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Are both Mike Ashley AND Rafa Benitez having a gamble?

4 years ago

In the James Bond story Casino Royale, our hero, Bond, plays cards with a mysterious Le Chiffre. In the film, the tense game takes place in the glamorous eponymous casino and hotel; in the book, the hotel is a little more run down, suggesting former glories, rather than a prosperous present. I wonder which football team is a bit like that.

Our current, and hopefully not for much longer, owner, enjoys chances and gambling, albeit in business, with the odds in his favour. He stacks them using a model of reduced overheads, hard routines, and a clinical understanding of when to buy and sell.

Our current, and given the rubbish over the last few years, hopefully for a while longer manager, sets up teams to be hard to beat, with a clinical, ruthless streak up front. But at the moment, we do not have a clinically ruthless anything, and we’ve shipped seven goals in two games.

Is Rafa Benitez taking on Mike Ashley at his own game?

Is he trying to force the hand of Mike Ashley into buying an effective striker in January?

I’m not convinced…but it would certainly be an explanation for the dogged determination to stick with Joselu.

Away against Manchester United, there was a positivity that many would have found hard to predict, and it perhaps made us look better than maybe we really are; or at least it did for thirty five minutes. In the second half, the clinical precision of a Jose Mourinho team kicked in, and we were picked off at weak points. Mourinho knew our weaknesses, counted his cards, and played them perfectly.

We don’t have a plan B. We could have, but Rafa has either tremendous faith in Joselu, or no faith at all in Mitrovic. Serbia build their team and style around Mitro but that isn’t going to happen at Newcastle United. And on the whole, Serbia –like all international teams- probably play against sides with less collective talent than the teams our number 45 plays against (or does not) each week in the Premier League.

It might be an honour to play for your country, but unless it’s in a tournament, on the whole, is it against real quality? Yet surely he would have more chance of creating an impact or creating defensive uncertainty if he was to appear earlier?

Frustratingly, Joselu is really struggling. He gets into good positions, and can probably read the game and his position on the pitch with more vision, but that means very little without a cool head when it’s time to unleash a considered finish. I say considered because it doesn’t appear to be instinctive for him.

Are we gambling with his confidence?

Strikers feed on their own belief, but there must be a point at which you doubt yourself. I hope he hasn’t reached that desperate point, and that he can turn around his chances, but it isn’t looking likely at the minute. It’s November and he has not made Stoke City shift uneasily in their seats.

And then we have a new player at the table. If Amanda Staveley does buy the club, she must realise that money will have to be found for a striker. She’s probably looking at Mike Ashley and wondering what he really wants, as well as looking at Rafa and wondering what he needs. She may even have ideas for investment that Ashley will not risk. In the meantime, the form table is looking very battered indeed.

Is it too soon to just hope that there are three teams worse than us?

Is that what Ashley is doing?

Watford are a decent team but December brings much harder tests than that.

West Brom are in a bit of a state but they can positively play the ‘six-pointer’ card. Then, so can we.

But Ashley’s record of turning over a card and hoping for the best is not good; this isn’t a game to us, and I’m pretty sure he is not James Bond.

You can follow the author on Twitter @georgestainsby


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