Rafa Benitez now has only 17 days and three matches to try and keep Newcastle United afloat.
With the team deep in trouble, Rafa was pitched in head first on Friday 11 March 2016, getting to work immediately that afternoon on the training ground with not a second to waste.
What an entry into the Newcastle United madness, on the Monday (14 March) Newcastle were away at (soon to be) Champions Leicester City, then six days later it was the derby, especially high pressure with United having lost the last six against the mackems.
This was then followed by a trip to our other relegation competitors Norwich, before seven days later a very tough away game at Southampton.
Difficult to find a more difficult introduction of both the kind of opposition and shortage of time available to work with.
Little wonder it has taken Rafa Benitez a little time to work through what he has to work with and how best to use his very limited resources.
Imagine instead it is Saturday 13 February and after Newcastle had got their latest tonking, 5-1 at Chelsea, Mike Ashley had given the hopeless Steve McClaren the boot and given Rafa Benitez the job?
At that point there were 18 days until Newcastle played again due to yet another FA Cup exit at the first opportunity.
This is how the table looked:
Just think what Rafa Benitez could have done in that time to sort his squad out, find out about the players he had inherited, then being able to prepare for two very winnable games to start his Newcastle managerial career.
Instead Newcastle came back from the ‘rejuvenating’ trip to La Manga and lost to a very poor Stoke City, before Bournemouth took them apart at St James Park.
To give you an idea of where those two teams’ seasons were heading in the final stretch – since beating Newcastle, Stoke have won only 1 of 7 games and conceded 20 goals, whilst Bournemouth have lost 4 of their 6 matches and conceded 16 goals.
There has already been encouraging signs of improvement in some of the play under Rafa Benitez but five weeks after taking over we started to see more tangible proof, United beat Swansea 3-0 and then have followed up with excellent draws against Man City and Liverpool.
People keep saying now ‘if only Rafa had more time’ and the crying shame is that there was the ideal time moment back in February, when despite fans saying enough was enough and Steve McClaren had to go, Mike Ashley thought he could still just get away with it again this season. Keep the yes man in place despite over two thirds of the season gone and Newcastle in the bottom three (see table above).
I think if Rafa Benitez had been brought in back in mid-February, Newcastle would be well out of the relegation zone by now.
I think he would have used the time productively and got things shaken up, unlike McClaren simply wandering around telling all the players and the media not to worry, Newcastle had just been unlucky in the first six months of the season….