Rafa Benitez certainly got the tongues wagging on Wednesday night.
Up against Manchester City he went with damage limitation tactics, certainly in the first half.
The first half hour was especially difficult to watch, as Manchester City not only controlled the possession, but when they did lose it Newcastle just cleared the ball anywhere – with no intention of committing players over the halfway line.
Somebody next to me in the Leazes End, reckoned that the stats showed Man City with at least 90% possession in that first 30 minutes, I would only be surprised if we’d had as much as 10%…
The team selection was yet another surprise for Newcastle fans, many of them wondering if Rafa Benitez had mixed up his bench and starting 11.
With desperate relegation six pointers to follow on Saturday and Monday, the United boss had been asked before the Man City match whether he’d be looking after key players ahead of Brighton Saturday, rather than seeing them dashed onto the rocks in an almost certainly hopeless quest against the champions-elect.
“We will try to win with the best team available for this game.”
If anybody believes that leaving Gayle, Ritchie, Clark, Merino and Atsu on the bench, equalled playing ‘the best team available’, then no doubt you were still trying to stay awake to get a glimpse of Santa the other night.
Rafa Benitez has nothing to gain from saying that he was leaving some of his best players out so they will hopefully be at their best against Brighton and/or Stoke – because then there would be a whole media circus in the build-up saying how shocking it was that he wasn’t playing his best team.
Likewise, after last night’s game the Newcastle manager was never going to say that some of the players he had selected were second choice replacements, put in because it was a match he didn’t think there was a chance of getting anything from.
I have no problems with the manager doing this, and being cute about the reasons for his team selection, he has a tough enough job guiding Newcastle United through this season without being called out on a few white lies.
“It was not about resting players for Saturday…
“It was about trying to play the best players possible to try and get something from this game.
“We cannot forgot that we have a couple of games in a few games time, against teams at the bottom of the table, but today the idea was to have players with pace to play on the counter-attack and try to create something.
“We did that in the first half with Rolando Aarons and we had a couple of chances in the second half where we were very close.
“We weren’t thinking too much about the goal difference, instead we were thinking about trying to get points, but if you do lose then it is better to lose 1-0 than 4-0.
“That was not the idea though…the idea was to try to get points, to win if we could, but we knew that to win we would have to do everything in a perfect way and Manchester City would have to have a bad day.
“If we had scored at the end we would be really pleased with the performance, when you play against Manchester City with the way they are playing now.
“Our fans are clever, they know we needed to do it this way, but some of the counter-attacks weren’t the best.
“We tried to create something and we had a couple of chances with Rolando (Aarons) and Dwight (Gayle).”
Stats from BBC Sport:
Newcastle 0 Manchester City 1
Man City: Sterling 31
Possession was Man City 78% Newcastle 22%
Total shots were Man City 21 Newcastle 6
Shots on target were Man City 6 Newcastle 2
Corners were Man City 8 Newcastle 3
Referee: Andre Marriner
Elliot, Yedlin, Lascelles, Mbemba (Merino 77), Dummett, Manquillo, Diame, Shelvey, Murphy, Aarons (Atsu 71), Joselu (Gayle 62)
Darlow, Clark, Perez, Ritchie
Crowd: 52,311 (Man City 3,000)
(Instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to the game – Read HERE)
(Give us your fan ratings on all 14 Newcastle players HERE)
(Pep Guardiola “It’s not easy when Newcastle don’t want to play” – Read it HERE)
(Jamie Carragher calls Rafa’s tactics ’embarrassing’ – Read it HERE)