Newcastle simply failed the numbers game against Blackburn
The big strength, which is also very occasionally also the weakness, of the Rafa Benitez plan isn’t very hard to see.
The Newcastle Manager has set his team up this season to try and play at a level of around 7 out if 10 of their potential.
Each match starts in very similar fashion, whether home or away, and sees Newcastle dominate possession against the wary opposition.
They don’t commit many men forward and neither do Newcastle, Rafa Benitez looks to make sure first and foremost that his team don’t go a goal down.
The ball is repeatedly moved around between the defence, midfield and goalkeeper, with the sole intention of getting Jonjo Shelvey onto the ball in a bit of space. Then he looks for the killer ball, usually from a distance, that might open up the opposition.
So not the most enterprising of plans but ironically, more often than not, Newcastle end up going a goal up within the first 25 minutes or so. The opposing players feel the pace, especially the strikers, of trying to harry United and when they slack off, that is often when Newcastle strike.
The problem comes of course, when occasionally Newcastle don’t get that breakthrough.
With Rafa’s methodology, if his players are at that 7 out of 10 level it will always be good enough to pick off any team in the Championship, with the possible exception of Brighton.
Even at 6 out of 10 from what they could be capable of, Newcastle will still easily beat most teams. However, when they dip below that, we can have problems, such as Fulham on the opening day or Wolves in that home defeat.
Against Blackburn, Newcastle were 5 out of 10 or worse compared to what they are capable of. Against Cardiff in the previous home game NUFC were a decent 6 or 7 in the first half but like yesterday, 5 or worse in the second and almost gifted the Welsh club a point.
Newcastle have rarely fallen behind this season but when they have done, it hasn’t tended to work out well.
In the Fulham, Wolves and Blackburn matches there was little response from Newcastle to going behind, whilst even though gifted a penalty goal against Huddersfield, United still ended up getting beat with little noticeable change in playing style or pace to try and get back into the game.
I think it just isn’t Rafa’s style, he likes to rely on his system no matter what.
The only game he really committed to changing the flow was against Norwich and at 3-1 down with 20 minutes to go, there was clearly nothing to lose in trying it. As it happened, Gayle scored to make it 3-2 as Mitrovic stood waiting to come on and the Gayle/Mitro partnership ended up helping the team to that dramatic last gasp 4-3 victory.
In contrast, whilst goalless yesterday, Rafa showed no interest in giving Gayle a run out and even when going behind there were no subs at all, never mind a change of attacking emphasis. Only with five minutes remaining did Dwight Gayle replace Chancel Mbemba as the United boss tried to grab something at the death.
It is percentage football that Rafa Benitez plays, trying to keep the ball and not concede, whilst probing for weakness in the opposition.
Most weeks it works out well, sometimes it doesn’t.
Rafa is never going to send a team out with the intention or ripping the opposition apart from the first whistle, he has basically said this any number of times. He isn’t Sir Bobby or Kevin Keegan.
Occasionally it will happen as an early goal ends up becoming two and the opposition chase the game and end up getting taken apart as gaps appear, as in the case of the 6-0 at QPR.
We won’t be seeing Gayle and Mitrovic up front together against Hull, or Forest, or anybody else for that matter.
The Rafa way has worked 9 out of 10 times when it comes to the recent run of games, I’ll be more than happy with the Rafa’s style of percentage football if it keeps delivering that return.
If you would like to feature on The Mag, submit your article to [email protected]