Newcastle United have improved under Rafa Benitez, both in terms of performances and now results are on the up as well.
Approaching today’s game at Anfield, the Manager will have no problem picking most of his team but I bet he keeps looking at one position…and looking…..and looking….and looking once again.
When Tim Krul got injured there was mass panic, how would we cope without a decent goalkeeper?
Rob Elliot came in and played far better than the Dutch keeper had been performing until he himself got injured.
Once again everybody was panicking, Karl Darlow seen as a total liability based on one nervy performance earlier this season against West Brom.
However, after tough aways at Norwich and Southampton on his return, Karl Darlow has really looked the part against Swansea and Manchester City, only conceding one (offside!) goal in three hours.
Not saying Darlow is a world beater but it says everything that I don’t hear anybody now talking about the goalkeeper as a big worry in these last four games.
However, at the opposite end of the pitch Rafa Benitez has an unsolvable problem.
Papiss Cisse – Showing good effort in last two games but control is shocking and looking no threat to goal.
Aleksandar Mitrovic – Has looked promising as an impact sub but when played from the start his absolute lack of mobility can make him a liability for most of the game.
Ayoze Perez – Sometimes seems like could be a good idea to play him as your main striker but as the last occasion showed at Everton, the game totally passes him by.
Emmanuel Riviere – Hopeless.
Seydou Doumbia – Currently on the missing persons list and not expected to be located within the next three weeks.
So on the surface Rafa Benitez has a choice from five strikers – but the reality is that he has none at all.
The last couple of games has seen him settle for a least worst scenario – Papiss Cisse running around a lot with some decent movement but the ball invariably bouncing off him, whilst arguably creating space for others, before then being replaced by a fresh Aleksandar Mitrovic from the bench.
Interestingly, the four goals in these last two uplifting results/performances haven’t come from strikers, instead it is Lascelles, Sissoko, Townsend and makeshift full-back Anita who have come up with the goals.
Playing Cisse and Mitrovic together from the start, is a high risk strategy that we surely won’t see in operation today.
However, at Norwich with nothing to lose, Rafa Benitez gambled and brought Mitrovic on for Anita and together with Cisse they helped to bring about a two goal fightback that wasn’t quite enough to grab a fight.
I have a feeling that Rafa Benitez has accepted that he hasn’t got any great formula for putting out a formation that can attack the opposition to any great extent, with no strikers able to do the job.
So once again I think he will just look to keep it tight and hope that the likes of Townsend and possibly Sissoko can take advantage of winning possession and threatening on the break, then look to improve as the game goes on with both stamina and the likely introduction of Mitrovic from an hour or so onwards.
It isn’t the greatest of plans but certainly one that Rafa Benitez has come up with, that gets the best out of what he ahs to work with.
Here’s hoping it is enough for him to do the job this season and then be able to identify the right quality of striker himself in the summer who can do the job properly.