Quite a bit of chatter has been doing the rounds this season on the subject of what the sides in the bottom half of the table, of which Newcastle United are one, should be doing when taking on the big boys this season.
Various pundits took a swipe at Rafa Benitez and Newcastle when we went with a backs to the wall display against Manchester City in December and ultimately lost 1-0 and whilst I can take the argument that the experiment failed when we don’t get at least a draw, the bigger picture is lost on pundits (and some fans) when the results are put into context against the other teams down the bottom.
Some pundits and fans seem to want Rafa to set his side up to have a go and openly attack every team in the league, but let me tell you, that will lead to a horrendous goal difference and whilst some other teams have gone and attacked opposition, we have actually ‘kept the score down’ against some top sides to a certain degree.
Now the following may seem a little boring but, take our loss down at Arsenal (0-1), West Brom went and got beat 0-2, Crystal Palace lost 1-4.
We also travelled to the Etihad and got beat 3-1 off Man City whereas Crystal Palace got beat 5-0, Stoke got beat 7-2 and West Brom got beat 3-0. In the home fixture we narrowly lost by that 0-1 margin, Swansea City got beat 0-4 with Palace holding them to a 0-0 draw.
We turned over Manchester United 1-0 last month, however Swansea got beat 0-4, Southampton got beat 0-1, West Brom got beat 2-1 and Stoke drew 2-2 all at their own grounds. We nicked a 1-1 draw at home to Liverpool in October, however Stoke got beat 3-0, Southampton went down 2-0 with only Swansea managing a good 1-0 win.
Then yesterday at Anfield it was a similar story, yes Newcastle went down 2-0 but previous games have seen Huddersfield lose 3-0, Southampton 3-0, Swansea 5-0 and West Ham 4-1. Palace did get a 1-0 defeat whilst no-hopers West Brom got a 0-0 draw somehow.
Even amongst the also-rans of the Premier League we are getting some favourable returns in comparison. Crystal Palace went to West Ham and drew 1-1 and West Brom went to the Hammers and got beat 2-1, we won 3-2. Crystal Palace could only draw at home to West Ham, we beat them 3-0.
I know it may not be what fans want to here, but in the here and now we just need to keep our heads above water and take a few defeats on the chin.
The old adage of there being three teams worse than we are is a truism and I hope it stays that way, including the goal difference column, which could be worth an extra point and is proving to be the case at the moment. Let’s not forget, we are still a newly promoted side and we are generally getting better results against top teams than more established teams.
Put simply, if we were to go gung ho and attack the top sides we would most likely come heavily unstuck. Our ‘positive’ goal difference of -13 could soon become -20 or worse and then we would be adding very real extra pressure to ourselves.
At the moment Newcastle have a better goal difference than all other clubs in the bottom eight apart from Southampton (-12).
Some fans seem to point out on a frequent basis that we only have a couple of players that are of Premier League quality, yet wonder why we don’t attack teams and go for wins all the time. The two go hand in hand and you can’t have it both ways, we either have quality players or we don’t.
I’ll take anybody’s point that we should be a bit more attacking at home against the sides in the bottom half of the league, as we are certainly no worse than they are, in some cases I’d say we are better, but the way things are going (on goal difference at least) we are certainly in credit.
Rafa’s way is working and until he get’s substantial backing to build his own side then we are where we are. Certainly if he had been allowed to bring in Dubravka and Kenedy at the start of the season I’m in no doubt we would be at least five places higher in the league.
But it’s not all doom and gloom, quite the opposite in fact. I hadn’t looked at the fixtures but since I have I’m actually quite optimistic.
Stoke have to play Man City, Spurs, Liverpool and Arsenal. West Brom have to play Manchester United, Spurs and Liverpool. Swansea have to play Spurs, Manchester United, Man City and Chelsea. Crystal Palace have to play Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool. Southampton have to play Arsenal, Man City and Chelsea. That’s a lot of hard games for all the teams below us and that’s BEFORE I mention the fact that those teams down there all have to play EACH OTHER. This is a very crucial point- they can’t all win all of their games.
Let’s hope in the meantime that we keep our heads above water and we win another three games, as I feel that with the aforementioned fixtures still to play, if we get to 38 points we will surely be safe this season.
Howay the lads!