ball for NUFC yet, but we are in a strong position at present and his eventual introduction to the team will give us another timely boost ahead of the final few months of the season. He has Champions League experience, offers a different threat to Gayle and will be hungry to impress.
It is a controversial subject, but his arrival has also allowed us to loan Mitrovic out – which I see as a win-win scenario. He is flying at Fulham, scoring goals and gaining confidence and only increasing his re-sale value. He either forces his way back into our plans (unlikely under Rafa) or we re-coup our fee in the summer.
He is a fan favourite but doesn’t seem to work in Rafa’s current system, so there is only one winner there. Chants of “MITRO, MITRO” were unhealthy whenever he was dropped and it was becoming a weekly distraction as to why he wasn’t playing.
Even if this is/was justified, Rafa didn’t see him fitting into our current system so we needed to ship him out to focus. Mitro has done well since he left, but so have we – and that’s what truly matters in all of this.
The huge impact of Kenedy and Dubravka
Straying away from Slimani here, but the signings of Kenedy and Dubravka look to be two inspired ones, with their immediate influence on the team distracting from Slimani’s nonexistence. Both were low key signings but have improved the NUFC team massively.
His two goals in a key game against Southampton sum up Kenedy’s impact so far, proving us with real power going forward and more of a cutting edge. I expected him to be deployed at left back but he has looked excellent going forward on the left wing and has provided a welcome boost the team. Keeping hold of him in the summer will be difficult at this rate after his loan from Chelsea expires, but that shows just what a great talent we’ve been able to borrow.
Dubravka however is all set to sign in the summer with a £4m deal already in place – and it looks like a no brainer. He has been assured and we have looked far more solid with his presence; personified with the excellent display in the win over Manchester United. Goalkeeper has been a problem for us all season with the inconsistent displays of Darlow in particular and we can finally now play a settled back five with Lejeune and Dummett fit too.
The performances of the pair will surely have bene beyond even Rafa’s expectations and with Slimani to return soon (and him helping push Gayle on in the mean time), we are very fortunate that the manager has bailed Mike Ashley and his lack of spending out once more.