Rafa Benitez has an impossible situation.

Whilst it is short-term on the surface, it is also very much at the heart of the longer-term issues he is facing at Newcastle United.

Once both Martin Dubravka and Kenedy were in place, Rafa played the same team almost every match.

Starting with the 1-0 victory over Man Utd, Newcastle won five and got one draw with Dubravka, Yedlin, Lascelles, Lejeune, Dummett, Ritchie, Shelvey, Diame, Kenedy, Perez and Gayle starting week in week out, the odd match out was Liverpool away where the manager mixed it up to try and eke out a result.

Moving forward, the win over Arsenal appears to have been a bit of a turning (downwards) point, reaching 41 points and then everything starting to fall apart a little bit.

Not collapsing, but a bit like pushing your old car to the maximum, eventually knowing that at some point you will need to get a bit of work done to keep it running.

On Saturday, Rafa Benitez tried to do that little bit of work, but it only really added to the downward trajectory.

Ritchie and Yedlin, two of the players who must be in the very top few in terms of miles covered, were taken out of the firing line and Murphy and Manquillo started instead.

Apart from the Spaniard’s cross for the goal, the pair of them were really poor, though they were in very good company.

When Ritchie and Yedlin replaced them in the second half, Newcastle improved. Not suddenly playing  great but their presence helping the rest of the side to play a little better as well.

This is the Catch 22 situation that the manager faces, he knows he has to freshen things up but has such limited options to do so.

Pretty much any change he makes to the team is guaranteed to weaken it, the squad is seriously in need of strengthening and last summer it ended up being a case of the manager patching things up as best he could, with the limited funds.

Looking at Saturday’s bench, you had Joselu, Haidara, Darlow and Hayden, just like Maquillo these players aren’t good enough to be in the first team. Darlow possibly the exception but our goalkeeper is the one person who isn’t showing signs of maybe needing a rest for the odd match, to help recharge his batteries.

Mikel Merino was the other one on the bench but he was recently out of the squad through injury and only played a handful of minutes at the end on Saturday, he has shown earlier in the season he can be good enough but clearly physically he wasn’t able to start at Watford. Whether he can at Tottenham remains to be seen.

The only other one in the squad who I wouldn’t automatically assume was a step down, is Ciaran Clark, he had a knock at the weekend and it remains to be seen if he can be involved.

Rafa Benitez has said that ideally he needs to have a squad of 22 senior players and a few younger ones coming through, with at least 20 players who are capable of playing any game when called upon to do so.

At the moment he can just about find 11, maybe a couple more if pushed, that is the reality and I can’t see how he can do anything else but patch up more or less the same players he has been relying on and hope they come through Wednesday night ok.

Rafa has said that he will have to see what ‘knocks or problems’ his squad have before deciding the team and whether ‘we have to change three, four, five players…’, the thought of having to make five changes for the game at Wembley just doesn’t really bear thinking about.

Rafa Benitez:

“We will try to change players to see if we can have fresh legs…but we tried that at Watford and it didn’t work.

“We tried to change the system we used at Watford too, but we can’t blame anyone in particular for why we were bad against Watford, because everyone was bad.

“But in that second half everyone was much better.

“We have to see how players are after the next few days, see if we have knocks or problems, then decide if we can play with the same team or if we have to change three, four, five players, whatever.

“We will be playing against a very good team and have to be sure we put a strong team on the pitch.

“After three weeks we are making too many mistakes – we don’t have any momentum now.

“Even if you put in the effort it is still not enough, if you make the mistakes.

“When we needed to win, everybody was really, really focused, people didn’t make mistakes, they knew they had to run, do this and do that.

“Now we are running but we are late, making mistakes, making far too many, because maybe we do not have the same concentration levels we had before.”



  • Wor Lass

    You would hope that the lads will be up for this game. They`ve had a bad run and have taken a bit of stick, rightly enough as the last three performances have lacked commitment. They should be looking for revenge for being mugged in the home game against Spuds and Jonjo, in particular, should be wanting to show that he really is as good as he looked before the red mist descended. Lejeune should be chomping at the bit as well. Merino maybe isn`t ready to start yet so I`d go with the “first 11” that got us those vital points before we broke up for the summer holidays.

  • Monkseaton Magpies

    To the starting eleven you can add Darlow, Merino, Murphy, Atsu and Haydn so that is sixteen players. Then you have others which Rafa bough so not as thin as the Mag would like to make out. Some of these players will have to go to make space in the dressing room.

    • thewildchimp

      Sure, we need some 8-10 players (don’t forget that Kenedy and Dubravka aren’t ours). Simple, right? Wrong!
      2 forwards: at least 35m.
      1 CAM: 10-18m.
      1 winger : 15-20m.
      1 goalkeeper: 5m.

      4 more squad players: ~40m.
      That’s the bare minimum of more than 100m pounds that need to be spent, so we’d become a certain mid-table team. We might get 20m for Mitro and then what? If Ashley was willing to part with some of that TV money and stop robbing the club – then we might get somewhere.

      • Monkseaton Magpies

        Ashley does not keep any money or take any out except for repayment of loans which he has put in. The last accounts showed only £2m in the bank.

        • thewildchimp

          Sure, mate. Well, I’m glad that since he was able to make ends meet this season financed solely by the sponsors and his unpaid advertisement, he’ll of course be able to fully invest those fresh 110+ million quids of TV money into the squad. I’m looking forward to him not pocketing the dough again and building that club up, like he did all these years, right?
          Are you an alien from some mirror universe, Monkseaton, or just a bad troll?

  • mentalman

    Yedlin and Ritchie will be straight back in because they are two of Rafa’s favourites and it comes to something when one of our best defenders can’t make the bench and a player who has barely played in the last 3 years and whose contract ends in a few weeks gets a place.