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.

Martin Dubravka

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.

DeAndre Yedlin

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.

Federico Fernandez

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.

Matt Ritchie

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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  • Wor Lass

    I agree with most of what you say, Jonathan. I thought Dubravka started poorly for the first couple of games but is right back in the groove now – a great buy. Yedlin has definitely stepped up this season and deserves the praise but still has some learning to do on the defensive front. Fernandez looks a shrewd buy and a decent stand-in for Lejeune. Ritchie continues to be a whole-hearted player but I still feel he lacks end product. It`s a bit early still to write players off but I do feel that a few are missing opportunities to establish themselves – mainly Murphy, Kenedy, Diame and Perez. The last three in particular should be kicking on from last season. Maybe Kenedy`s injury is a big factor and Diame might be missing Jonjo, I suppose. The big surprise to me, though, is that you haven`t mention Dummett who looks to be by far our best player this season.

    • Ashley-out

      Dummett has been the best player this season

      • Billmag

        No he hasn’t.

  • Foggy

    Good article. I am really tired of people making excuses for Perez and Diame. It’s never their fault, always somebody else. FFS they are professionals. I pointed out over the summer the possibility that both would revert to their normal form. For me, they both had a bit of a purple patch but this is the norm for them. Bit like Cisse when he was world class for a couple of months but couldn’t get close to that type of game afterwards. More’s the pity. I don’t think we can carry so many underperformers at the same time when the rest are only average at best although a couple can be better on the day. Fernandez for me has been outstanding. Kenedy hasn’t.

  • Come&TakeIt1836

    I think that if Lejuene comes back about equal to his level of last season (much less more comfortable/better), Lascelles may find himself not in the starting XI every game (much less in an England squad). He is immense in his leadership but Fernandez seems pretty strong, too. By that point in the season, sitting Lascelles more frequently may not be too hard to fathom versus having two ball-handling, solid wing support, central defenders. It will be interesting to watch and see what happens.

    • Ashley-out


    • Wor Lass

      I understand why you would say that about Lascelles this season, so far, but I don`t think any manager would want to play two CB`s so similar in style as Fernandez and Lejeune. I like them both but I`m not sure about them as a pairing. Hansen and Lawrenson were both ball players but they were quick and good in the air as well as being outstanding footballers. I think Lejeune looked so good last season partly as a result of playing alongside Jamaal. Once he`s fully fit I think we`ll see him (Lascelles, that is) pick up from where he left off last term.

      • mentalman

        They complimented each other, lejuene likes getting forward and lascelles likes staying back, lejuene going forward allows lascelles to stay back and vice versa. Fernandez being there will make the pair of them improve as they will know they can easily be dropped unlike last season.

  • SuperDesHamilton

    So what exactly does that mean Benitez is no Keegan? Is that because Keegan walked out on Newcastle back in 97 & Benitez hasn’t yet? Strange. I said all summer it would be a miracle if Diame played anywhere near last season form at 31 year old, Perez for some reason gets a free pass. He adds nothing at all & throws himself on the floor at the first opportunity. Dummett a don’t know how many times a defender who doesn’t get forward & specilzes in defending can be caught out of position so many times. Kenedy absolute waste of time so far, as is Murphy only so many times he can keep getting chance after chance

    • Ashley-out

      Keegan played attacking football & went out to win every game, even if Rafa had the players KK had i doubt you would see him do that, different styles thats all

  • mentalman

    Yedlin has only looked good this season when playing at wing back, when playing as a full back his inability to defend is a big problem.

  • Ashley-out

    Fernandez gave away a stupid free kick against Arsenal and in the premiership you get punished for it, 1 mistake on your 18 yard box is 1 to many.

    • Billmag

      C’mon highlighting one mistake is a bit unfair the lad looks comfortable on the ball something Lascelles needs to improve on, and as far as Dummett is concerned he offers nothing going forward.

      • Kenny

        That one mistake cost us the game

        • Billmag

          How did it, it was 2 minutes into the second half and it wasn’t the winning goal was it.

  • Carverlier football

    It’d be an odd situation if (hope against hope…) somebody came and bought the club with Rafa still in situ… Rafa’s bullet-proof status at the moment comes from the fact he’s the best manager we could possibly wish for under our current circumstances, and we have far bigger and more pressing issues to criticise than any failings in his selection or tactics. Under a new owner he stops being untouchable, at least after the first transfer window, as more focus will be on his performance and more optimism will be there about the caliber of replacement we could get. Hopefully he’d get at least a season to work with if that happened.

  • Billmag

    If Rafa is given his first choice of players and not his third or fourth choice and the team continued to under perform then the naysayers would and rightly so criticise him, but until he is given a level playing field in the transfer market we have no choice but to back him.

    • mentalman

      or you could question the players he has brought in when other teams around us are spending the same amount on better players

      • Billmag

        Do a match up then, Hammers recruitment against owers = no comparison, Wolves recruitment against owers = no comparison, Fulham recruitment against owers = no comparison, should I go on.

        • mentalman

          here’s a comparison for you;

          Rafa bought Hanley, brighton bought Duffy for less. Hanley played 0 games in the prem for us and so far Duffy has played 41.

          Rafa bought Murphy for more than he could have bought belgian international Adnan januzaj or even jose izquierdo

          For virtually every transfer we have had over the last 3 seasons there has been a better alternative available at the same price or less

          • Billmag

            Januzai is that same lad that flopped with the Mackem’s and Manure, you failed to say how much Brighton paid for Duffy it was undisclosed as far as I can see, for virtually the last 3 seasons the manager has had to shop at the bargain basement for player’s because of your hero.

  • Ron

    Deserving more credit, buying on tic. FCB stopped their wages as well!

  • Philippines

    I reckon De Yedlin would make a good No 9. Supermac was a converted full back.

  • Tony English

    I expect either Yedlin or Ritchie, to pick up a red card this coming weekend.

    The sheer weight of publicity surrounding previous tackles on Wilfried Zaha will see Andre Marriner add to his tally of sending off SEVEN Newcastle players in the thirty seven games he’s reffed us.

    Get your money on it.