The last time I wrote an article on The Mag it was the match report of our EFL Cup defeat to Nottingham Forest, a game in which Newcastle United were dumped out of the cup by a very poor championship side.
That night, things did not look good. After the game, I think everyone was unanimous in agreeing that we were desperate for reinforcements. If you had told me that we wouldn’t make any signings between then and now, yet we would be 4th in the table after 5 games, then I wouldn’t have believed you. Yet here we are.
Even after 3 wins in a row, which is no mean feat in the Premier League regardless of who you are, quality wise, the squad still looks weak. However, if we didn’t learn it last season, then fans must surely see now that what Rafa will guarantee you, is a squad that organised and a team on a matchday that goes out with a clear game plan.
If we lose a game by 3 or more goals this season I will be very surprised. Rafa will always set up this side to make sure that at the very least, they keep in the game.
I remember the season in which we got relegated, around January time I saw us play away to Watford twice in the space of two weeks. One of the games we lost 1-0 (FA Cup), the other 2-1. Now the scoreline may not look too bad, but those two games were symbolic of a team, in that particular season, who did not care.
They did not give 100%, and coming away from those games in the cold rain, it left a very bitter taste in your mouth. The second of those games incidentally, I’ll remember for the whole away end singing “you’re not fit to wear the shirt” to Florian Thauvin as he hobbled off with an injury.
The likes of Thauvin, as well as Sissoko and Wijnaldum, showed that maybe there was some quality in that side, but I think I wrote that I would swap them all for 11 players who maybe weren’t as good but would always give their all. Now we have that.
Nobody is hiding and everyone is trying their best. You can’t really ask for anything more on the football side of things. There is no doubt that at the top end of the pitch, we are desperate for some quality, but would I take back the likes of Thauvin and Sissoko for that quality? No thanks. Maybe Wijnaldum though…
If there is any sort of criticism, I can aim at the players in the past few weeks it is one minor thing. Despite the fact that Mikel Merino has been nothing short of a small revelation so far at NUFC, I always hate seeing players in NUFC shirts diving and trying to cheat their way to points. He did this at Swansea. The likes of Perez and Mitrovic have also been guilty of it in the past and it needs to stop.
Of course it is easy to be positive after winning three games on the spin and sitting fourth in the table. However, when defeats do come (and let’s be honest, they will), as long as the squad are still giving 100% effort then players must be commended for their effort. Getting behind the team can provide them with that extra bit of momentum that is so important at the top level – this was typified by the reaction of the fans to Stoke’s equalizer, which only raised the noise levels further at SJP.
It is my personal opinion that individually I still don’t think we are very good – there are areas all over the pitch where we lack quality… left-back, on the wing, no.10 and up front. At the moment though, it doesn’t seem to matter under Rafa Benitez.
History has shown us that under a different Newcastle manager (a Souness or a McClaren), I don’t think certain players would perform as well, especially the Spanish players of Gamez, Joselu and Perez. Even Jamaal Lascelles, a player who has thrived under Benitez.
There was an article not so long ago which described Lascelles as the 4th best centre back at the club, and I personally would agree with that, but the point is that Benitez is a manager who has, is, and will, get the absolute maximum out of everybody. I don’t think there can be much argument that he is getting the best out of his captain at the moment.
Of course, we must remain calm and realistic. Overall, we have had 6 games this season, and we have played well in 4 of them. That is good going and a lot better than what we have been treated to in recent years under Pardew and McClaren. Can you imagine if Benitez had actually got the players that he had wanted in the summer?
Remember, this is a guy who won the Champions Leageue with Djimi Traore, Steve Finnan, Milan Baros and Djibril Cisse in his side, so there is no reason why we can’t avoid relegation and climb to a respectable league position this season with the players we have.
It is the importance of the manager to the club which means that Newcastle United are in a delicate situation because Rafa Benitez is literally the bluetack that is keeping the poster on the bedroom wall.
However, at this early stage, it is important for everyone to just keep calm and support the team. More wins will come, and most importantly, more defeats will come too. As long as Benitez is manager, then progress is constantly being made, irrespective of the fat clown in the boardroom.
It may have been a terrible summer, but now that the transfer window is closed, we have kept our manager and have a committed group of players, there is every reason to be positive from now til January.