Rafa Benitez has got some challenge on his hands.
It must be some time ago in his long career, since the Spaniard last had such a poor to average group of players at his disposal.
In between matches we have seen some real polar opposites in terms of views from Newcastle supporters.
Increasingly we have seen fans questioning the team selections, whilst on the other hand you get supporters who say fans should keep their opinions to themselves and Rafa Benitez knows best.
I think they are both right, in a certain kind of way.
Rafa Benitez, in his successful career, has earned the right to be seen as knowing more than the likes of us fans, but at the same time, supporters are surely able to say what they like about the manager’s team selection, or indeed anything else.
Fans can question Rafa’s choice of players but it doesn’t mean he is wrong.
He is really in an impossible position now with this current squad. With most clubs I would guess the manager approaches each match knowing nine or ten players he intends to play, with decisions/doubts on only one or two – at Newcastle I reckon it is probably just about the other way around.
Take the Everton game and what Rafa Benitez thinks after watching it, on that performance I would assume the manager will be pretty happy with Jamaal Lascelles’ return to the team but after that…?
Dwight Gayle didn’t play well but had next to no service or help, especially from the hopeless Mohamed Diame, and after three goals in the previous four matches he is a second easy choice for Saturday.
Scratching around after that, I think DeAndre Yedlin is maybe the only other sure pick, purely based on his determination in the second half to try and create something, simply by bulldozing his way through the opposition, as his teammates watched on.
If any of the other eight, or eleven if you include the substitutes, weren’t selected against Arsenal then they could have no complaints.
Of course Rafa Benitez can’t make eight changes even if he wanted to, with the alternatives just as bad or even worse, this being despite Paul Dummett the only one still out injured. Bear in mind Everton were missing seven first team squad players through injury.
So Wednesday night Rafa rang the changes and I think most fans were more than happy with the likes of Shelvey, Lascelles and Atsu getting a game once again, Diame maybe the exception.
However, this sums up Rafa’s problems, no matter how much he shakes up his team, he gets the same results, both in scoreline and in performances generally.
We all have our own ideas of what the starting 11 should be each game, which is at the heart of football and pre-match pub discussions, but there are no Rafa Benitez blunders as such.
We don’t know for sure what would have happened if he had chosen a different team against Everton, or anybody else, but we have a pretty good idea because none of our players are surprise packages waiting to be given their chance to impress and show us something we didn’t know.
Clark, Elliot, Murphy, Hayden, Aarons, Joselu and Perez were all on the bench but none of them deserve a starting place on what we have seen this season.
Then of course we have Aleksandar Mitrovic.
He looked poor even in the Championship and when coming off the bench the odd time this season he looks nowhere near fit.
For some supporters Mitro gets better and better every time he doesn’t play but I just don’t see it.
I think a weaker manager (Pardew, McClaren etc) would have bowed to the fans’ demands and thrown Mitrovic on from the start in a game or two, just to say I told you so afterwards.
We may not be getting the results but at least I think we can be sure that every game Rafa Benitez makes an honest choice of team of what he believes is best, regardless of what the experts on the sidelines are shouting.
If only he had been backed with the players he wanted in the summer we wouldn’t now be in this impossible position, where Newcastle United don’t even have anything close to a first eleven, never mind a squad.