Rafa Benitez has proved once again this season that he will do things in his own way.
Not one to make snap temporary crowd-pleasing decisions, the Spaniard has built a successful managerial career on creating a certain way of playing and drilling his players into how they need to fit in and perform.
Nowhere have Newcastle fans seen this better than when Rafa Benitez has repeatedly refused to play with two out and out strikers, supporters calling match after match for Gayle and Mitrovic (or Murphy) to be played together.
Instead the United gone for a sole striker with somebody in behind, which Rafa claims is necessary to give more control of games. With automatic promotion and potentially ending up as champions, maybe Rafa Benitez knows a little more than most of us, with 82 goals (more than anybody other than Fulham with 83) it doesn’t appear to have harmed the goalscoring capacity of the team.
The resistance to not getting carried away by the mood of the fans and/or immediate events, is now clearly being shown with the Manager’s comments on transfers.
After the win over Cardiff, the media immediately quizzed the United boss as to whether he would be signing Christian Atsu for the reported £6.5m fee that was alleged to have been agreed at the start of his loan period. The on-loan winger having played well in the second-half and scored an excellent free-kick to open the scoring v Cardiff.
The Rafa Benitez reaction couldn’t have been more blunt, ‘The future of a player doesn’t change with one action or goal’.
I have to say I’m not really bothered either way about Christian Atsu, he clearly has some ability but we haven’t seen it often enough, so if he did sign it is hard to see him being a first team regular in the Premier League. Whilst if he is allowed to go back to Chelsea, wherever he then does sign on at, I don’t think he will be tearing up the top tier for anybody else.
Bottom line is that Rafa Benitez has chosen to start the winger in only 14 Championship matches, with Atsu seen as more of an impact sub at this level, coming off the bench 17 times.
Scoring five goals and getting three assists in a Championship season is a half-decent return but not great.
Whilst Christian Atsu scored against both Preston and Cardiff, his previous three starts were against Ipswich, Burton and Fulham, with the Ghanaian winger, like many of his teammates, totally anonymous.
In contrast, you have the real deal Matt Ritchie, who when Newcastle have struggled in the past couple of months, has almost single-handedly at times dragged Newcastle towards the promotion finishing line.
This isn’t an anti-Atsu rant, more of a reality call for any number of players.
If you based everything on that second-half at Cardiff, you’d be also raving about the likes of Ayoze Perez and Mohamed Diame, as well as Christian Atsu.
Once that excellent Atsu free-kick did go in, 10 minutes into the second-half, United visibly relaxed and started knocking the ball about whilst Cardiff pretty much folded. You can’t base your opinion of the Newcastle players solely on that last 40 or so minutes.
The likes of Diame, Perez and to a large degree, Atsu, have failed to come up with the goods game after game throughout the season when the pressure has been on…and this is in the second tier.
I have also seen some daft half-baked theories that some of our players who have struggled in this league to show they are better quality than second tier, such as Mitrovic and Perez, will somehow magically be much better suited to playing in the Premier League!
Rafa Benitez asked about signing Christian Atsu following his performance against Cardiff:
“The future of a player doesn’t change with one action or goal.
“We know that he is a good player.
“We have to decide.
“I am really pleased with him.
“We have to see where we are in terms of the squad and all these things.”
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