Sports

Newcastle United Must Fight For The Right To Keep Premier League Status

“It’s 11v11! We can’t go and buy £50 million players but you’ve seen in past if some players don’t have the heart it doesn’t matter!”

Jamaal Lascelles

In December, 2014, a Newcastle United side costing £50M comprising four ‘free’ home-grown Geordie players Paul Dummett, Steven Taylor, Sammy Ameobi, Jak Alnwick plus free transfer Geordie Jack Colback beat Jose Mourinho’s previously unbeaten in 23 games, £200M+ Chelsea side that went onto become Premier League Champions.

In front of a packed St. James’ Park, David beat Goliath and overturned the odds to record a memorable win and a performance full of guts, heart and spirit and fourteen players including three subs who were up for the battle and there was no meek surrender to the financial odds that day as football isn’t played on balance sheets and games aren’t won or lost on paper.

After a good start to life back in the Premier League winning four and drawing two of their first 10 games, Rafa Benitez’s Magpies have faltered in the last six games winning just one point from a possible 18.

A defence, previous build on solidity that conceded only nine goals in those first 10 games has collapsed and shipped 13 goals in the last five matches, albeit it including three to Premier League Champions and four away to The Europa League holders yet also, worryingly, two and three to West Brom and Watford respectively.

Goals scored have been hard to come by throughout the campaign and leaking goals at the back, anathema to a defensive boss like Benitez, and failing to score at the other end has seen Newcastle plummet from the heady heights of 6th top to 6th bottom in just six weeks.

Something must change to arrest this alarming decline and as well as striking a balance between being too defensive and too attacking, the squad, manager and team must realize that every Premier League game is a battle that has to be won physically and mentally before football comes into it.

The Premier League is an unforgiving battle ground where individual mistakes are punished as happened at Stamford Bridge on Saturday yet where any weakness in approach or attitude is ruthlessly exposed – believing you are not good enough to be competing on the same pitch as moneyed Chelsea or Man United and not having a proper go is suicide.

Conversely, with the right attitude and belief and the luck you need at any level of football, anybody can beat anybody on their day – see Burnley beating Chelsea on the opening day of this season – and the gaps in quality and skills can be breached by bravery, fight and a winning mentality.

Fortunately for Newcastle, one of the club’s Premier Geordie warriors is back from injury – left-back defensive stalwart Paul Dummett comes into contention on Saturday after being injured on the first day of the season against Spurs and not before time as the club have missed his battling and never-say-die attitude.

Most of the goals Newcastle have conceded this season have either been scored down the left-back side or have originated from passes from the position as right-footed Javier Manquillo has struggled to play there after the competent Chancel Mbemba was bafflingly dropped.

Dummett will soon be joined in the Newcastle starting line-up by fit-again Club Captain Jamaal Lascelles, who has been a huge player for the Magpies this season, having started the campaign on the bench against Spurs, only coming into the side after injuries to Dummett and Florian Lejeune meant a forced-reshuffle on the opening day.

Since then, the 24 year-old has been a defensive lynchpin in the team scoring winning headers at Swansea City and home to Stoke and even been watched by England manager Gareth Southgate, as only Spurs with a man advantage and Southampton have scored more than one goal on the skipper’s watch.

The youngest Captain in the Premier League reignites his long-term on the field partnership with keeper Karl Darlow – the pair have played together for years at Nottingham Forest and in the England youth ranks all the way up to U21 level – and will give Newcastle a platform of defensive solidity.

Its in front of the defence where Newcastle have been struggling at the moment as Rafa Benitez’s midfield machine has experienced engine room failure.

JonJo Shelvey was dismissed on the opening day for ill discipline yet remains by far the most creative footballer in the squad and must start most games.

To coax the best out of a ball player like Shelvey requires a player in the traditional anchor man role and Newcastle’s best player in that position remains the exiled Jack Colback.

Last season, the Colback-Shelvey axis was Newcastle’s best midfield duo, only losing one game when in partnership together, Fulham at home, drawing one other Norwich at home when Colback set up the opener for Ayoze Perez and winning the rest.

Isaac Hayden and Mikel Merino are both potentially excellent Premier League midfielders yet both lack Colback’s nearly 200 games of top flight experience and the nous and edge that gives him.

Merino, after a nice cameo on his debut at Spurs, then found himself in the deep end at Huddersfield when neither he nor Hayden were tight enough to Aaron Mooys, who danced through them to score the winner, has impressed since in Newcastle’s wins vs West Ham, Stoke and Swansea yet has been injured.

It was a similar story at against Chelsea on Saturday when Eden Hazard had the freedom of Stamford Bridge to do what he wanted without a tough tackle to remind him that he was in a competitive match and not a football skill show.

(See Colback’s tackle on Eden Hazard at 1.05 on the video at the start of this article before setting up Newcastle’s winner for instruction on what to do)

Mo Diame is not a central midfielder, neither mobile not combative enough to play the role, although he has thrived when given more attacking licence off a strike like Aleksandar Mitrovic, whom he dovetails well with and their dual big presence causing defences problems.

Isaac Hayden is an all-rounder and certainly has the appetite for destruction needed in the middle of the park yet his own attacking instincts sometimes leave Newcastle vulnerable at the back whereas Colback sits, protects, tackles when necessary then gives it to Shelvey to create.

A modern tradition of St. James’ Park anchor men from David McCreery to Barry Venison, David Batty to Cheick Tiote has made the position a vital and popular one on Tyneside and something Newcastle lack without Jack.

Attacking-wise, Newcastle have looked electric in very short bursts when a fully-fit Dwight Gayle has been on the pitch recently, notably the first half an hour against both Man United and Chelsea yet he has struggled at St. James’ Park all season and Aleksandar Mitrovic needs to play.

Newcastle score more goals when he is on the pitch even in brief periods – two against West Ham including one himself when he came on and a Merino winner against Crystal Palace after he came on showed he does dramatically impact Newcastle’s results giving opposition defenders more to think about

This was again in clear evidence if any were needed against West Bromwich Albion last Tuesday night when a Mitrovic-inspired Newcastle rescued their only point in the last six games since that late winner against Palace in October.

Mitrovic, who led the line well in a 0-0 at Old Trafford in 2015 hitting the bar was brought on at 0-4 down against Man United in the 71st minute then at 0-3 down at home to Watford in the 69th minute, both impossible missions.

Serbia play Brazil next year at The World Cup in Russia and when Mitrovic inevitably scores, Newcastle fans will be left wondering what he would have done if given 30 or 90 minutes against Brighton Burnley and Bournemouth.

Benitez must learn to make his substitutions earlier and give the players and the team a chance to get back into games and enough time to change the outcome – a second Watford goal just before half-time called for action at the interval.

Sir Bobby Robson rolled the substitute dice to spectacularly effect with triple substitutions disrupting the pattern of matches and rescuing points and victories from the jaws of defeat and the impact Shelvey, Mitrovic and Rolando Aarons had against West Brom turning a 0-2 deficit into a 2-2 would indicate that Newcastle and Benitez would benefit greatly from such an approach.

Next up for Newcastle are back-to-back home games at St. James’ Park are 9th-placed Leicester on Saturday and 10th-placed Everton on Wednesday night and a win or two is almost essential.

Both are under new management – Everton bring a face very familiar to Newcastle fans and a nemesis of Benitez, former England, Newcastle and Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce while Claude Puel recently joined the Foxes after a season at Southampton and has them looking up the table already.

Its the 125th Anniversary of Newcastle United on Saturday and another famous win against Leicester would be the perfect way to celebrate a long overdue return to winning ways.

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UltraStarTime

UltraStarTime

Managing Director of 50 Shades of Black and White.