Going into this weekend’s game, I thought that there was one decision that was a no-brainer for Rafa Benitez.
Against Derby County, United deservedly won another three points and added another clean sheet to the collection.
A big factor in that clean sheet was Grant Hanley, making his first Championship start in the 29th league game of the season since being named in the starting eleven against Fulham on the opening day/night of this campaign.
The former Blackburn captain got his head on the end of every ball in the air and did the simple stuff when the ball was on the ground, clearing the ball or giving it to somebody who could do a better job moving it forward.
Hanley had replaced Jamaal Lascelles, the United captain having struggled in recent times and then hitting a real low against QPR when he struggled throughout the match – off the pace, hesitant in the tackle and repeatedly gave the ball away.
Having made that successful change last week, surely Rafa Benitez would keep Lascelles on the bench and continue with Grant Hanley alongside Ciaran Clark.
At Molineux, Jamaal Lascelles was straight back in the team and wearing the captain’s armband.
Rafa Benitez knows his stuff.
The former Nottingham Forest defender was right back to his best, Lascelles as good against Wolves as he had been poor against QPR.
A remarkable transformation and Lascelles & Ciaran Clark were the biggest factors in the win on Saturday.
They combined superbly and despite the home side having more of the ball and playing most of the game in the Newcastle half, they didn’t give Karl Darlow a serious effort to save.
Little wonder that Newcastle have conceded only eight goals in their 15 away matches in the league.
Whatever the reason for Jamaal Lascelles’ transformation back into being the player he can be, without that selection I don’t think Newcastle would have held onto the clean sheet and win.
Maybe he just needed a game off to clear his head, possibly it was a kick up the backside that had been needed – whatever the reasoning, Rafa Benitez knew best.
It is funny how the more games that go by, the more decisions Rafa Benitez tends to get right.
That is why the Spaniard is Newcastle United Manager and…I am not.
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