West Ham 2 Newcastle 0 was proof of why Rafa Benitez approach is the right one
West Ham 2 Newcastle 0 was a disappointment for the travelling fans.
Newcastle missing the opportunity of closing to within two points of the Hammers and an outside chance of another top half finish.
Whilst the loss was a first away defeat of the season to a team outside the top six.
The home side had only lost one of their last seven games, whilst Newcastle had four wins and only one defeat in their last six Premier League games.
As always though, goals change games, and once Newcastle gifted Declan Rice a seventh minute opener, the writing was on the wall.
In the aftermath, both media and Newcastle fans carry out a post-mortem as usual, what went wrong and what could have been done better/differently.
A fair few people were keen to say after the game that Rafa Benitez should have rotated his squad, no doubt the very same people would have been the ones questioning why Rafa had changed a winning team, if he’d made a few changes and Newcastle had still lost.
This defeat for me was simply down to one thing, poor defending that allowed the free header for the opener, then a repeat of that poor defending when Florian Lejeune was left with two players and then made it all the worse when trying to retrieve the situation with a lunging tackle and giving away the penalty.
The manager can only do so much and once they cross the white line, you can’t legislate for players making mistakes.
I don’t think there was anything wrong with Rafa Benitez’ team selection of match plan and formation.
Indeed, looking at the whole match, it just proved to me once again that the Spaniard’s approach is most definitely the correct one.
Newcastle were a fair bit better in the second half and arguably the better team, certainly when it came to getting into the opponent’s half and having shots.
However, the game reminded us of the team’s lack of real cutting edge and flair. Yes there were a lot of shots, 17 to West Ham’s 10, but only two on target and Fabianski not really having a difficult one to save. To be fair, the Hammers had only two other shots on target on top of the two goals that were gifted.
The problem is that whilst we hope and expect Miguel Almiron will in time give us much of the needed flair and creativity, there is precious little elsewhere in the team. With Rafa having now all but given up on Kenedy, again not in the squad on Saturday and no starts since December, there was no real threat for West Ham to worry about as they sat back on their two goal lead.
It just reinforced to me why Rafa has this plan, certainly for away games.
Largely just sitting in for the first 45 or 60 minutes, looking to counter-attack where possible with his limited attacking options.
Then the final 25-30 minutes, if the teams are still level or Newcastle ahead, the home side getting more desperate for a goal and the play gets ever more stretched, perfectly suiting Rafa’s counter-attacking approach.
Newcastle aren’t good enough at the minute to take an attacking approach, certainly not against decent teams, ones such as West Ham who had £40m signing Anderson bounce back to form and other big money signings, including one on the bench in Arnautovic who also cost more than Newcastle’s (old and new) club record.
The Newcastle manager’s approach of keeping it disciplined and tight then trying to exploit gaps as they open up, totally destroyed and made redundant by individual error and two soft goals conceded.
A reminder on Saturday that Newcastle United’s strength is the manager’s discipline and the team he has moulded, rather than the eleven individuals that make up that team.
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