Rafa Benitez plans to ‘add quality, ‘brains’ and keep the mentality’ if he stays at St James’ Park this summer according to Mark Douglas.
The NUFC writer’s fascinating piece for the Chronicle also highlights Rafa’s plans to bring in a left-back, right-back, winger and a striker, also focusing on his ‘obsession’ to find the ‘ideal midfielder’ – being something that could be key this summer with Shelvey, Hayden and Diame all at risk of leaving.
Here’s a snippet from the piece itself, revealing how Rafa now plans to sign a ‘small number of carefully picked players’ to allow us to compete against the top four, add an ‘extra element’ to our play and, ultimately, bring some success back to St James’ Park:
‘If phase one was ripping it up and starting again in the Championship, phase two was making Newcastle Premier League ready – and Benitez has been less than happy with the pace of the progress on that front and the help he’s been given by the United hierarchy. It has – by necessity – been a survival mission for each of the last two seasons which has meant leaning back on defensive strength and safety-first tactics against the division’s heavyweights.
‘In phase three being to Benitez wants to be in a position where his team doesn’t have to do everything perfectly and rely on mistakes from the opposition to pick up the odd point against the top four.
‘It won’t mean a radical overhaul of playing style – Newcastle aren’t going to suddenly become all-out attack. But as fans have seen with Miguel Almiron’s introduction, Newcastle now have an added dimension to their attacks and it has created problems for opponents. In Benitez’s evolution, adding more pace and a midfield metronome to his side would be key.
‘His blueprint will be to add a small number of carefully picked players who he feels can work within the system that he believes is tried and trusted and – if backed – will bring success to Newcastle. He wants a left-back, a right-back, a winger and a striker as a minimum – and there will also be work to do in midfield, where senior men Mo Diame and Jonjo Shelvey could well move on.
‘In his training ground office a few months ago, Benitez spoke to this correspondent about wanting to add “brains” in midfield. He is so forensic about the way his teams play that he analyses performances down to the very last pass or movement – and his ideal midfielder would be someone who makes the right move or pass 90% of the time. He cited David Silva as the perfect midfield metronome.
‘His obsession at Newcastle has been to find someone of that ilk – but he knows that player will cost upwards of £20million. Had Newcastle stayed up in 2015, Georginio Wijnaldum would have perfectly fit that mould so it’s not as if the players aren’t out there – and Benitez’s scouting team have looked in Spain, Portugal and Italy at options. If he can broker a deal for someone like that, it would add an extra element to Newcastle’s play.’
The piece then looked at Benitez’s focus on ‘character’ and a players ability to fit into his system, insisting that he’ll focus on maintaining the ‘chemistry’ that exists in our side if he stays this summer:
‘Most importantly, Benitez will want to retain the chemistry that exists in his current squad.
‘A Newcastle insider said that the way the United boss builds his groups is different from any other manager United have had. He prioritises character and where they would fit into his system rather than bringing in good players and adapting his system around them.
‘It means the list of targets doesn’t always include the biggest names, but this version of ‘Rafaball’ does narrow the number of options Newcastle have if they are going to properly back him. If he puts forward targets, he doesn’t want to hear about alternative options who are younger. He wants the players he has identified for very specific reasons.’
We have a lack of quality and depth in some areas, but this team has real potential, being more than just an organised group of players who work hard and follow instructions.
We have a top goalkeeper, the best set of centre-backs we’ve had in a long time and the three amigos; with Perez, Almiron and Rondon having the potential to cause problems for any defence.
Changes in midfield look likely, Yedlin could well be upgraded (with superior options needed in both wing-back positions if we’re to continue playing this 3-4-2-1 system) and there’ll be a demand to improve our options in attack, with the likes of Kenedy and Joselu doing nothing to suggest they’d be ready to step in if one of our first-team forwards got injured.