A poor performance and result against Sheffield Wednesday has brought the same questions to the door of Rafa Benitez.
The Newcastle boss asked once again why he doesn’t use Aleksandar Mitrovic, or alternatively Daryl Murphy, alongside Dwight Gayle.
In the past, Rafa Benitez has repeatedly said that he sees the best was of producing results, coming from a tactic/formation whereby a second striker/attacking midfielder is used behind Dwight Gayle. The Newcastle Manager claiming that this is necessary if his team are going to control most of their matches.
This time he has given a little more detail into why playing a big man alongside Dwight Gayle isn’t going to be the answer. Rafa saying that he isn’t going to switch to a tactic whereby the ball is going to be hit long and hope to then build attacks from there.
The Newcastle Manager instead clearly pointing to the supply line being the problem against Sheffield Wednesday, saying that even if he played Mitrovic it would still mean his players having to get to the line to put in dangerous crosses.
Instead Rafa Benitez reiterated that ‘our way has to be to control games’ and then posed the question as to why he should have considered changing everything for the Sheffield Wednesday match and listed a number of reasons in support of that – namely Newcastle were top of the table, have scored the most goals, only two teams have conceded less.
I think maybe the biggest problem is that when the players aren’t fully at it, the tactics Rafa Benitez uses can look ponderous and unlikely to create chances and goals.
The regular tactic is to keep possession and move the ball around quickly between the defenders and midfielders, with the aim of gradually (or even better, quickly) finding gaps and exploiting that possession. On Boxing Day night the passing was so sluggish that it rarely, if ever, dragged Wednesday apart and so the supply to Gayle and to an extent, Diame, was almost non-existent.
With Rafa’s style not really being to have players running at the opposition (apart from possibly the odd game when Atsu plays), preferring passing triangles etc, you tend not to have the ebb and flow you get in games when playing with out and out wingers and/or hitting balls long to a target man.
Instead, when you have a match like Monday’s when the players aren’t on top of their games, you have an awful lot of possession and passing that never leads anywhere, leading to frustration for players and fans (and Rafa!) alike.
These tactics have brought 48 points from 23 games so as Rafa Benitez says, why would he change it? As he says, there may be the odd exception and so far that odd exception was the Norwich match, where the final minutes saw substitute Mitrovic combine with Gayle to produce a dramatic turnaround.
Rather than a change in tactics, the smart money has to be on a change in players within that same system to up the quality, with at least one or two players brought in during the transfer window.
“If you play with Mitrovic or Murphy, for example, play with one striker or two strikers, it’s not enough just to play them.
“You have to give them good delivery, you need players to get to the byline and cross into the box. It’s not just enough to hit the ball up to them.
“We have to be a top side in this division, we have to play football and we have to win.
“Winning games is better but you have to (also) play better.
“It is not the way to be more direct – it could be a solution in one game, a difficult game, but our way has to be to control games.
“If you look at the numbers:
“We have scored more goals than anyone.
“We are the third-lowest team in terms of conceding goals.
“We are at the top of the table now with Brighton.
“Everything has been right, so why do we have to change our style and everything – just because we are missing one player?
“We have to be sure that we improve at home but not by depending on one player.
“The team has to take responsibility: we have to be stronger mentally, technically and tactically when we approach the games.
“If you think about the last game (Sheffield Wednesday) we didn’t change too much. We had two or three options in our approach with the players we have – but a team that before the game that was top, why do you have to change everything?”