I had in fact penned a piece on the Newcastle United takeover to go…but with that turning into a frustrating episode in itself, one of many that Rafa Benitez and the Newcastle fans have had to deal with, I just wished for something positive to come through with Christmas week.
The victory on Saturday afternoon in a five goal thriller was just extra sweet given the undue pressure Rafa Benitez was under. Part of which, no doubt, has been planted by the PR people paid to do the owner’s bidding in the media.
Selection-wise, in hindsight, Rafa at least defensively tried to stick as close to his team that have served him well early on in the campaign. The Lascelles/Clark pairing is more reassuring, since Lejune – as much as he is a technical centre-back, has struggled to come to terms with the pace and threats on crosses posed in the Premier League. I am sure he will eventually adapt to the demands of this level, until which time Rafa will stick to the status quo. Lascelles played his part in marshalling his defence and coming up with crucial blocks.
As unusual as it is to see Rafa playing two up front, it still represents the team’s best outlet to scoring goals. It’s obvious that Gayle is the only established goal scorer Rafa has, but also tends to be marginalised aerially, if he plays as the lone forward. Lejeune or Shelvey not being in the side means Newcastle are always going to be predisposed to using the long ball more than they would like to. This is where Joselu is a useful cog in the wheel.
And Saturday showed that playing two forwards is finally starting to pay dividends for Rafa. Key to that is Gayle playing with more confidence and clearly showing he’s mentally rid himself of the psychological cobwebs caused by his previous hamstring issues. He is now doing things that Perez was doing well, like harassing and pressing the full backs. Whilst he is also much quicker than Perez in making runs in the box when the wingers look to play it across.
Another aspect of Dwight Gayle’s game that goes under the radar is the impact he offers on the counter in terms of dropping back and initiating attacks as the pass for Atsu’s goal shows. It’s heartening to see him come good after rather below par performances in the opening games.
Joselu does get a bit of stick and it’s hard to argue his corner – but he does as much he can of what’s asked of him. His run from the edge of the Newcastle box to linking up with Atsu (for the third goal) on the counter was pleasantly surprising. This pairing with Gayle has earned itself another opportunity.
I must admit like many fans, the Saivet – Diame pairing felt more like a Rafa potshot at Ashley. Hats off to Saivet though, it takes a lot of character coming out of the wilderness for your first start under the Gaffer, commit a costly error and bounce back. After a well taken first goal, Saivet did what he was asked of.
It has to be noted that with both Shelvey & Merino out; Rafa would be going through the wings to generate chances. Saviet in my opinion had a crucial part to play in releasing Ritchie of his defensive shackles, also offering cover for Yedlin and making some key interceptions.
Diame for a change was more assuring and took his goal well. His height and physicality means that Rafa, if needed, will fall back upon him whenever Newcastle comes across teams like Stoke and WBA.
So all in all, a morale boosting much-needed three points. I would just enjoy Manchester City as they are in the middle of something special but the games against Brighton and Stoke mean a lot, and if the team can at least get four points before the FA cup-tie, not to mention early dealings in the transfer market, than the mood would be a lot different.
As it is always the case with Newcastle United, momentum can change the whole dynamic around the club, the City and the fans.
The owner has never understood that and hopefully we won’t be waiting on him to change, but to hand over the keys to the people who can make a difference to this football club, that deserves so much better.
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