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Following the miserable defeat at home to Watford on Saturday, Newcastle’s trip to the Hawthorns later tonight is now being labelled as a must win the for struggling North East side.
A run of a form of only 1 win in 8 means that a dramatic response is needed if Newcastle are to break their worst run under Rafa Benitez.
There isn’t much to say about the defeat at St James’ Park except that it was a bad day in the office for pretty much everyone concerned. For once, though, in my memory since Benitez took over the cub in March 2016, I place the majority of the blame on the manager’s shoulders.
There has been times this season and last where the team selection has been questioned, but more often than not, the doubters have been proven wrong with the result at the end of the 90 minutes.
On Saturday, however, I doubt there was a single person in the stadium or any watching at home who could have argued that Joselu’s continued involvement in the team and apparent guaranteed position in the starting 11 is having a positive effect on the performances of all those around him.
Despite the £5m buy from Stoke having a promising start to life in the black and white, strikers are culpable of falling far short of the mark when their confidence is low, and it’d be hard to see how the Spanish forward could be any more nervous-looking in front of goal than he does at the moment.
His miss-kick early on in the game against Watford was a perfect microcosm of his last 4 weeks – he is certainly capable of getting himself into positive position, but his composure has completely deserted him as of late.
This leads onto the second problem Newcastle currently have – what is happening to Aleksander Mitrovic.
The Serbian looked to have found a home away from home at St James’ Park when he arrived 3 years ago under Steve MccLaren, but Benitez apparently doesn’t deem him worthy of a starting place in his team and it’s pretty apparent that he is only using him on a needs must basis at best.
Although the Serbian has had issues himself in front of goal, you’d be hard pushed to find someone who would rate Joselu over him – but that’s exactly what Benitez thinks.
Whether it’s attitude in training or on the pitch, a lack of sharpness or ability to produce the goods when it matters most, it seems clear that Benitez simply does not like the ex-Anderlecht striker and will surely look to offload him in January, or at the very latest in the summer.
I for one think this is a great shame, and I believe that Benitez’s attitude is currently harming the team’s chances. I’m well aware that Newcastle’s recent slump in form has directly coincided with Merino’s absence from the starting 11, l and that there are other negative factors affecting the team, but I have always felt that what we were crying out for most in the recent run of games was a genuine presence and threat upfront and Mitrovic provides both of these attributes in abundance.
Despite barely playing any league games in the last 6 months, Mitrovic consistently scores for Serbia where he is played as a central striker and is given the opportunity to express himself; surely the time has come for Benitez to give him the same opportunity for his club?
With rumours surrounding Mitrovic’s continued discontent at the lack of game time he’s being given, I sincerely hope that Rafa gives him at least the same opportunities that Joselu has had so far this season and I hope that the Serb can capitalise.
He is already a crowd favourite for his attitude and passion for playing in the shirt, and I can see him developing into an outstanding player if he’s given the time he needs.
Tonight’s game against West Brom, away from home, is surely the perfect chance for him – he can frustrate and bully the centre backs and if we can get the ball up to him and provide the support he needs, Newcastle should pose a real threat to a team who have shipped 19 league goals this season already.
Hopefully, in addition to the Serbian, a return for Lascelles and Merino into the starting 11 would provide much needed balance and solidity and will hopefully be enough to get points back on the board and for Newcastle to kick on going into the Christmas period.
Written by Euan Hamilton
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