Rafael Benitez has come under fire in recent weeks, regarding his tactics during the opening month of the new season.
This criticism is unjust, Newcastle United faced Tottenham Hotspur on the opening day, narrowly losing 2-1. The Magpies should have walked away from that display with at least a point. A tricky away game against newly promoted Cardiff City followed, Newcastle coming away with a point in a 0-0 draw. Benitez’s men were down to 10 men for much of the second half after Isaac Hayden was sent off for a rash challenge. Kenedy had a great chance to snatch all three points from the spot, only to see his penalty saved. Newcastle then faced Chelsea at home and Manchester City away. A tough start to say the least.
Newcastle have come through those games with a -3 goal difference, which could be vital come the end of the season. Many teams will lose by 3 or 4 against the likes of Spurs, Chelsea and Man City. The fact is, Benitez’s tactics have been the key reason for his side staying in those games, with a chance of getting a positive result.
Pundits and fans of other teams may not like Benitez’s approach, however, it is effective. The Newcastle manager simply does not have the squad to approach games in a different manner. A continued lack of investment from Mike Ashley means that Benitez is working with his hands tied. Newly promoted sides in Wolves and Fulham spent heavily in the summer, while Newcastle once again made a profit. It is almost guaranteed that Benitez did not get his first choice signings, the Spaniard cut a frustrated figure at times with the club’s lackluster transfer business.
Benitez has adopted this style of play not out of choice but necessity. If the Newcastle manager was given more money to spend on transfers, he would not be forced into this position. This is something many pundits fail to acknowledge.
Newcastle’s tough start to the season doesn’t get any easier, with games against Arsenal and Manchester United in their next four games. The fixture list has been far from kind to Newcastle. In Benitez, Newcastle have a world class manager who will get the best out of the players he has. That has been key in recent seasons, with the owner unwilling to part with any money to help Benitez’s cause, the Spaniard has improved the players that were already at the club. The likes of Paul Dummett, Jamaal Lascelles and Ayoze Perez have all stepped up their games as a result of Benitez’s relentless coaching.
Do not be surprised if Newcastle have a similar approach against Arsenal, as we saw against the likes of Man City and Chelsea. Benitez has to do what he thinks will work, what he thinks is best for the team. The former Liverpool and Real Madrid manager used similar tactics against the top six last season and was successful with it. Last season, Newcastle picked up wins against Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United, while also picking up a point against Liverpool.
It’s a tough time to be a Newcastle fan, Benitez brought hope back to this fantastic club. That hope, however, is once again being dashed by an uninterested owner. Benitez is into his final year of his contract at the club, with Mike Ashley gambling as he always does, this could well be the Spaniards last season on Tyneside.
As foolish as Ashley comes across, surely he sees that Benitez is Newcastle’s best hope of success. The pressure is mounting on Ashley, with protests held during the opening two home games, with more action planned - You would think Ashley would give the fans what they want and deserve. If a new owner comes in, one who understands the club and the local community, most importantly wants to invest in the club, then the sky is the limit.