Since he arrived, Rafa Benitez has brought many qualities to Newcastle United and changed the mindset the club had been stuck in. However, the one thing that I’ve been most impressed with, is his ability to switch off after a game and shift attention onto the next one – it is this balance that has to be maintained.
Since we lost the opening two games of the season, the turnaround has been terrific. We have progressed to the next round of the Capital One Cup, won six games in a row across all competitions and amassed five consecutive clean sheets in the process. However, a bit of caution needs to be exercised, we’re only halfway through September and already some are sticking black and white ribbons on the Championship trophy.
“I just think it is Newcastle and the rest nowhere.
“I’m not being arrogant, I’m really not.
“You knew if Rafa got it right, they would absolutely romp that league.” – Mick Quinn
Now I don’t want to put a dampener on our great start to the season and I for one was obviously overjoyed at the 6-0 scoreline at Q.P.R…BUT I do have a feeling that those could be very dangerous words from our former number nine this week.
Like I’ve said, the clocks haven’t gone back yet, it’s a long hard winter and we are going to have some sticky moments before next May, so heaping pressure on the side isn’t entirely the most helpful thing to do.
The positives are clear and Rafa knows this, it’s just he has been able to manage the expectation and insert some realism into the players’ heads and not let them settle back and just expect to ‘romp the league’. Players aren’t even sure if they are going to be starters from one week to the next and this is a major positive from Rafa.
In recent seasons players who have under performed for long periods (Sissoko and Wijnaldum) and players that were far away from Premier League standard (Thauvin, Cabella and Obertan) were relied upon due to big price tags and for the simple fact that there was nobody better to replace them. Even players that were well past their best (Taylor and Coloccini) were inserted into the side automatically, even though their reputations were sliding at an alarming rate. Even the likes of Anita and Gouffran have had their mentalities changed for the better.
We all loved the attacking style exhibited during the reigns of Kevin Keegan and Sir Bobby Robson, but neither could harmonise the combination of attacking flair and a sound defensive bedrock. In Rafa Benitez we have someone who seems to have thought of the bigger picture, the five clean sheets shows evidence of this.
We’ve been notoriously bad travelers over the last few seasons, to the point that nicking a draw away from home would have been welcomed with open arms – scoring a few goals would have been unheard of, just the usual capitulation to be expected. Rafa has changed that and it’s paying dividends, with some great wins away from home to back up the clean sheets, having an idea on how to score goals helps, especially from set-pieces.
We should have nothing to fear in this division and certainly the rotation policy Rafa has adopted should allow us to have a pop at the Capital One cup, or at least have a bit of hope of staying in it beyond the third round as was par for the course in recent seasons. We all know we’ll probably come unstuck against a ‘big’ team from the Premier League but needlessly tossing the prospect of a cup run to one side shouldn’t be an option this season and I’m sure Rafa knows this as well.
Rafa Benitez could go down in history here and he doesn’t really have to do too much. Promotion is the aim for this season, a cup run would be a bonus, but the real change has already been made. The hope is back among supporters, belief is filtering around the club again.
Winning games is the solution to this and Rafa is the reason we’ve been doing just that. He has exercised calm and a desire to keep focusing on the next game and the next game only.
Romping the league would be nice but let’s keep a lid on expectations and focus on one match at a time, as going up by a point or two would do me. I’m sure it would do Rafa as well.