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Opinion

Newcastle United spine underpins better form and results

8 months ago
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These last two hours of football have transformed the short-term for Newcastle United and hopefully also set them on a path to a better rest of the season and beyond.

The final half hour or so of the Watford match and the entire Bournemouth match, are the evidence I would put forward in support of that.

Not only did these two hours of football produce consecutive victories, they also suggested that Newcastle can play far better football than we’d previously imagined.

The fact that these performances/results were achieved against in-form clubs in seventh and sixth places in the table, adds credibility to hopes of better times ahead.

None of us (hopefully) believes that Newcastle United have suddenly got a great team but…just maybe, Rafa Benitez could have a decent team, put together on a very limited budget.

A very unhealthy scenario was in place, Newcastle losing match after match and after 10 games, only three points from a possible 30.

Even worse than that maybe, was the accepted opinion amongst Newcastle fans, that this NUFC side picked itself, despite no wins in 10 matches.

How depressing is that?

The first team failing week after week but the consensus being that changing it was a waste of time, as the alternatives were guaranteed to make things worse.

Sometimes of course, the best changes are the ones that are forced on you.

Events overtake you and a manager has no alternative but to make changes to his team.

When Rafa Benitez was forced to make that trio of subs by the 52nd minute against Watford, we all feared the worst. The visitors had been so dominant and the three changes would only weaken things even more….

Of course, the rest is history. Schar doing really well at the back, Ki taking control of midfield and making the winner, Perez scoring it.

Whilst Perez was Newcastle’s weakest player yesterday, the other two enforced subs from that Watford match, were very good again, especially Ki.

Looking at why this was easily the best display of the season, I think it was because for the first time Newcastle had a fully functioning spine of the team, four players who led by example and held it all together.

Dubravka was his usual excellent self and could do nothing with the consolation goal for the visitors.

Fernandez was tremendous at the back yet again, with great support from Schar.

Whilst up front, Rondon was magnificent, leading the line brilliantly.

Maybe the understated Ki though is the big difference in terms of the team playing football. Always available and willing to take the ball AND run with it, take note Jonjo Shelvey!

He played his part in the winner with a Shelvey style 50 yard ball but it is his link up of play that improves the other players around him.

It is not a case of writing off the likes of Shelvey or Lascelles of course but I do think we had an unhealthy position, a bit like when Coloccini and others played week in week out, whereby they know they will play no matter what happens.

It isn’t a case of not trying but maybe just subconsciously players get into a position where they are complacent, thinking nobody can/will challenge their positions.

Rafa Benitez made a point of trying to get competition throughout the squad when getting promotion and of course it is never going to be as easy at the higher level of the top tier.

However, I wonder whether now Rafa maybe will feel that certainly Schar and Ki (couldn’t even get on the bench until a few weeks ago) should have been involved a little more, experienced players at club and international level, both playing at the World Cup this summer.

Maybe a case of even the best, such as Rafa Benitez, not always getting it 100% right?

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