By Joshua Moir
With the new UEFA Nations League in progress, this is the perfect opportunity for Rafa and his coaching staff to use the time to prepare his players for Saturday’s big game against Arsenal at St James Park.
Arsenal won’t be easy despite their frailties, with them looking to build on back to back wins in the league.
There are plot holes to Newcastle’s strategy and there has also been some bad luck but there are areas that Newcastle need to work on:
1. The players confidence on the ball
A weakness that other teams can take advantage of – Especially when majority of PL teams are noticeably more prepared at picking apart teams that make mistakes or look disorganised. Teams that struggle to play possession and/or assert themselves are vulnerable against teams that attack with a lot of pace which can intimidate players and create mistakes. We have seen this against: Spurs, Chelsea, Man City and Forest in the cup.
Without Shelvey in the side Newcastle struggle to show confidence and assertiveness when playing possession, there is no real drive to run at players and look to play 1-2’s or play a through ball to the attackers. Ki is tidy in possession and he can hold his own when he is under pressure but when partnered with Mo Diame the midfield lacks that innovative playmaker.
The possession/passing stats compared to the other bottom 2:
Newcastle possession per game: 33% passes per game: 280
West Ham possession per game: 45% – passes per game: 410
Burnley possession: 49% – passes per game: 401
2. Kenedy’s Confidence
The Brazilian has not been able to carry over his good form from last season and has had some shockers already this season. A penalty miss against Cardiff and a forgetful performance against Forest in the Carabao Cup has clearly affected the belief that Kenedy has to attack the opposition. Some positive words and coaching will help Kenedy find his feet again. In my opinion he needs to go back to basics – Kenedy has been dispossessed too often; the victim from his own doing because of opting to attempt skill moves over a pass and move.
Benitez has already stated that he will speak to the Brazilian during this hiatus, and will stress to Kenedy that he retains his confidence.
3. Encourage players to attack in numbers more often
There has been moments where Newcastle’s attacks have looked well organised and coordinated but there are others when attacks are more flaccid than fierce. The way in that most attacks are conducted is through the wide men forcing the opposition to stretch their defence which creates gaps for attackers to run into and we have seen this work best against Spurs and Chelsea. High amount of players getting into the box and causing defence problems. The best example is against Spurs, for most attacks Newcastle had 2/4 players attacking the oppositions box while the wide men crossed the ball or Shelvey playing through balls over the Spurs defenders with 4/5 players looking to create a goal scoring opportunity.
Encouraging players to attack in numbers has been when Newcastle have looked at their best and most entertaining to watch. Pressing high against Arsenal like against Spurs will be effective against Arsenal as they look disorganised when put in defending situations.
Click here for August in review.
4. Decide who partners with Lascelles
With Florian Lejeune recovering from a operation. Rafa needs to decide who partners Jamaal Lascelles.
Ciaran Clark rightly is a strong candidate to be Lascelles centre half partner. Their team work helped Newcastle lift the EFL Championship trophy two years ago. Clark and Lascelles have also worked together in spells during the 17/18 PL last season after losing his place to Lejeune, playing a total of; 13 matches: winning 6, drawing 4 and losing 3.
Federico Fernandez has 118 PL appearances under his belt with Swansea City so he is familiar with the PL and has worked with Rafa Benitez previously in his career , winning 2x Coppa Italia’s at Napoli. This is a strong argument to why Fernandez is the man to play in defen e with Lascelles and he performed well against Chelsea and Manchester City prior to this international break.
Fabian Schär’s style is different to Clark and Fernandez but more similar to Lejeune: Because of his comfort while on the ball and passing ability which puts him into a unique calibre of centre back. At 26 years old the Swiss international has not found a club where he can establish himself as a regular since he left his native country to venture Europe, but his defensive and ball playing attributes could be what Rafa is looking for in his second centre back.