The last time Newcastle United played a Championship team, Sheffield Wednesday, they were knocked out of The League Cup. Last September, with a central midfield picked by Steve McClaren comprising Vurnon Anita and Gini Wijnaldum, The Magpies were bullied out of the game by a tough, competitive and physical Wednesday midfield as The Magpies were outbattled – something Rafa must change.
Ignoring the clear handball leading to their goal by Lewis McGugan – how Manchester’s Referee Development Officer and man in the middle on the night Chris Kavanagh didn’t see it from 10 yards away when you can hear a clear ‘Handball’ shout from the halfway line on the video above (and the following penalty on Ivan Toney) Newcastle lost the physical battle against a Championship team.
If that game is any indicator of what Newcastle will receive from lower League officials this season, Newcastle can expect their usual less than nothing and bias as Ayoze Perez in particular was kicked off the park by what was effectively a Wednesday reserve side without any redress from the ref.
Vurnon Anita – Too Small For The Engine Room
Being outfought in midfield was a theme last season as Newcastle insisted on playing one of the smallest men in The Premier League, 5ft 6in 9 st 9 lb Vurnon Anita in a midfield engine room dominated by physical powerhouses in other sides. Think Manchester City Yaya Toure at 6ft 2in and 14 stone, Chelsea’s Nemanja Matic at 6ft 4in and 13 stone or Arsenal’s Francis Coquelin – 6ft 2in , 12 st 9 lb – they are man-mountain destroyers who go out and stop the opposition playing.
Last time out in The Championship, which is almost as dog-eat-dog physically as The Premier League, Newcastle were the biggest dogs and had the strongest warriors – Steven Taylor, Joey Barton, Kevin Nolan, Andy Carroll et al dragged Newcastle back into the top flight at the first time of asking.
Newcastle need to win the physical battle before their superior footballers can win The Championship.
Winner Cheick Tiote Is Key
The solution to Anita problem was on the bench all the time not staring the management in the face but probably staring intently into the back of the manager’s skull thinking ‘Pick me’ & we’ll stay up.
At 5ft 11in, the Ivorian is a powerhouse and a natural born winner borne out by the stats:
Last season, in the 22 games Newcastle played with Tiote in the side, 7 were wins, 7 drawn and 8 were lost, or a 32% win percentage
In contrast, Newcastle’s results last season in the 29 games Anita played was 6 wins, 9 draws and 14 defeats, a 21% win percentage.
Newcastle’s stats with Jack Colback were eight wins, nine draws and 13 losses or a 27% win percentage
So clearly the double pivot midfield partnership which ended the season, Colback and Tiote protecting the defence, was Newcastle’s best option, which Benitez himself finally realized after the Southampton debacle and Trevor Sinclair’s words on Match of the Day 3.
The customary question mark over Tiote due to his unconventional attitude to life should not be a barrier to Newcastle picking him as not to do so is to jeopardize the best interests of the team and club.
Once he crosses that white line, he is a man possessed for the black and white cause and puts the fear of God into his own teammates not just opponents and noticeably raises Newcastle’s intensity levels.
Most of Newcastle’s best wins and performances since he joined the club in 2010 from the historic comeback 4-4 draw against Arsenal from 4-0 down when he scored the equaliser at the death to Newcastle’s 3-0 rout of Man United and the 2-1 ending of Jose Mourinho’s title-bound 24-match unbeaten run with Chelsea were all Tiote-inspired.
Geordie Jack Colback Must Play
As well as his obvious battling qualities, in The Championship where Newcastle as clear favourites for the title will be on the front foot and will have to break teams down, Colback’s attacking instincts and a goal-scoring ability best exemplified by his goal against Newcastle for Sunderland will prove useful.
So too will the fact he is left-footed so in the five-man midfield system which most teams play nowadays and a 4-5-1 is often Benitez’s preferred system, with Tiote or Isaac Hayden sitting, Colback will have licence to roam on one side of the pitch with a right-footed ACM on the right:
Jonjo Shelvey – Playmaker
The Tiote-Colback central midfield is a terrific defensive barrier which Newcastle ended the season unbeaten in six with yet when opposition teams attempt to shut down Newcastle like an already-doomed Aston Villa did last season, a more forward-thinking and creative attacking midfielder is also required.
Playing in front of the pair or alongside Colback as he did on his barnstorming debut at home to West Ham, Shelvey can be a deep-lying quarterback spraying long passes and piercing through balls.
Or with greater licence to get forward more as the most attacking central midfielder, he can rake in goals like he did for Swansea above from range and help fire Newcastle back to the top flight.
Rolando Aarons Is Lethal
While not a heavyweight in the physical sense of the word, Rolando Aarons should also be a permanent fixture in Newcastle’s best team.
In his short United career, he has bagged a winning goal away at The Etihad against Manchester City in The League Cup, ran riot against Liverpool at home and smashed in one of the goals of last season when it was too late against Spurs in the 5-1 victory.
Whenever he is in the side and playing in his favoured attacking role on the wing, Aarons makes things happen, scoring and creating, by running at people and committing defenders.
Hopefully, Rafa Benitez will skip the annual competition by Newcastle managers to buy the most expensive left-winger possible when he & Sammy Ameobi, who scored more goals away from home when helping keep Newcastle up in 2014/5 than Moussa Sissoko and Gini Wijnaldum combined last season.
Newcastle should romp The Championship whatever side plays IF it is a level playing field which last year’s Premier League was clearly not and a string of penalties should have been given to the club, whose pitiful awarded three – ten less than the Premier League record 13 which saw Leicester City Champions – including one to Moussa Sissoko against Spurs AFTER the club’s relegation was a gross injustice.
Yet the modern day 21st century business of football isn’t The Hunger Games and the odds are NEVER in Newcastle’s favour so the strongest, best team is a necessity from the off and no inch or quarter can be given in what will be a Championship trophy won the hard way.
Like they demonstrated with that 5-1 win with 10-men against Spurs with a rare penalty, on a level playing field they more than a match for anyone and with the squad Rafa Benitez, one of the best coaches around, is creating, serious tilts at the League and FA Cups are also possible. Howay The Lads.