The Toon Tribune: Newcastle’s rise from relegation to mid-table safety

After Newcastle United’s defeat at Liverpool in March, the Magpies found themselves 16th in the table and deep in a relegation dogfight with only two points separating them from the drop zone.

Now, over one month on, United have picked up form at the right time and have surpassed the 40 point mark, highlighted by manager Rafa Benitez as the target to be assured of remaining in the Premier League; with United now confirmed by the Spaniard as safe.

In 2018, the Magpies have won six, drew four and lost only twice – away to both Manchester City and Liverpool – which is respectable in a sense.

Sunday’s victory over Arsenal was a fourth win in a row for Rafa’s men, with their recent uprise resulting from a combination of hard work, passion, the new January additions as well as players finding form. We examine the cause for their new-found success.

In Newcastle’s dismal spell throughout November and December, they went winless in eight games. This was largely due to a lack of quality in the squad; although the work ethic was present for all to see.

As a result, fans and associates of the club alike accepted the players’ efforts and were not too downbeat, which was key at this stage; their heads could have dropped which would be further detrimental to the club’s survival hopes. Benitez’s calm approach instilled this mentality, while it has shown to have paid off in the long run.

At this stage, Benitez explained that his squad was young and still learning and adapting to the echelons of the Premier League, with the majority of the team remaining from the previous Championship-winning campaign. The United boss also expressed his desire for new additions in the January transfer window, adding that his team’s fortunes will improve in the second half of the season.

Rafa’s wish for new signings was granted in January. After weeks of negotiations, United welcomed the late additions of Kenedy, Martin Dubravka and Islam Slimani, all on loan deals.

Kenedy arrived from Chelsea and has added much needed flair and directness to United’s attack, with a lot of their penetration stemming from the left-hand side since Kenedy’s acquisition.

His understanding with full-back Paul Dummett has ensured that United have a solid left flank, with the Welshman’s no-nonsense defensive approach allowing the Brazilian to flourish. Kenedy has provided two goals and two assists since his move to Tyneside, with his energy being one of the reasons for his team’s change of fortune.

Many questions arose over Newcastle’s search for a new goalkeeper, with stoppers Karl Darlow and Rob Elliott deemed more than capable between the sticks.

However, the arrival of Dubravka has proved exactly why Benitez was desperate for a new ‘keeper. The Slovakian international settled in and immediately formed a solid defensive partnership with centre-halves Jamaal Lascelles and Florian Lejeune, with the ‘keeper constantly communicating with his back line.

In addition, Dubravka has impressed with his commanding of his penalty area as well as his distribution, while also making crucial saves, notably on his debut in the win over Manchester United. Since his debut, Dubravka has kept three clean sheets, while the Newcastle defence has undoubtedly become tighter.

Algerian international Slimani has had to wait for his chance at St James’ Park due to injury, however his cameo appearances agains Huddersfield Town and Arsenal highlight what he has to offer.

His sheer presence had a huge influence in Ayoze Perez’s winning goal against the Terriers, while his power and aerial threat proved influential against Arsenal, with Slimani also having an impact in Matt Ritchie’s winning goal.

All three incomings have boosted not only the starting XI but the whole squad, with competition necessary in getting the best out of players. Newcastle invested well in January, with the injection of quality adding to the balance of a hard working team.

Another factor has been the revival of Mohamed Diame.

In the second half of the season, the Senegal man has found himself to be one of the first names on the teamsheet, while he is now finally seen as the powerhouse which fans thought they had signed in 2016.

In his first season, Diame was deployed in the no.10 role with Benitez looking to exploit Championship defences with Diame’s force. The midfielder now plays in a deeper role in the centre of the park – his favoured position – while his grit and tough-tackling approach complements partner Jonjo Shelvey’s vision and passing ability.

The pair now seem to dominate the midfield battle, which has been evident in recent matches.

Newcastle currently possess a squad of warriors, with an element of quality, masterminded by Rafa Benitez.

This formula has kept them in the Premier League, while fans are now proud of their team; a feat which has not been present in recent years.

The players’ desire to succeed was epitomised by a spell of play in the away win at Leicester, whereby the Magpies won a succession of 50-50 challenges in the middle of the park, in which each challenge was celebrated by the travelling Toon Army as a goal; summing up the passion, desire and fight for the badge which the players possess.

The formula for success has been a work in progress for the Magpies all season. Now that their Premier League safety is secured, this lays a platform for the huge potential which can be achieved.

Rafa stated his desire to remain in charge, providing that the ‘project’ is right, with investment in the squad a crucial aspect – whether Mike Ashley remains in control or not.

A huge opportunity to revolutionise the club is present. Fans hope that the good times will be back at St James’ Park sooner rather than later.

 

Written by Dawud Arshad

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