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After the defeat at Burnley on Monday night, it was clear for all to see that Newcastle were short of quality in the final third. United lost the game 1-0 due to one lapse in concentration, allowing Jeff Hendrick to fire into an empty net in the 74th minute.
Though United maintained their shape well and were well organised on most occasions throughout the match, had there been a more focal point in attack then the result would have been different.
Manager Rafa Benitez opted for the regular pairing of Spaniards Joselu and Ayoze Perez, with the latter operating in his usual ‘number ten’ role and the former as a sole striker. Benitez admires the pair’s work rate which is the main reason they have been frequent starters this season.
Perez possesses good dribbling skills and drops in to midfield when United do not have the ball, harrying the opposition by pressing with intensity, while he also pulls wide, creating space. Joselu acts as a target man for the Magpies, also working hard and is seen as a more mobile option to Aleksandar Mitrovic.
United’s success this season is largely down to the team spirit and high work ethic throughout the team, which has caught the Premier League by surprise. Each member of the squad fights for the badge, which is all the Geordies have ever wanted from their team.
As impressive as the hard work is, it is goals that determine success after all and Newcastle have looked deficient in that department at times this season. Not once during the Burnley match did United look like breaking the stalemate, with Jonjo Shelvey, Joselu and Christian Atsu all trying their luck from range.
The match at Turf Moor was a repeat of the performances at Brighton and Huddersfield earlier this season, with all three matches ending 1-0 to the hosts, with a similar story for Newcastle in that they did not threaten.
The Magpies may look back with regret at these three games at the end of the season, with no points from a possible nine against teams around them in the League.
Although this may be seen as cause for alarm, the work ethic of the Newcastle squad rectified this issue. With four hard-fought wins and two draws in ten games in total this season, United sit in a comfortable ninth position, which is a welcome return so far during their first season back in the top flight.
Newcastle’s attack this season have conjured up only four goals, split between Joselu (two), Perez (one) and Mitrovic (one). The Magpies currently have four recognised forwards, with the three aforementioned players as well as Dwight Gayle. Gayle was United’s top goal scorer in the Championship last season, with 23 goals in the second tier. The striker is arguably Newcastle’s most natural finisher; however questions about his future in the summer as well as injuries have hindered his progress this season.
The Serbian striker Mitrovic led the line for Newcastle in his first season for the club in the 2015/16 campaign, however it is evident that he is not Benitez’s man, with Rafa sparsely handing starts to the forward, even in the Championship.
Although the frontline has not netted as many as hoped, other areas Newcastle’s squad have stepped up. Captain and central defender Jamaal Lascelles is joint top-scorer for the Toon alongside Joselu with two goals, while Mikel Merino, Isaac Hayden and Christian Atsu have all contributed with goals from midfield.
United have the defensive unit and work ethic in place to frustrate teams and are difficult to break down. They now need a high profile finisher in their ranks to kill games off when in control.
Newcastle will no doubt be in the market for a striker in January and, if a potential takeover is completed by then, United fans may see a high-profile signing arrive at St James’ Park, allowing the Toon to be well-set for the remainder of the campaign.
Written by Dawud Arshad
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