Shay Given is full of admiration for the job Rafa Benitez is doing at St James Park.
The Newcastle legend says that NUFC need to get back to where ‘they belong’, which for him and the rest of the United fans is ‘the top end of the league table’.
The former keeper thinks that maybe Rafa and his players haven’t had as much praise as they deserve because people are seeing them as a ‘recognised Premier League team’, rather than just like any other club that has had to deal with relegation and then the extra demands after promotion.
Shay Given states the obvious when he says the manager ‘can do no wrong with the fans’ after the job he has done’, particularly when you take into account the lack of backing in the transfer market from Mike Ashley.
After reaching 41 points and safety, Given thinks that now the ‘shackles’ are coming off and you will see a more expansive game from Newcastle.
In fact, we have already seen that in reality, as even the game that kickstarted this excellent end to the season saw Newcastle press high against Manchester United and be well worth the 1-0 win back in February.
Further victories against Huddersfield, Southampton, Leicester and Arsenal have also all been well deserved.
The former NUFC star also thinks that Jonjo Shelvey goes beyond the basic stats because as a midfielder always looking to play the positive ball, the usual stats won’t do the midfielder justice against those who never/rarely take risks.
Shay Given talking to the official Everton site:
“I think Rafa Benitez has managed the side really well.
“They had a decent start but then a really poor patch for a bit. The pressure was building and he had struggles getting money for players, but in January he did really good business.
“Bringing in goalkeeper Martin Dubravka and Chelsea attacker Kenedy on loan. A couple of signings have helped rejuvenate the squad and freshen things up, and both players have played very well which has given the whole team a lift.
“I think he [Rafa] can do no wrong with the fans, and rightly so, with the season they have had and the money they have [and haven’t…] spent.
“It has been a great season and they are safe for another year and that is good for any club that comes up from the Championship.
“People will feel Newcastle are a recognised Premier League team but they have just come up and they will want to get back to where I think they belong – at the top end of the league table. Rafa has done a great job.
“With the ball, Newcastle are very structured and that is down to the manager. He is very good at setting teams up at defending and being hard to beat.
“But now the shackles have come off with them being safe, that could be tricky for Everton because Newcastle can play with more freedom and less pressure.
“The pressure that comes with being down in the bottom half is tough but now they have 41 points means that they can play with more freedom as they are safe, in my opinion.
“Jonjo Shelvey’s form of late has been very impressive.
“You have to look at the other midfielders in the England squad and, for me, he adds something different. Jonjo always looks forward, rarely plays a square pass and always tries to play on the front foot.
“He is putting himself in a strong position to go to the World Cup because if a match is tight, he can come off the bench and will look for a positive ball forward to try to create something.
“There will be times he gives it away but that is part and parcel of that position, especially if you are trying to play that killer pass.
“I am not a big believer in passing stats because you can play in midfield and tap it five yards or backwards and your stats will be better than Jonjo Shelvey who is trying to be positive in the final third, even though sometimes he won’t find his man.
“With Rafa going back to Liverpool, he won’t want to lose the game, for sure.”