It has been a great Indian Summer and a renaissance of sorts, given the abyss this club found itself sinking further into after a 3-1 defeat to Bournemouth with a clueless Steve McClaren at the wheel.
This only goes to show the importance the great work Rafa Benitez has done in his first year at the Club and the amount of work that will be required to upgrade it once we get to the Premier League, which I am sure of, despite yesterday’s dismal performance vs Fulham.
Rafa has done an exemplary job getting them to perform at enhanced levels, especially from the mental and tactical aspect of the game, despite the holes in the squad.
One of which is the defence – starting with the Captain. I am not a big fan of Jamaal Lascelles. He is young and has potential but if he had to grow then this was to be his year in the Championship like how Andy Carroll grabbed his. Lascelles has his strengths, he’s more vocal than Coloccini ever was, he’s physically stronger to deal with teams that play route one football, but beyond that is severely limited.
He is not a ball playing defender and opposition teams have targeted him along with Dummett, by pressuring them higher up the pitch into giving up possession. Lascelles still backs off attackers specially on the counter, giving them space to either shoot or play a final through ball, and his positioning while defending crosses is not assuring to say the least. I would vouch for Mbemba to deserve at least a couple of games paired next to Clark.
Going back to what I mentioned about the pair getting targeted into giving up possession, this has a knock-on effect in terms of the impact on Jonjo Shelvey. Opposition can either mark him out of the game, or just cut off regular service to Shelvey.
Jonjo Shelvey for me is a player who can do more damage playing higher up the pitch, rather than from a deep lying position, and that’s where he misses a guy like Hayden who was adapt at tackling and recycling the ball better.
Another factor that has affected Shelvey has been the absence of Yedlin’s overlapping marauding runs down the right flank. Shelvey prefers directing his cross-field passes more to the right side. To add Matt Ritchie being played on the left side negated his own abilities to a good degree. Ritchie has a better rounded game than Atsu with his ability to cross it using either foot cutting in he does a better job of linking with the number 10 or forward. Next game, I would like Ritchie to be permanently slotted back on the right wing.
At this stage of the season it’s apparent that we have a streaky inconsistent pair in Diame and Perez at the number 10 position.
Diame just about nudges it due to his physical ability to ward off markers and get the ball up the pitch on the counter but his passing is still suspect. Rafa doesn’t like to play two up the pitch, that is a well known fact, but Murphy can be tried out at the 10 by dropping a little back. He would do a better job of holding up play when the Lascelles or Dummett inevitably go long ball and bring Gayle in to play. I can’t see why Murphy wouldn’t be able to do it. He has played as a lone, withdrawn forward and on the wing as well.
Rafa surely won’t make wholesale changes to the playing XI but those holes surely need addressing in the summer.
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