This is where Rafa Benitez really earns his money
The Man Utd match was a free roll of the dice for Rafa Benitez and Newcastle United.
Rafa Benitez picked his best offensive side that was available and sent them out to press/pressure Man Utd early, to see whether they could knock them off their stride.
It worked, Newcastle could even have taken the lead in the first few minutes if not for an excellent De Gea save from Shelvey.
Unlike the game at Old Trafford, Newcastle were careful to wait until midway through the second-half to actually score.
The away match saw a major reaction from Man Utd to Dwight Gayle’s opening goal, with building pressure eventually seeing Newcastle (without Jamaal Lascelles) buckle and concede.
At St James Park though, whilst the visitors had the odd chance and Dubravka won an excellent one on one, Manchester United were never really able to build proper pressure and bully Newcastle’s defence and midfield.
Instead, Newcastle’s goal led to Jose Mourinho in the end taking off all three central midfield players (Pogba, Lingard and Mata). Surely there is no greater sign of victory than that, the opposition replacing the entire heart of their team.
It (deciding the match strategy) was ‘easy’ for Rafa Benitez in relative terms, he just had to have his players wound up and ready to get in the opposition’s faces, make it difficult, disrupt the flow of better players, then try to do your own thing.
Bournemouth though, is a very much more difficult challenge.
If Newcastle had lost to Man Utd then it would have simply matched everybody’s expectations and nobody really expects the relegation/survival battle to be won or lost, when you are playing the top handful of clubs.
Against Bournemouth though is a real balancing act, as defeat for Newcastle would also mean a win for the Cherries and pretty much put them on the brink of safety. A win for the Magpies and they actually go above Bournemouth, even potentially into the top half if other results were kind.
On the other hand, defeat for Rafa Benitez and really bad luck would see Newcastle back in the bottom three. At best, NUFC would remain two points clear of the drop zone though with fewer clubs in between.
Whereas Bournemouth have been propelled out of the bottom three with victories against the likes of Arsenal, Everton and Chelsea, until this last win, Newcastle had only picked up two points from the current top 11 in the table.
Rafa has built the survival campaign almost purely on results against the clubs they are competing with in the bottom half. No Manager has done it better, with Newcastle picking up more points against relegation rivals than anybody else.
Saturday is a must not lose game if ever there was one, any point(s) Newcastle get would give momentum on top of the victory over Jose Mourinho’s men. Defeat though and a visit to Anfield beckons next with the Magpies really up against it again.
Every point has had to be hard fought for Newcastle this season and thankfully we will have Rafa Benitez in our corner once again on Saturday.
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