The final score of Aston Villa 0 Newcastle 0 was frustrating for us all but was Rafa Benitez partly to blame for the loss of two points on Saturday?
Playing against a seriously poor Aston Villa team, with 11 defeats in a row, did Rafa Benitez get his team selection, formation and tactics right?
These are the 18 players he relied upon:
Newcastle starting 11
Darlow, Anita, Lascelles, Mbemba, Dummett, Sissoko, Townsend, Colback, Tiote, Wijnaldum, Cisse
On the bench
Woodman, Janmaat, Taylor, de Jong, Shelvey, Mitrovic, Perez
No doubt many of you would rather Mbabu had been picked ahead of Taylor on the bench and some maybe think Rolando Aarons could have had a part to play – but these 18 players are pretty much what most fans would pick, not as though any quality players bizarrely omitted.
When you look at what could have been done differently, we are basically talking what could have produced more chances and of course, goals.
So you then are looking at Shelvey, de Jong, Perez and Mitrovic as possible starters instead of on the bench.
All four would have support, to greater or lesser extents, from supporters.
However, you can’t really argue any of them have a decisive case for being picked. Saying they couldn’t have done any worse than Cisse, Wijnaldum etc isn’t really making a case for them, just a reflection of how poor our players/squad actually are/is.
De Jong has shown nothing of substance for Newcastle in his two years here, Jonjo Shelvey faded quickly away after a couple of promising home games, Ayoze Perez is as anonymous as Gini Wijnaldum, plus Mitrovic can’t run around for five minutes never mind 90….
Some would say Newcastle should have two players up front but clearly Rafa Benitez doesn’t trust his players to be able to win any real battle, so he needs numbers in midfield to ensure we compete, even against the likes of Aston Villa.
Playing Mitrovic and another up front would no doubt mean more long balls forward, plus the likes of Lescott would have loved that, plus Mitrovic isn’t great at winning and protecting the ball outside the box.
The other issue suggested by a number of fans and pundits, was why didn’t Newcastle press high and force the home side into mistakes?
Sadly, the likes of Tiote, Cisse and Colback (should have picked up his usual yellow when yet again caught in possession and then dragged his opponent back) don’t have the legs for that, whilst Wijnaldum doesn’t really buy into that either with his largely anonymous contributions.
In addition full-backs Dummett and Anita don’t have the pace/stamina to get up and down the wings on a regular basis to help with a pressing type of game.
The reality for me is that Rafa Benitez has been dealt these cards and players that he thought he could have relied on, such as Shelvey and Mitrovic, have shown themselves not up to it.
This leaves the manager with a very limited team that is never going to be able to dominate the opposition. Even in the wins over Palace and Swansea, Newcastle were put under severe pressure and carried the luck that got them three points.
I think after the first few matches, Rafa had to go with a more limited but reliable first level and hope to keep things tight and take to sneak a goal.
Lascelles scored from a corner against Swansea and Townsend an outstanding free-kick against Palace, it isn’t as though we are slicing through any opposition on a regular basis.
Maybe Rafa Benitez could and should have taken more risks on Saturday but the same tactics had produced eight points from the last 12.
It is like trying to steer a ship safely to port whilst it is taking on water quicker than you can bail it out, desperate times led to Rafa Benitez having to pin his faith on a simple but best of a bad lot, in terms of both ability and character.
The players have not been good enough and no matter who the manager is, the team stepping over the white line then have to stand up and do the job.
They haven’t been capable of that all season, with rare exceptions, and Villa Park is just a final reminder of that.