Have Newcastle United been a ‘Championship team playing in the Premier League’ this season?
I would argue not.
However, that hasn’t stopped many pundits and experts, even amongst our own fans…, claiming that this has indeed been the case.
The story people want to tell is that Rafa Benitez has single-handedly kept this team/squad of players from returning to the Championship where they belong.
Before I get to my main point, there are a few other things that suggest the ‘Championship’ insult is wide of the mark.
Newcastle United did indeed play in the Championship last season but proved, along with Brighton, that they were far better than the rest.
Newcastle ended last season nine points clear of third and thirteen ahead of fourth.
On top of that, whilst Mike Ashley didn’t allow nearly enough spending, particularly in terms of the net spend, the team/squad did get added to with some £30m+of players coming in, largely funded by unwanted players such as Thauvin, de Jong, Hanley and Daryl Murphy leaving.
So a club that won the Championship and along with Brighton relatively easily got promoted, then has tens of millions of new signings added to it.
For me that is already a team/squad that is better than a ‘Championship’ one.
That isn’t to say that it is necessarily a great Premier League level one but they are both positives.
Now to my main point…
This is the squad that started the season and before each name there is the number of Premier League appearances each had made BEFORE this season kicked off:
179 Mohamed Diame
141 Jonjo Shelvey
134 Ciaran Clark
70 Ayoze Perez
66 Paul Dummett
64 Dwight Gayle
41 Matt Ritchie
37 Massadio Haidara
36 Rob Elliot
34 Aleksandar Mitrovic
33 Chancel Mbemba
30 Javier Manquillo (as well as playing in La Liga and Ligue 1)
24 DeAndre Yedlin
22 Joselu (as well as many seasons in La Liga and Bundesliga)
18 Jamaal Lascelles
9 Karl Darlow
5 Christian Atsu
So 17 of Newcastle’s squad that took on the Premier League, had already played there before.
The players that had no previous Premier League appearances:
Jesus Gamez (veteran of La Liga)
Florian Lejeune (came to Newcastle after full season in La Liga)
Mikel Merino (a season and 8 appearances in the Bundesliga)
So of these other five, Hayden and Murphy were promising young players who had done well in the Championship, then the other three had all played to varying degrees in the other strongest European leagues.
I think where the accusers got it wrong was that they should have probably called Newcastle a bottom six or bottom eight Premier League team, rather than a Championship one.
Certainly every place above the relegation spots is a credit to Rafa Benitez and once you are getting higher than the bottom six, he deserves massive plaudits.
Newcastle’s team/squad is punching above its weight getting into the top half at present and if they can stay there, it will have proved an excellent season, compared to the level of ability Rafa had available.
Though it has to be conceded that the January loan signings have also played a key part in what has happened these past three months or so.
For me, the aim now is for Rafa Benitez to backed with signings that would give him a Premier League mid-table level team/squad and then see what he can do with them, see if he can make them the best of the rest and aim for seventh…with then who knows what can happen if all the luck did fall our way.
Rafa Benitez has done an excellent job at Newcastle United but he hasn’t performed miracles quite yet.