Positives have been few and far between since Newcastle United defeated Chelsea 3-0 last May.
Much was debated about whether the Newcastle players who took the team to tenth place in the league could keep up the good form that they exhibited towards the end of last season. For me, two players stand out who performed far above expectations. Mo Diame and Ayoze Perez. If Diame hadn’t have been one of the worst players in the team prior to the West Ham game at Christmas time, then he would have been a shoe-in for player of the season.
However, it is telling from our poor winless start to this campaign, despite the fact that, excluding Cardiff, we have played top sides, I think aside from the Tottenham game and the first half against Arsenal, the performances have been really bad. This is especially the case in regards to the games against Cardiff, Nottingham Forest and Chelsea. Say what you like about the results, nobody expected to beat, or even get a point against the bigger sides, but it is the performances that have been the disappointment so far.
Should we be blaming Rafa for that? Not at all. Of course he can be questioned for some of the decisions he has made. I thought the way he set the side up against Cardiff and Chelsea was far too negative, and his team selection against Arsenal left an awful lot to be desired. Questioning the decisions of the manager is part and parcel of football. It is perfectly healthy.
The important thing for many is that the fanbase, the players and the manager remain united for the time being. Although I would actually argue that those fans out there who like to take the moral high ground, and suggest that no fan can question Rafa’s tactics, make our fanbase look a little stupid to the rest country. You might say, who cares what everyone else thinks? For the most part that’s true, but right now, while the aim of the game is to bring as much negative spotlight to Mike Ashley and Sports Direct, the way fans conduct themselves on social media is becoming more important. Therefore, the ‘hounding out’ of any fan who seems to question a decision Rafa makes, to me just looks stupid.
In fact, the portrayal of Rafa as a ‘god-like’ figure at SJP doesn’t sit well with me. That doesn’t mean I don’t love the guy and think he is a world class manager, because he is, but he is no Kevin Keegan. It may seem like an irrelevant point to make, and I understand that, but I don’t jump on board with the thought process that Rafa leaving is the be all and end all… because to me, Mike Ashley staying/going is the be all and end all.
In truth, I have argued for a long time now that for the pressure to really crank up on Mike Ashley at Newcastle, the one thing which would ‘do the trick’ in my opinion is if Rafa did a ‘KK’, walked away, and spilled the beans to the media on just how badly run a football club Newcastle is.
Anyway, I have gone off at a tangent haven’t I! This was meant to be an article which brought positives! But that just seems to be the way it is at Newcastle United now, there just aren’t that many positives!
Needless to say, for this side to stay in the PL this season, Rafa has to get 100% out of the players who I would describe as generally not good enough. The failure of Perez and Diame to keep up their good form this season are just two examples I have alluded to, I think based on performances so far this season, the same could be applied to most players, from Lascelles to Dummett to Kenedy.
There are four players who I think haven’t got the credit they deserve so far this season. One of them being new signing Fernandez. While the other three have been the only players who I think can say they have maintained their standards so far this campaign.
Along with Kenedy and Jamaal Lascelles he was the star of last season. Most people will go back to that man of the match performance against Man Utd but in truth, it was the confidence he gave to the side in the games since then that made him so vital to the side. Perhaps this doesn’t come across quite so well at home, but as a frequent traveller in the away end, you cannot underestimate how much calmness and assurance he brings to the back line when the side is under pressure.
This season he has been more of the same. I do think he maybe could have done better with the second goal against Arsenal but that is as close as you’ll get to criticism. It is a lot easier to come away from games when you can say to yourself “hey, the goalie couldn’t have done anything about those goals” and for the most part, that is the case with Dubravka. If we are going to stay up this season, then he is going to play a key role in us doing so.
I will continue to argue that he is our most underrated player. There were a few people who at times last season criticised me giving him high marks in away games when they felt that he did nothing defensively. There is no beating around the bush that Yedlin could improve defensively, but lets just say he was half a foot taller, and a stone heavier, would he be the same player going forward? No way. In fact, you would end up with something like two Paul Dummetts playing at full back. No disrespect to Dummett because he is a good defender, but when you see how poor he is joining attacks going forward, I like to think it really makes fans appreciate what Yedlin contributes.
On top of that, like most players in the team, and unlike his housemate Rolando Aarons, Yedlin can only be described as a model professional. He has started this season in good form, throw in the goal against Manchester City, which I don’t any other full back in the league would have had the pace to get up the pitch to score, and we see how much we miss him when Manquillo is put in there instead.
There is no doubt that the injury to Lejeune was a major blow. I also think as well that Rafa should have got more out of Mbemba. Lots of people will argue that Mbemba and Mitrovic didn’t fit into Rafa’s plans, and that is a fair enough argument, I get it. However, when you are strapped for cash, and your owner is one of the worst in the country who gives you nothing to play with, then I believe you should be trying to get the most out of two players who are undoubtedly quality. It pains me to say it, but I don’t half expect to watching Mbemba and Mitrovic playing in the Champions League in a few years time, thinking “we should have got more out of those two”.
The replacement for Lejeune, Fernandez, has looked like a solid PL centre half in all of his appearances so far. Although his individual performances have been good, I think he has the potential as well to get the most out of Lascelles, who doesn’t look like the same player when he isn’t next to Lejeune (such as Mbemba ironically, I know, don’t tell me!). Again, like Dubravka, if Fernandez’s performances begin to dip, then that will put us in big trouble.
When you think about it, talk of Ritchie going to a Championship club in the summer was madness. He continues to be a major player. Although some might say this is a limitation that Ritchie is such a key player, which I understand, given that we are going to have scrap for every valuable point this season, players like Ritchie will be key in picking up or defending key points at key moments.
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