As we go into a season defining period at Newcastle United, we currently have the chance to play some ‘winnable’ games.
Now that’s a term I generally hate, as every game is indeed ‘winnable’. However, realistically we were always going to be up against it when we played sides in the top six like we have done in the opening 10 games. When you come up against teams that include single players that were signed for more than our whole team was assembled for. How in the hell are you supposed to compete with that scenario?
For example, the creative player that makes us tick is without doubt Jonjo Shelvey (£12m) whereas Paul Pogba pulls the strings at Man Utd and he cost £90m, at Man City it’s Mahrez signed from Leicester for £60m, Chelsea have numerous midfielders costing upwards of £20m, Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil was £40m+, Tottenham’s Erik Lamela was signed for similar and Liverpool signed two midfielders (Fabinho and Keita) for nearly £100m in total. You get the idea, we are worlds apart.
Man City pay £50m for a left back and we have Paul Dummett and no back up. As Mike Ashley correctly stated, on his sky sports cringe-fest, we can’t compete with that sort of finance. And to think, we were led to believe Ashley turned down the chance to meet the people who eventually bought Man City, that was lucky wasn’t it?
We are currently fighting in a league within the league. In years gone by, the bottom half was always a league in itself, almost anyone from 10th down could feasibly be relegated. Then above that there was the teams from 10th to 5th and then the top four were pretty much nailed on, unless a team could upset the odds and have a better season than expected.
Looking at the table this season and the teams above Leicester in 12th are nigh on safe already, all the way up to Spurs in 5th. For me the top four at present will be the top four come next May, if not in the current order.
That brings me to Newcastle United, we are in the mini-league at the bottom which consists of eight teams that could go down: West Ham, Crystal Palace, Burnley, Southampton, Cardiff, Fulham, Huddersfield and ourselves. It’s the job of Rafa Benitez to finish as high up as possible in this group of eight teams. That’s ambition for you.
Personally, I think Cardiff and Huddersfield will go down, leaving one place reserved for someone else. Sadly, out of the remaining six teams, Newcastle look woefully ill-equipped for a relegation battle. Crystal Palace have a decent forward line, West Ham have spent money and Fulham have goals in them. I fear that we are competing with Burnley and Southampton for survival this season.
Aside from the astronomical figures bandied about by top clubs, back down in our little mini-league and we have Fulham who signed Jean Sari for £18m while Alfie Mawson in defence signed for £15m, topped off by the signing of Aleksandar Mitrovic signed from us for £22m+. Let’s not forget that this is a newly promoted team with less than half the crowds turning up that we have and yet Mike Ashley hasn’t sanctioned that kind of money on one player in 11 years, so if Fulham this season are a rival then god help us.
It’s all well and good people saying Ashley is planning on giving Rafa some belated funds in January to arrest the slide, especially now that he’s started turning up to games and has seen us first hand. I have my doubts on that as I don’t think anyone would risk splashing substantial funds with the club in peril. Naysayers may comment that he did it in 2013 when we were struggling and again in 2016 when we were once again struggling. It worked the first time but not the second. Once bitten, twice shy?
Talk this week of Mike Ashley having a five year plan is a bit contradictory to any idea of the club being up for sale. You can’t have a long-term plan if the club is to be sold in the coming months. Which is it? I hope it’s the latter but once again, I have serious doubts.
Are the players we currently have, Rafa Benitez’ first choice? Once again, I have my doubts. It’s ok Lee Charnley stating to fans that certain players were players that Rafa wanted, it’s a bit of a non statement when the manager’s list has been skimmed of the top choices and only the fourth or fifth choices are looked at. Maybe he got Rafa’s list upside down?
Five year plans are always silly anyway. If only the owner and Lee Charnley had implemented a five WEEK plan in the summer, where they had set aside substantial funds for the manager and allowed him to sign his first choice players, we wouldn’t be toiling with the dregs of this division at present. After all, there is some dross in it.
Our quest for survival may work in the end, and the owner may strike lucky, but he has certainly made the job a hugely more difficult one than it should have been and looking at the teams around us, their owners have made a better and more ambitious fist of it than ours.
Rinse and repeat, year in year out.