Newcastle United haven’t been doing very lately.
The Newcastle fans are still behind Rafa Benitez of course but not surprisingly supporters have been keen to try and find reasons as to why the team have picked up only one point from the last twenty one.
Especially so, when a very respectable fourteen points were stacked up in the opening nine matches.
I think everybody accepts that injuries to first team regulars such as Lascelles, Merino and Atsu have been a factor.
However, I don’t think many accept that this can be the only reason for such a drop-off in results and performances.
Loads of theories on what formation should be used and/or which other players should be selected. Mitrovic still not having started a Premier League being arguably the most talked about, as well as ironically on formations, suggestion that a more negative 4-2-3-1 should be used as opposed to the 4-4-2 due to the better early results with that other formation.
There is something much more obvious in my opinion though, Newcastle are simply playing much better teams at the minute and can’t live with that better quality.
Have a look at the current Premier League table as it is shown here on Sunday morning and then look at the fixtures we have played:
First nine games:
Tottenham, West Ham, Stoke, Liverpool, Crystal Palace
Huddersfield, Swansea, Brighton, Southampton
Next nine games:
Bournemouth, Watford, Leicester, Everton
Burnley, Man Utd, West Brom, Chelsea, Arsenal
I think that if you look at that current table, I doubt very much whether we will see many, if any, dropping out of the top half when it comes to the end of season table.
Newcastle’s first nine games saw them play seven clubs from the bottom half and only two (Liverpool and Spurs) from the top half.
The next nine matches is the opposite, two from the bottom half (West Brom and Bournemouth) and seven in the top half.
Burnley are proving very good this season and Watford & Leicester are excellent attacking teams with loads of pace, whilst Wednesday’s opponents Everton spent a fortune this summer on top of having some very good players, and were always going to end up top half despite a poor start to the season.
So looking at the first nine matches, I think fans should have expected that it was possible to get points from any one of the seven matches against lower teams, plus obviously it was a massive bonus when Newcastle rode their luck against Liverpool and pinched a bonus point.
I would argue actually that Newcastle should have maybe got more points from the opening nine games, as I think the team didn’t really have a proper go at Huddersfield or Brighton. With pretty much all of the players available back then, I think if the team had tried to attack like they have done in some of the more recent matches, against better opposition, they could well have beaten both Brighton and Huddersfield.
On the other hand, of the following nine games, I think there is only Bournemouth and West Brom where we could have reasonably expected (rather than hoped) to get something. A draw at West Brom that could have easily been a win, whilst the Bournemouth game could and should have been won in the first half hour if not for bad luck, bad officials and bad finishing.
In fact luck is really at the heart of this slump being far more pronounced than it should have been.
In reality, Newcastle actually played better against Bournemouth than they did against Palace but conceded a late goal rather than scoring as they did with Merino against Roy Hodgson’s team. Three or more additional points from the games against West Brom and Bournemouth and we would all be feeling a lot more comfortable.
Bottom line for me is that a point against Everton would be a good result in terms of the quality of the opposition and naturally the game at Arsenal is looking likely to have only one outcome.
The one club missing from these opening 18 fixtures is of course Manchester City. It is something Rafa could have done without, the fixtures meaning that the club we face twice within three and a half weeks in the middle of the season is the runaway league leaders – not what we needed when on a bad run!
The warning bells are obviously ringing and as we pass halfway you can’t ignore how the fixtures are laid out.
The fixtures more or less the reverse of the opening half of the season, so if you ignore the Man City fixtures, Newcastle’s first nine matches of the second half of the season are mostly against the clubs they faced in the opening nine games of the season.
In other words, the teams we have picked up points from in the opening months of the season are the ones we then face from West Ham away on the 23 December onwards.
A demoralised squad and the very real possibility of little backing from Mike Ashley in the transfer window, as Newcastle have to play their most winnable looking matches.
Hopefully we can start and get the odd surprise result against better teams but reality for me is that if Newcastle aren’t on a decent number of points after playing Palace away on 3 February, then we are well and truly knackered.
Between 23 December and 3 February, just a six week period, we play Brighton, Swansea, Burnley at home and Stoke, West Ham, Crystal Palace away, as well as the two Manchester City matches.
Looking further ahead though, the last six games read Leicester (A), Arsenal (H), Everton (A), West Brom (H), Watford (A), Chelsea (H).
Obviously we’d be looking for three points off West Brom but that last six game run-in could be very painful if we don’t already have the necessary points on the board.
If better players can be added in January of course then the equation would change and it becomes a case of maybe most games could be approached with some hope and expectation of possibly getting points.
If only those better players had been signed in the summer then very unlikely we would be needing to have this conversation but this is what we are faced with.
Will Mike Ashley now hold his hands up and at last sell the club, or alternatively also face the reality that we can see, and allow Rafa Benitez to make the necessary signings.