Amongst the many areas that Rafa Benitez needed/needs to tackle at Newcastle United, the Academy and Under 23s (reserves) set-up figure highly, at least in the longer-term.
Obviously securing an instant return to the Premier League is the be all and end all this season – but the whole set-up at the club needs serious attention.
The results have been shocking in recent times and often they mirrored the long dismal runs we would see in the first team under Pardew, Carver and McClaren.
As well as wholesale changes at first team level in the summer, Rafa Benitez has also made a number of changes at the lower levels both on and off the pitch.
A number of signings have been made from the UK and overseas to bolster the younger age groups – but has this resulted in any tangible improvement so far?
I have looked at the pre-Christmas records for the Academy and Reserves, both for last season (2015/16) and this one (2016/17).
Results pre-Xmas 2015/16 for Newcastle Academy (Under 18s):
P17 W6 D1 L10 GF25 GA41
Results pre-Xmas 2016/17 for Newcastle Academy (Under 18s):
P13 W6 D1 L6 GF20 GA23
Results pre-Xmas 2015/16 for Newcastle Reserves (Under 23s):
P13 W3 D4 L6 GF17 GA23
Results pre-Xmas 2016/17 for Newcastle Reserves (Under 23s):
P20 W10 D4 L6 GF36 GA33
Rome wasn’t built in a day but both the reserves and academy are showing a definite lift in results.
The academy has won the same number of matches but played four fewer games compared to last season, plus their goal difference is 13 goals better off.
Whilst the reserves have lost only six of 20 games this season (and won 10), whereas last season they lost six of the 13 before Xmas – at this level the goal difference is also much better, an improvement of nine on last season.
I can’t help thinking that Rafa Benitez will want to more radically change the reserve and academy set-ups in every way – including the recruitment of players and the coaches that are employed.
However, in just a few months we are already seeing improvements in results at both levels – no mean feat after the poor returns of recent seasons.