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Opinion

Newcastle United – The Post-Mortem

4 days ago
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Newcastle United, the curse that just keeps on giving.

This summer has been difficult to say the least.

When the season ended at Fulham in May, there was real optimism, though tinged with caution.

With a very restricted budget Rafa Benitz had developed a resolute defence and from nowhere we suddenly had a very exciting central midfield partnership, despite a limited number of games due to injury, Longstaff and Hayden really looked the part.

The arrival of Miguel Almiron then helped things to a whole new level, suddenly there was an attacking plan/threat that promised goals and excitement.

From 21 goals and 24 points in the opening 25 games, from Almiron’s debut at Wolves Newcastle managed 21 goals in the final 13 Premier League matches. The Paraguayan didn’t score but he connected the team and especially Perez and Rondon in the attacking trio.

All that was needed now was to convince Rafa Benitez to stay, back him with a realistic budget and the freedom to wheel and deal, sign up Rondon permanently and four or so other quality additions, top ten minimum in 2019/20 and who knows what could happen potentially…

Newcastle v Arsenal yesterday and back to reality, here is my post-mortem of Sunday and the NUFC opening day of the season.

The Boycott

I was always staying away yesterday. I think one-off messages from the fans is the way to go, fans will/won’t buy season tickets as they see fit but we can invite everybody to participate in single game action.

An official crowd of 47,000 based on tickets sold (and the players, catering staff, stewards…) but once you knock off current season ticket holders who boycotted, I reckon around 44,000 inside St James Park. There were claims that it was as low as 42,000 at the game.

Some want to see it as a failure but reality is, if Rafa had stayed and got decent backing, the empty 8,000+ seats would have been sold. What is more, there wouldn’t be 10,000 unsold season tickets.

Indeed, Rafa staying and backed AND new ambitious owners, it would be a season ticket waiting list and tens of thousands of extra fans desperate to be inside St James Park.

The opposition

Steve Bruce said Newcastle had been up against a ‘very good’ Arsenal side.

No, we were up against a very weakened Arsenal side and should have got something. They had a makeshift defence, a weak midfield and the only attacking threat was Aubameyang.

If the players on the Arsenal bench had been fit and able to be in the starting eleven, Newcastle would have been swept aside. This was a real opportunity missed. Around 80% of Premier League teams would have beaten the Gunners yesterday and not many, if any, would have lost. Their keeper never had a proper save to make.

Steve Bruce

Newcastle looked ok up to a point first half but as I say, poor to average opposition on the day.

Steve Bruce is like Alan Pardew and Steve McClaren.

Our best 11 players are probably quite decent and no worse than four  or five other PL clubs but we could all pick that team and it potentially would look decent, not terrible.

However, like those other two, if Newcastle get injuries to the best 11 or go behind, Bruce has zero idea of what to do.

We need the head coach to get lucky, avoid injuries to key players and the new young and inexperienced signings from overseas to hit the ground running.

Krafth-werk

I 100% think Steve Bruce was told to, or felt obliged to,  put all new signings in yesterday’s matchday squad that he could. presenting the best possible look for the Sky Sports coverage, as though this summer had been something other than total chaos inviting disaster.

So Steve Bruce includes Krafth amongst his subs with no intention of bringing him on after he’s only had 1 or 2 training sessions after signing on Thursday, which then meant Ki was left out and not one midfielder on bench. We then saw Shelvey and Longstaff going off, Ki isn’t spectacular but he is decent, if he had been that first like for like swap for Shelvey, would we still have seen that poor winning goal (from NUFC’s perspective) and the farce of so many players having no idea of where they should be playing?

Goals

As we all know, so few goalscorers in squad.

Ciaran Clark on the bench, scored as many goals in the Premier League last season as out front five combined (Shelvey, Longstaff and Hayden one each).

If this season is to be any way decent and/or avoid disaster, it means a very small group of players have to score a very large majority of the goals, just like last season.

Steve Bruce has gone with 5-3-2 (5-3-1-1 in reality) rather than Rafa’s 5-2-3 (5-2-2-1 in reality), I already see this change as totally unworkable.

With the players available to him, we have to get Joelinton, Almirion and Saint-Maximin all on the pitch together. The two signings don’t have brilliant scoring records (Joelinton best is 8 goals in a league season and ASM is 6) but they are by far the best bets alongside Almiron, even though the Paraguatan is yet to score himself.

Shelvey is a decent player on his day but he doesn’t have enough of them, I think it comes down to him or ASM on the pitch and it is a no-brainer.

To leave out Longstaff or Hayden to keep Shelvey in, would be madness. They are far better all round players and most importantly have the workrate/stamina/pace to play as a centre midfield two. Jonjo Shelvey hasn’t/can’t.

Norwich

We haven’t been done any favours with the fixture list and especially when it comes to our next opponents.

Far better playing them away later when they are a bit downtrodden and jaded, Norwich will have a right go and looked good going forward against Liverpool, the final 4-1 scoreline in no way reflected the goal threat they had posed, which was far far greater than Arsenal’s yesterday.

A defeat on Saturday would mean already massive pressure with Spurs and Liverpool away being two of the next three matches.

Drilling down into the summer business

Amazing how the media can make out that we have brought in two brilliant wing-backs when one cost £5m and nobody else was seemingly after him, whilst the other was on loan and who nobody apparently wanted to buy.

I think that if Rafa Benitez had been backed and convinced to stay, I think two quality wing-backs would have been a massive priority. He had set up an excellent defensive unit of keeper and three centre-backs (with strength in depth), two young promising central midfielders and an attacking trio promising much. Alongside securing Rondon for £16.5m, I think spending a similar figure on each of two wing-backs would have been a certainty.

I really hope Krafth and Willems may a mockery of their cut price deals but the Swede got only 28 Serie A starts for Bologna in three years before an ok season with Amiens in Ligue 1 last season. Whilst Willems was named 23 times on the bench for Eintracht Frankfurt last season and got only seven Bundesliga starts.

I don’t think they are terrible players but I am doubting whether they are any better than what Newcastle already had.

A very limited head coach operating under the command of Mike Ashley and unproven young overseas players relied on to instantly perform AND score most of the goals, what could possibly go wrong????

The situation isn’t hopeless but I do think there is a mountain to climb this season and a fair bit of luck needed, if we aren’t going to be sent tumbling onto the rocks below.

Last season it ended up as three poor clubs ensuring the safety of the other 17 but I don’t see that being the case this time, I think an average of at least a point per match from these remaining 37 games will be needed, three points next Saturday would see us start climbing that mountain.

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