Looking at the cast of Newcastle players this season so far, I think there have been three of the squad with uplifting stories to tell so far, whilst there are maybe three or four where you wonder what’s going on with them.
On the nice surprises side of things, I think Ciaran Clark has become a real bonus in recent matches.
Fair to say that most Newcastle supporters thought ‘what’s the point of that?’ when signing him from Villa, Grant Hanley had already arrived to back up Mbemba and Lascelles, plus Villa fans didn’t appear too gutted to see him leave.
Starting off looking nervous against Reading and giving away a daft penalty, he has instead now looked a very accomplished centre-back alongside Lascelles in recent games. Keeping Chancel Mbemba out of the team, Clark has been dominant in the air and looking confident on the ball.
The other two real positive surprises have come in the middle of the park.
Isaac Hayden has proven to be a real canny signing by Rafa, only young but he gets around the pitch well and has shown to be a player who helps them give a platform for Jonjo Shelvey.
The England midfielder couldn’t even get a game at the end of last season but went away and lost over a stone in weight, now back in the team Shelvey’s confidence is growing week by week and his passing is integral to Newcastle in the attacking third.
On the other side of the coin, Aleksandar Mitrovic has to top the disappointments list.
Most Newcastle fans assumed he would be a first choice this season, a £14m buy on massive wages and having previously impressed in the Champions League, what could possibly go wrong?
Clearly Rafa feels that Mitrovic isn’t right for the team, at least not at the moment. He played ok in his one start of the season against QPR as a great team display demolished them 6-0 but overall he has looked immobile and not in the physical state he should be in a number of sub appearances. Jonjo Shelvey shows him the way.
Ayoze Perez is in a very similar position to the Serbian, even though he has had more games. A player who we are supposed to believe was being chased by Barcelona, Man Utd and Spurs, should be excelling in the Championship.
Instead, we have seen next to nothing from him. Like Mitrovic he played his part in that 6-0 at QPR but apart from that, leaving aside a couple of decent goals against League Two Cheltenham he flatters to deceive. Is he not really all that good or is there a better player that will develop as the season goes on? Only the Spaniard himself can answer that one.
For the third disappointment I am maybe stuck between two players, for very different reasons.
Matz Sels has found himself out of the team after not really doing a whole lot wrong. Once it was clear Rafa Benitez saw the Belgian as his number one keeper despite Darlow impressing at the end of last season, then fans should obviously want him to succeed.
Yes he has looked a bit nervous, and is taking time to get to grips with the physicality of the Championship, but after conceding only seven goals in nine games and keeping clean sheets in four of the last six before he was dropped, you have to wonder whether he really deserved to be dropped.
Alternatively, when it comes to my other ‘disappointment’ candidate, you do really have to wonder how Mohamed Diame is staying in the team?
He looked an inspired signing, having played all his career in England in the Premier League, apart from last season when scoring 10 goals from midfield to help Hull City to get promotion.
There were some encouraging signs early on but for such an experienced player with a decent pedigree, he just looks lost at the minute.
With such a big squad, there were always going to be winners and losers this season.
However, in such a long campaign all the players will get their chance to show Rafa Benitez and the supporters that they are better than what we have seen so far. Likewise, players such as Shelvey, Hayden and Clark may go in the other direction and end up ‘rested’.
All we ask as fans is that every player does their best whenever called upon and on that front, I don’t have any complaints so far.