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.

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  • Damon Horner

    Curious question. In a typical Benitez style team where no player is out of bounds, which current Premier League players typifies the top level of quality that he’d be looking at to play Left Back, Left Wing, Attacking Midfield and Striker?

  • Wor Lass

    A decent piece, Jonathan. I reckon Lascelles should be right in the England frame now. I`ve said before that Cahill makes too many blunders, Stones tries to do too much and the Man U duo are gimps. They`re all good players on their day but none of them are better leaders or as good in the air as Lascelles. The question marks over him are his mobility and his distribution but that can be factored in when deciding who to partner him with. He needs to gain international experience and should be getting game time asap, in my opinion. I agree about the diving but it`s so much part and parcel of the modern game that teams who don`t do it are putting themselves at a real disadvantage. Tougher retrospective action is the only thing that`s likely to have any real impact on it, I think.

    • NUFCLX

      Agree with you on Lascelles. He was good first half of last season then carried an injury and hardly trained the second half of the season but played on. Unlike some centre backs we have had who missed months with a sore finger. The problem we have is we do not want our players to be great as they will be sold to the first club that makes a decent offer in January.

      • MichaelMaximusMoose


  • MichaelMaximusMoose

    If Gayle or Mitro don`t hit form then a striker must be a priority in January because Joselu isn`t the answer, he`s bench material on his best day

  • The higher we climb, the better players we can attract in January. With players who want to be here we seem to do much beter than taking a chance on 50m+ rated players who are not much better than we have now.

  • 1957

    What would have happened if Benitez had got the players we will never know, we probably wouldn’t have been any higher in the table, but we could have been in the bottom three.

    Sometimes teams come together by accident/circumstances and perform above expectation. But for Harry Kane Lascelles may not have been in the team, Shelvey’s sending off gave Merino a chance and Ritchie might have been sent of at Swansea, you simply have to make the best of the cards you are dealt and Benitez is doing that at the moment.

  • Mal

    It’s interesting that we have had 2 articles saying Lascelles is the 4th best centre back on the books. I wonder how many points we would have got from the last 2 games if he hadn’t been playing. Thank goodness we have managed to win 3 on the trot; it at least keeps the negativity at lower levels than usual.

  • Down Under Mag

    I said for a long time that with our silly transfer policy under Ashley we needed a solid manager…if we were skimping on playing talent (proven talent that was) then we needed to spend big on a manager to get the best out of what he had available. That to me is what Rafa is doing, he is playing to the teams strengths and covering their weaker areas. He isn’t playing a left back up front or an attacking flair player in a holding role, he is creating a well organised team that keeps compact and soaks up pressure. It is exactly what he was planning all last year when everyone was saying how it wasn’t attacking enough and at home or against certain teams we should have gone all out…he ignored that and concentrated on the end game which was this season where we aren’t going to dominate posession BUT has a formation and roster that is capable of hanlding that type of game. We’ve been really solid all season so far and sure we will loe more games than we win most likely this season, but Rafa has made us hard to beat and has instilled a great team work ethic in the side that we are seing the benefit of already. As long as we stay up then it’s been a successful season and then it’s over to fatty to cough up the TV money in the summer for Rafa.

    • Geordiegiants

      Don’t worry, when we lose a game or 2 the Rafa tactic haters will be out in force again.