Times are a changing at Newcastle United and nowhere more so than on the pitch.
Obviously a big turnover in players throughout the summer but that isn’t the only clear sign of major changes under Rafa Benitez.
Whilst results and performances are slowly but surely improving, the manager is exerting his expertise in so many different ways.
Maybe the most obvious has been in how Newcastle have been scoring their goals…
Fulham 1 Newcastle 0
Newcastle 1 Huddersfield 2
Dwight Gayle scoring from a penalty after keeper saves first effort.
Newcastle 4 Reading 1
Ritchie free-kick eventually falls to Hayden in the box who scores with low shot,
A Newcastle corner sees Gouffran fouled – Ritchie scoring from the spot-kick.
Superb Gayle free-kick from over 25 yards out makes it three.
Hayden dribbles into box and squares for Gayle tap-in.
Bristol City 0 Newcastle 1
Diame perfect ball through the middle and Gayle expertly finishes.
Newcastle 2 Brighton 0
Ritchie plays free-kick in and excellent Lascelles header meets it.
Jonjo Shelvey quality free-kick form outside the box.
Six of Newcastle’s eight Championship goals have come from set-pieces (corners, free-kicks, penalties) and only two from open play.
A quite remarkable transformation under Rafa, to go from a situation under Pardew, Carver and McClaren where these type of goals were such a rarity.
With clean sheets in the last three matches (incl Cheltenham in cup) as well, it looks as though Rafa could be getting things right at both ends. The start of the season saw some poor defending of set-pieces with the Fulham goal a prime example (plus a number of examples in pre-season) – but definite signs of improvement since. Tuesday saw Rafa giving a guided tour of the training ground to a group of Newcastle fans, then during his time talking to the supporters he even gave them a tactics lesson on how to defend a set-piece!
Before Rafa Benitez arrived, it did really look as though it was a case of just anybody deciding to take corners and free-kicks.
You would regularly see the likes of Dummett, Colback and others taking them, with fans left scratching their heads – seemingly no plan or belief that goals could be scored from them.
The goals from Gayle and Shelvey via long-range free-kicks were excellent, whilst the delivery into the box from corners/free-kicks by Shelvey and especially Ritchie have been a massive improvement.
With two goals from penalties in five games already, it gives some perspective to only three scored in the entire Premier League season of 2015/16. Newcastle could have had other penalties as well in these opening games and with now getting more players into the box, it would be surprising if this trend doesn’t continue.
With Mitrovic and Murphy to be added to the attacking threat, goals from set-pieces could be set to flow even more.
Goals in open play are dictated by so many factors but those from corners and free-kicks can be influenced so much more by work on the training ground, drilling in good habits and coaching the repetition of them time after time.
Of course nothing beats the kind of goal scored at Bristol City in open play, the superb ball from Diame opening up the defence and Gayle taking down the ball superbly and beating the keeper with such ease.
The reality is of course that every goal counts however it is scored and if Newcastle are to get close to the 90 they scored back in 2009/10, they will need every bit of advantage they can find.
I have a feeling that we are set for a season full of surprises at Newcastle United – with most of them ones we can look forward to.