Rafa Benitez looks towards Istanbul
The one feeling I had walking out of St James Park on Sunday was relief.
Relief that we had not lost seven derbies in a row.
Relief that my weekend was not ruined.
Relief that we, just about, still have a chance of avoiding the drop.
It may just be buying time from the inevitable – but at least if we still end up going down, it was not the unwashed who delivered the final knockout blow. For that, I was always be thankful to Alexander Mitrovic. The goal still has not really offered me any hope, nothing more than a big sigh of relief. I am still resigned to relegation.
The appointment of Rafa Benitez has undoubtedly reinvigorated the club to a certain degree, and of course it should, bringing in a manger of his calibre to a club facing relegation is a pretty remarkable achievement.
I don’t care what manager it is though, he is only as good as the tools he can work with. Just look at the team we had out on Sunday.
Our back four consisted of an out of form/possibly injured right back, a championship quality centre-half and a right-footed midfielder replacing a left footed one at left back. Then we have our one quality defender in Mbemba (my man of the match) but he is still adapting to English football himself and cannot make a tight defence on his own.
Benitez may be our best manager on paper since Robson but it takes time to make an impact. I saw Jamie Carragher on Monday Night Football earlier in the season describe Rafa as “more towards a defensive, rather than attacking, coach” which is exactly what we needed.
When in possession I do think there are more than 3 teams worse than us. When we don’t have the ball though, which in many of our games is the case, the team looks like it would struggle in the Sunday league. One of the reasons why the obviously incompetent Steve McClaren had to go.
Whether we employed Benitez, Mourinhio, Alex Ferguson…it doesn’t matter, none of them could turn Jamal Lascelles into a Premier League centre-half in nine days. In many positions, this squad’s depth is not enough for Premier League football.
Rafa might still be able to improve players like Lascelles, Dummett, Colback or Haidara, but even if he can do that it will take time, something not on United’s side.
We now have eight games, two weeks for Benitez to come up with a tactical game-plan to beat Norwich City on their own patch. We have definitely looked like more of a football team over the past two games but the margin for error now is non-existent.
The fact that I am desperate for Colo, a centre-half who has being in decline for three seasons and Haidara, a left back still unproven consistently in the premier league, to come back into the team, empathises the incredible lack of depth in defensive positions.
The season will in all probability end up like 2008-2009, with a feeling of regret more than anything. Had the managerial change being made earlier we could have had a much better chance of staying up and playing Premier League football next season.
God knows why Ashley and Charnley decided against making the change when we had just being pasted 5-1 by Chelsea and had an 18 day break ahead of two crucial fixtures. If only our Spanish saviour had been contacted then, rather than messing around in La Manga with McClaren still at the helm. Only a club as incompetent as this one could have the arrogance to believe McClaren could still turn things around and that we would not be relegated.
Rafa Benitez appears to be the top-level appointment we have always needed since Ashley bought the club in 2008, but it all feels like too little, far too late. The get-out clause at the end of the season means no genuine stability is guaranteed.
He can’t really lose: if we do stay up he is the saviour, if we go down he can get another top flight job in Europe this summer, reputation maybe slightly harmed but virtually intact.
Mitro’s derby heroics seem to have only delayed both the inevitable and the unthinkable to me, here’s hoping though that some sort of a team can be moulded together for Norwich in two weeks, only a win will do.
The excuses have to stop. Keeping up a squad as lop-sided as this one, at this stage in the season, would be one of our manager’s greatest achievements.
A miracle of Istanbul levels could be required.
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