Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Arsenal has left Newcastle in the relegation zone and without a win in their last nine, but where has it gone wrong for the Magpies?On the 21st of October, Newcastle were sitting in sixth place and despite not playing the best football, they were getting results. Since then they’ve picked up one point out of a possible 27.
Most anticipated the North-East side to struggle when looking at their November & December fixtures, but few envisioned the Geordies failing to grab a win in that run. However, when you put Newcastle under the microscope, perhaps it’s not so surprising. So we’re accessing each area of Newcastle United to uncover where the problem is.
Rafael Benitez: Manager
Now, it’s easy to criticise a manager. However, if it was that easy of a job, I’d be doing it, you’d be doing it, we’d all be doing it. However, it’s unfair to state that the Spaniard isn’t partially to blame for Newcastle’s poor performances – starting with player selection.
Premier League statistics show that 17.5% of Newcastle’s passes this season have been long balls, the fourth highest percentage in the League, striker Dwight Gayle has shown his has the ability to get behind defences this season. However, Benitez’s problem is there is no target man to flick headers on.
Serbian striker – Aleksandar Mitrovic has lost the trust of the manager and was realistically Newcastle’s only target man. Joselu has the ability but simply doesn’t have the movement or presence to be a menace. So why continue the long-ball style?
Meanwhile, the likes of Mohammad Diame have failed to make any mark on the team since joining so why persist on picking players who can’t put the effort in?
However, I thought in the early season and even against Arsenal, Benitez got his tactics spot on. Especially against the Gunners, staying in the game for as long as possible, then bringing on the likes of Gayle & Ritchie with hopes of snatching a point.
That being said, Benitez has to take the smallest part of the blame as he can only work with what he’s given and in our next two topics, we’ll see he hasn’t got much.
Newcastle United: Defensively
Having captain Jamaal Lascelles back has been a godsend for Newcastle. They endured numerous thrashings in his absence and have only conceded two against in-form Everton and Arsenal since his return. That being said, those around him still need to improve.
In-goal, Newcastle have two goalkeepers who flatter to deceive, the error-prone – Karl Darlow and the ever-present but never number one choice – Rob Elliot. Elliot is Newcastle’s solid first choice but looking back, he could do a lot better with some of the goals he’s conceded this season. Meanwhile, Darlow is an incredible shot-stopper. However, positionally, needs improvement and seems to lose concentration at times, occasionally finding himself seconds behind the play, which is unacceptable for a goalkeeper. Their third option is England U20’s hero – Freddie Woodman who many would agree isn’t ready yet.
Wing-backs – DeAndre Yedlin and Javier Manquillo often find themselves out of position and are not helped by Newcastle’s wide-midfielders, meanwhile, the partnership of Florian Lejeune and Ciaran Clark is a nightmare most fans never want to relive.
So, Newcastle’s defence has to take a slightly larger section of the blame in comparison to Benitez but in their last two games, have been solid, their problem has been with:
Newcastle United: Offensively
Two of Newcastle’s top five goalscorers this season are centre-backs. That tells you how poor the strikers have been this season, it also shows you how good their set-pieces were earlier this season. However, without Lascelles they seem to have flattened and didn’t look like picking up against the Gunners.
That being said, Newcastle don’t have the worst attack in the League and have looked like scoring in most games this season, they’ve just struggled to take their chances. Missing twelve big chances and hitting the woodwork six times this season attempting the 8th most shots this season. (227)
So, Newcastle’s strikers have to go down as a large part of why they’ve struggled in recent games.
The board: Mike Ashley
When you look at Mike Ashley’s time at St James’ Park, you have to look at it like a businessman. Alan Pardew got Newcastle to fifth with very little spending. The market has inflated since then and Ashley evidently believes that a manager with Rafael Benitez’s pedigree should be able to keep Newcastle up with £30 million. However, in this day and age, it takes more than £30 million to turn a Championship team into a competitive Premier League team.
With Newcastle’s sale looking likely, Ashley will unlikely delve into his pockets without a guarantee of a return. However, looking at the sorry state of Newcastle right now and the news that Amanda Staveley wants a relegation clause in the contract of the sale, sufficient funds could well be forced into the hands of Benitez.
Where will they be in five months?
If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say 17th in the Premier League, with Mike Ashley still in charge, two new players brought in during January but six more wins and five draws keep Newcastle afloat by the skin of their teeth.
The Magpies still have five games at home against the teams in the bottom half and I think Newcastle’s results in those games will see them finish above the dotted relegation line. They don’t need a miracle yet but if they haven’t got more than 23 points by the end of January, they’re as good as relegated for me.