Two months and a quarter of the way into this Championship season and I think we can now make a number of judgement calls about how things are panning out at Newcastle United.
Maybe the most obvious is that Rafa Benitez likes to play a safety first form of team selection/formation.
Very definitely more ‘if the opposition don’t score then they don’t win’, rather than a more Keegan/Sir Bobby philosophy of ‘let’s score more than the opposition’.
To be fair we all knew that this was the case and as people keep saying, ‘we trust in Rafa’.
The last 19 matches (all competitions) under Benitez have seen only three defeats, with 12 wins and four draws.
To put that in some kind of context, under Steve McClaren Newcastle played 31 matches and lost 18 of them, winning seven and drawing six.
When it comes to individual players, maybe the most interesting case is Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Newcastle fans counted off the four games he was suspended for at the outset of the season, waiting for the dream partnership of Gayle & Mitrovic, waited, and waited, and are still waiting.
I have to say that I had my doubts and now I can’t see anything other than Rafa Benitez has serious trust issues with Aleksandar Mitrovic.
I tend to look at Rafa’s time at Newcastle as only really starting properly once he got his head sorted about the club following his first four games in charge. Benitez then picking his team armed with a certain amount of knowledge and Newcastle ending the season undefeated in their final six Premier League matches.
Rafa started Mitrovic in the games against Leicester, Sunderland and Southampton – that defeat against the Saints appearing to be a bit of a turning point, when the new manager made a conscious decision of the players he was going to put his trust in.
Papiss Cisse, who Rafa Benitez clearly had no intention of keeping on this season, started all five of the games from the home win over Swansea onwards. Mitrovic started none of the games in that relegation run-in and only reappeared for the dead rubber against Spurs on the final day, when there was nothing to play for.
To me that says it all, Rafa Benitez felt he had no choice other than to rely on a striker (Papiss Cisse) to try and save Newcastle’s Premier League life, who he clearly didn’t rate that highly anyway.
This Championship season, Mitrovic was given a start at QPR when Dwight Gayle was rotated/rested and despite the Serbian scoring and Newcastle winning 6-0, no other starts for our number 45 and no partnership with Gayle.
Altogether this season, Aleksandar Mitrovic has only played 141 minutes of Championship football.
To be honest, even though Daryl Murphy has even to make it onto the bench in the Championship games, I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t end up starting more matches than the former Anderlecht striker.
With only the Wolves Cup match to judge him, even though he is 11 years the senior, Murphy looks an awful lot more mobile than Mitrovic. He is also versatile in that he can play wide left as well as through the middle.
People talk of Aleksandar Mitrovic being loyal to Newcastle and Rafa Benitez said all the right things in the summer about wanting to keep him. However, surely the reality was that Newcastle were never ever going to be able to shift the Serbian international, arriving for over £14m and on massive wages, who was going to stump up any kind of satisfactory deal for a player who had failed to convince in his first year in England?
I’m not saying Mitrovic doesn’t have some attributes but he clearly isn’t a £14m forward, a summer 2015 figure which with the rapidly inflating market would be the equivalent of around £25m/£30m these days,
As always, our opinion doesn’t count of course anyway, it is Rafa’s alone that has any value.
With each passing match most Newcastle fans are waiting for the United boss to realise the error of his ways and play that Mitrovic and Gayle dream team up front.
It isn’t going to happen. The fact that despite Diame being increasingly poor with each extra match, Rafa doesn’t see a viable alternative at the moment.
My feeling is that the lack of mobility means Rafa doesn’t see himself able to trust Mitrovic to do the job, with of course his disciplinary issues an additional smaller issue.
Not that I’m saying that Mitrovic will never be given another start and indeed with five games separated by only a fortnight after this latest international break, I would say it is pretty much a certainly he will get at least one start.
However, they will be few and far between, and if Rafa does consider going with a big man/smaller man combo in the Championship then I have a feeling it has every chance of being Daryl Murphy rather than Aleksandar Mitrovic, who gets to make a go of it with Dwight Gayle.
I think clearly most of us want Mitrovic to be a success at Newcastle United but as always Rafa Benitez is simply looking at things with a clearer head than the rest of us, seeing the reality rather than simply what you/he wants to see.