Well it’s been a bit of a mad week, eh?
The utter calamity at Forest is better left not spoken about before I upset myself again, but some form of justice was restored this week when the FA overturned both Paul Dummett’s and (somewhat surprisingly) Jonjo Shelvey’s red cards from the City Ground, along with their subsequent suspensions.
After three defeats in three in all competitions we now turn our attentions to Birmingham City. Definitely one of the stronger sides in the division, but one we could really do with beating. (Considering it’s my 21st today, we better bloody do it, too!)
Gary Rowett has done a remarkable job at St. Andrew’s given the practically non-existent price tag of his squad. To put things into perspective, Grant Hanley (who remains unable to break into the Newcastle team through either injury or the good form of Lascelles and Clark), will have cost us more than the entire Birmingham XI that will step onto St. James’ on Saturday.
But I couldn’t really care about what XI that might be in blue this weekend, only which names step up wearing black and white.
Shelvey’s initial suspension had given me an idea in terms of a twist in team selection. But given that he still could be handed a lengthy ban for the incident regarding the game against Wolves in September, I thought I’d explore it anyway.
Recently I had a post published on The Mag regarding my own desire to see a Newcastle side with both Dwight Gayle and Aleksandar Mitrović leading the line, and it was a view that I’ve seen a fair few fans share.
Benitez himself said in a press conference not too long ago that he’s warming to the idea of unleashing them both at some stage.
Should Shelvey be given any sort of suspension by the FA after his hearing later this month, it could be the ideal opportunity to test it out.
The only problem with playing two strikers is that usually, it leaves you short in midfield. The only two Premier League sides to have had any success playing with just two central midfielders in the last few years have been Leicester City last season, Chelsea this season. Notice that both of these sides could only really manage it through the presence of N’Golo Kanté.
Leicester have persisted with the 4-4-2 system this year but without Kanté have found far less success. Now the Premier League champions are languishing towards relegation trouble.
To play with that system, you need a workhorse midfielder in the middle looking to close down every opposition attacking outlet. For me, that midfielder has been plying his trade well at right-back this season.
Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m a huge fan of Vurnon Anita and I’ve said for some time I believe he’s the most underrated player in our squad. He and DeAndre Yedlin have shared the right back spot this season and both have done well whenever called upon.
Anita’s natural position has always been as a central midfielder and if Shelvey is indeed given a suspension, bringing Vurn into the middle alongside Colback or Hayden could lay the foundations to unleash Gayle and Mitrović up top.
One of Anita’s standout performances was at the back end of the 2014/15 season, where Newcastle needed a win against West Ham to guarantee safety in the Premier League. John Carver went with a 4-4-2 system that day, with Pappis Cissé and Emmanuel Rivierè leading the line (the thought of it makes you shudder, doesn’t it?) and a midfield duo of Anita and Colback.
As much as Jonas Gutierrez was the hero that day, Anita was absolutely sensational himself.
He closed down every man, chased every ball, broke down every West Ham attack and ran himself into the ground in one of the hardest-working displays by an individual I’ve ever seen on a football pitch. Anita has that in his locker, and if he can bring that to fruition again, we’d safely be able to deploy both Gayle and Mitrović to smash down each and every opposition bus parked at St James Park this season.
There have been a few whispers on social media that Benitez may be considering a Gayle/Mitrović partnership against Birmingham in an attempt to halt Newcastle’s minor blip.
I wouldn’t call it a blip myself given the unfortunate (and in one case pathetically unfair) nature of the losses, so I can’t see Benitez shuffling the deck just yet, but you never know!
I would like to see the partnership put into practice eventually, but if not, I’ll have no quarrel trusting the judgement of our Champions League-winning manager.
Regardless, hopefully Newcastle can end their woeful record in games which have fallen on my birthday (they’ve lost the last two and haven’t won on December 10 since 2005) and make it an enjoyable 21st for myself against Birmingham.
And since I probably won’t have another piece published until next year, Merry Christmas to all writers and readers at The Mag!
You can follow the author on Twitter @RhysMelhuish22