Whether you agree or not with his decisions, fascinating to hear Rafa Benitez talk so openly about the issue(s) that supporters are all talking about.
Rafa says that he knows fine well that the main talking point for Newcastle fans is the continued selection of Mohamed Diame and alongside that, why he doesn’t play Mitrovic with Gayle.
With only one assist and no goals in the games so far, it doesn’t exactly suggest that Mohamed Diame playing as the second most attacking player is working with any degree of success.
This week, Diame was very honest in a club interview, stating that the only reason he was still being picked is because of his workrate.
Rafa Benitez backs that up but does say he would be worried if Diame wasn’t getting into scoring positions at the same time, citing the Villa match as evidence of that. Yes he did get into position and miss a couple of sitters in that game but fair to say that I can’t remember him having too many shots, or indeed laying on chances for others, in other matches.
The Senegal international does run around a lot but to our untrained eyes it certainly doesn’t appear productive when it comes to the attacking third.
Ahead of the Brentford match, in these comments below Rafa Benitez has basically made clear that he thinks playing two out and out strikers is a big no no, the Newcastle boss feeling that to be able to control a game you have to sacrifice a second striker by playing somebody who is always willing to make themselves a fifth midfielder.
From what Rafa says, he has no intention of ever playing both Mitrovic and Gayle together. Talking about the 6-0 win at QPR, he claims this backs up his belief in the formation he uses, saying that Ayoze Perez was a second striker (rather than a main striker) working behind Mitrovic, rather than playing alongside the Serbian.
Rightly or wrongly for fans, the manager is making clear that it is either Mitrovic or Gayle, then somebody playing in behind the one striker, whether that is Diame, Perez, or somebody else.
Of course there is always the chance that Rafa Benitez will surprise us all with his team selection today, as he has done many times this season, but I just don’t see any surprises being up front.
Personally, I think it is a knocking bet that we will see that same Gayle/Diame partnership today, then with Barnsley in quick succession on Tuesday night, Rafa going for a Mitrovic/Perez combination as he did at QPR.
“Mohamed Diame is working very hard and he has been unlucky in front of goal, he has to keep going and give more, he was saying this week that he knows he needs to give us something more in attack.
“He is working very hard and trying to do the right things, what would worry me is if he didn’t have chances – but he had chances against Aston Villa to score and unfortunately he couldn’t.
“If he has chances he will eventually score goals, that is not a problem. I know everybody says: ‘Why don’t you play with two strikers?’ but it depends on the rest of the team at the same time.
“Can you control the game, control the midfield, without this second striker?
“You might be more dangerous with two strikers but you then have less power and control in the middle.
“It is not a question of only scoring goals and we scored six goals at Queens Park Rangers with one striker and a second striker – it is a question of what the team is doing.
“If we play 4-3-3 as we have sometimes this season, I think he (Diame) is fine and is much better in this position…but when you have problems in the middle and have to change/adapt the team, maybe his best position could be behind the striker with freedom to move around.
“He is not a proper number ten and we know that – but he is someone who is doing a great job and he has the legs to go into the wide areas or around behind defenders and to create spaces for others.
“Sometimes when you analyse, you see different things, sometimes you need maybe someone to be running to create the space for others, or maybe defending behind the striker to allow him to score goals and be physically rested.
“So you have to have a balance and sometimes it is not what he is doing with the ball but what he is doing for the team.”