Love him as I do, Rafa Benitez is getting tactics wrong at St James Park in these games
None of us are in any doubt as to just how average this squad of players are, who Rafa Benitez has to work with.
If backed in the summer then who knows what he could have done with better quality players at Newcastle?
However, he has what he has and to have 23 points from 23 games is a pretty good achievement considering the lack of quality.
The two cracking away wins at West Ham and Stoke have been life savers, without both of those victories Newcastle would currently be in the relegation zone.
In fact the away form overall has surely been as good as we could have reasonably expected, just like at home NUFC are averaging a point a match, picking up 11 points from 11 away matches.
However, I do think that Rafa Benitez is getting it wrong at St James Park.
Or should I say, Rafa’s getting it wrong in certain games at home.
I’m not talking about when we play the likes of Liverpool or Manchester City, I totally understand the emphasis has to be on men behind the ball and keeping it tight.
I don’t have any complaints either when we play teams such as Leicester or Watford at home. Going relatively defensive against those two made sense, as they are very very quick on the counter-attack and have players who can hurt you.
The games I have a problem with are our last (if you ignore Man City) three Premier League home matches.
Three matches against very poor struggling teams and Newcastle picked up only two points from nine when Everton, Brighton and Swansea visited.
On Saturday, it was soul-destroying to watch a terrible Swansea side passing it about without any pressure from Newcastle.
Surely if there is any game when it is worth really pressing high, it is against the worst team in the division at home.
Swansea had pretty much zero threat and yet Newcastle let them control possession and knock it about without being hassled.
The chances Newcastle did have in that first half, almost all came thanks to the odd time when Rafa’s players did take a bit of a risk and committed numbers into pressing the opposition high up the pitch. Gayle and Diame proving the most successful at nicking the ball which allowed Newcastle to get chances.
We all know that against any team, if they are allowed to sit back, then Newcastle have nowhere near enough creativity to bother them, they need something to disrupt the opposition.
It was the same against Everton and Brighton, allowing them far too much freedom on the ball instead of getting in amongst them and pressing.
By standing off, it also creates a vicious circle with the supporters.
Negative tactics totally kills any atmosphere, which then means no/little support to gee up the players, which in turn silences the crowd even further.
When Newcastle did press in numbers against Swansea, the fans then instantly responded, this helped the players and gave them that little bit extra when chasing the opposition down and winning the ball back/then creating chances.
However, we’d have a couple of minutes of the pressing and then the players would go back into their shells. I just don’t understand it, these are matches where we have to try and win because when the better teams visit St James Park, Newcastle have so little real quality in the front six it is a very difficult task.
Of the remaining matches, three of the seven at St James Park are against Huddersfield, Southampton and West Brom, those are three games where Newcastle surely have to pick up six or seven points at least.
If we don’t sign any decent players this month, which looks a certainty, then Rafa Benitez can’t afford to have his team sitting back against lower quality opposition who have minimal threat.
Just as importantly, by pressing other teams high up the pitch it helps get the crowd going, which then helps the players, it really is a win/win situation.
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