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.
Juventus Fans Arrested After Clash with Police
Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League quarter-final clash between Juventus and Ajax has already been marred by violence and controversy, before the teams even took to the pitch.
According to Ansa, citing a report from De Telegraaf, dozens of fans were reportedly arrested in Amsterdam in the hours leading up to the game.
Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini (h/t Football Italia) took to Facebook live video to state that “around 120” fans had been arrested.
Per the report from De Telegraaf, fans near the Johan Cruyff Arena were “in possession of knives, clubs, pepper spray and flares.” Also, dozens of Ajax supporters were reported to have clashed with riot police in separate incidents outside the stadium and were eventually dispersed with the use of tear gas and water cannons.
The Mirror posted the following images on their Twitter page:
Man City forward Raheem Sterling Looking to Combat Racism on the Pitch
Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling, who spoke out last month after being subjected to taunts during England’s game in Montenegro, is looking to take his fight against racism to the pitch, saying he would rather stay on the field than let racism force him to walk off of the pitch during a match.
Sterling’s manager Pep Guardiola, stated that he would support players walking off in protest if it happened again, in a strong statement that racism is simply not acceptable.
“I think everyone are entitled to their own opinions. My mum has taught me to be comfortable in my own skin and I am,” Sterling said, according to the Manchester Evening News.
“I wouldn’t personally agree with [walking off], to win the game would hurt them even more they’re only trying to get you down. If you walk off they win, to score or win would be better.
“Everyone’s different. Everyone has their own opinion, how they deal with things emotionally and you have to support everyone.”
Sterling opened up about the racism he has faced in his life, discussing when he first expereinced racism when he moved from North London up to the north-west back in 2010.
“I don’t think trying to make a difference or making a difference, it’s about speaking what you experience. Some people might shy away from it, if more players speak up that might be better.
“It’s offensive but growing up my mum always told me I’m a wonderful black child and I know this. When I hear it, it’s nothing new. I’m happy with it. I’m confident, I’m black and I’m proud. Some people can’t take it but my mum has always told me to love who I am.
“The first time I experienced racism is when I went up north to Liverpool – in London in schools and on a day-to-day basis you’re surrounded by a diverse community. Only a few occasions growing up in the academy in Liverpool, and then mainly in the last couple of years of being a professional.”
Birmingham City Fan Jailed for 14 Days for Punching Aston Villa Player
27-year old Paul Mitchel, a Birmingham City fan has been jailed for 14 days after he plead guilt to assaulting Aston Villa midfielder Jack Graelish during the derby on Sunday.
Mitchell rushed the pitch and took a swing at Graelish when the player’s back was turned at Birmingham City’s St. Andrew’s stadium during the Championship match on Sunday.
Mitchell admitted to invading the pitch and has been officially banned from attending any football match in the U.K. for up to 10 years, and was also ordered to pay £350 in total fines.
Graelish made a statement in which he described how he was “shocked and scared” by the attack.
“I cannot help but feel how lucky I was in this incident,” he said (h/t ESPN). “It could have been so much worse had the supporter had some sort of weapon.”
“He cannot explain what came over himself yesterday morning,” Mitchell’s lawyer, Vaughn Whistance, said on Monday.
“His initial foolish intention was to go onto the pitch to whip up the crowd. He is certainly remorseful today. He is a man with a partner, they have a 2-year-old together and they’re expecting their second child.”
“This weekend a line has been crossed in terms of fan behaviour,” said a spokesperson for the FA.
“On Sunday we saw two separate incidents, at Birmingham City and Arsenal, of individuals entering the field of play and assaulting players.
“Not only is it an offence to enter the pitch, which could result in a club ban and criminal charges for the individual, but it also puts the safety of the players at risk.
“This is entirely unacceptable and we strongly condemn both incidents.
“We will be working with the clubs, the leagues and the police to discuss what collectively needs to be done to protect players and officials on the pitch.
“In addition, we have written to both Birmingham City and Arsenal to seek their observations to examine the security measures they had in place.”
Birmingham City apologized to Grealish and Aston Villa and banned Mitchell for life.
“Birmingham City Football Club would like to apologise to Jack Grealish and Aston Villa Football Club for an incident in Sunday afternoon’s derby match,” a club statement said.
“We deplore the behaviour of the individual who committed this act and rest assured he will be banned from St. Andrew’s for life. The club will also support any further punishment this individual may face in the eyes of the law.
“The club will be working with the relevant authorities to investigate all the circumstances and we will be reviewing our stadium safety procedures.
“What happened has no place in football or society. Jack is a Birmingham lad and regardless of club allegiance should not have been subjected to this — there are no excuses.
“Again, we apologise to Jack and all at Aston Villa Football Club.”
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