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Opinion

Too much tinkering with Newcastle United’s starting eleven?

4 years ago
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Can I begin by stating that I have the utmost respect for Rafa Benitez.

His arrival towards the latter stages of the relegation season may not have kept us in the Premier League but his subsequent decision to stay and go against the more logical decision to walk away from a club in turmoil, has not only took us to the top of the Championship but has united the club, players and supporters – something that hasn’t been seen since the days of Sir Bobby Robson.

However….

Personally I’ve always been an advocate of the mantra ‘never change a winning team’ and barring injury, loss of form or fatigue, I believe that this creates an environment that players prefer. Knowing that if you’ve done the business and are in with a relatively good chance of playing next time around, breeds confidence, and knowing who’ll be alongside you builds a greater understanding.

Competition for places is without doubt a major factor in keeping those in the starting line-up on their toes, knowing that there’s at least one player in your position breathing down your neck for a game is a very effective incentive to keep producing the goods.

One or two changes are perfectly acceptable if there’s a particular threat or weakness from the opposition that needs to be addressed with different personnel, but the six changes versus Blackburn Rovers – with an eye on the subsequent cup quarter-final – looked at kick-off and proved to be after ninety minutes, to be a bridge too far.

Some changes were unavoidable, such as Colback’s injury for example, but was it really so surprising that the team looked disjointed and out-of-sorts with such major disruption.

The centre of defence has been relatively settled for a number of games with Lascelles and Clark forming a good understanding and while Mbemba – who hasn’t had much of a look-in so far this season – obviously needed a game, wouldn’t it have made more sense to ease him in as a substitute from a winning position?

Which brings us to the Hull result.

Newcastle started well with plenty of the ball, but crossing the ball from the wings and expecting one of the smallest players on the pitch in Gayle to compete in the air against six-foot-plus central defenders, must have been as frustrating for our number nine as it was for the watching United fans at the game.

It was nice to see Mo Diame get a goal against his former club, but for the team to then concede at the opposite end mere seconds later is, as they say: ‘Typical Newcastle.’

Matz Sels hasn’t been at all convincing since his arrival and on this performance has done nothing to prove to the contrary.

Rafa Benitez may have wanted to give him some game-time and the subsequent boost in confidence that a successful return to first-team action can bring, but his spilled save from which Hull got the equaliser and the following penalty shoot-out, won’t have helped much in that respect.

And as for the penalties….

For a manager that has a reputation for his thorough preparation, when asked whether the United team practised penalties prior to the game, Benitez’s replied: “No because, it is different when you have a game compared to a training session.”

Does that mean the team don’t carry out defensive drills, attacking ploys or work on set-pieces each and every day because “it is different when you have a game compared to a training session….?”

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