“Expect the Unexpected” is the unofficial motto of Newcastle United Football Club, whose fans are aware that they are on a rollercoaster ride with the most unpredictable club on Planet Football, and it is fitting the club now has a boss in Rafa Benitez who loves to surprise them and the opposition with his team and formations.
In a modern football world of intensive scouting, technology and match analysis, to keep your opponents guessing what you will do next in terms of both line-up and tactics provides a decided advantage in every game.
(Pic – An Aston Villa scout makes notes during Newcastle’s EFL Cup game with Wolves on Tuesday night)
To be predictable makes you easy prey in a fluid game of strategy and counter-strategy that changes not just on a game-by-game basis yet also mid-match as managers attempt to find the chink in their opponent’s armour.
The higher you travel up the football pyramid the more important and nuanced the tactical battle becomes which is why Pep Guardiola – witness the way his new Man City side dissected Jose’s Manchester United recently – is the highest paid manager in the game and arguably the most successful.
Master tactician Benitez is on that elite level by virtue of trophies won across Europe and is constantly active in his technical area, cajoling and instructing his players, organizing and reorganizing his team offering the insights that lead to victory as matches play out.
(Pic – Rafa Benitez gives detailed instruction to oncoming substitute Jack Colback as he comes on vs Brighton)
Rafa’s rotation policy is famous – Liverpool fans set up a website to see if anyone could guess Rafa’s exact line-up every game and most weeks, his starting XI was wildly different and impossible to predict.
Newcastle have a first team pool of 27 players, the majority interchangeable capable of playing several different positions eg Ciaran Clark the summer signing from Aston Villa has featured left-back & centre-back so far and could slot into midfield if needed – and with Benitez’s dozens of formations, the permutations are endless.
As Ireland international Clark, who faces his former team at Villa Park this week, explains, the system has been taken quickly on board by the players who already realize the benefits of it:
“I think all the lads have bought into it. “That’s what the manager does. There’s a lot of competition for places. “I think we all know that if you haven’t been picked, it’s probably not for the reason you haven’t done well, it’s probably for the reason to get fresh legs in there and keep you fresh for the next game.
With games in The Championship and The EFL Cup coming thick and fast, rotation is essential for keeping players fresh, injury free & performing at optimum levels. It is a theory proven scientifically on Rafa’s own website by his trusty lieutentant now at Newcastle Francisco de Miguel Moreno who gives 3 key benefits of the practice:
“The first reason is to prevent overload in the number of minutes played… The second is the decrease in physical performance, especially in high intensity, which comes from playing two or three matches in one week… and the third reason is to create competition within the squad.”
It is as necessary now as it will be when Benitez has steered Newcastle back into the Premier League and Europe. Recent examples of its efficacy include Manchester United’s 2007-08 squad which won a League and Champions League double without the same XI being selected simultaneously by Sir Alex Ferguson.
Of course, tinkering and changing too much or wrongly can back-fire as Newcastle found out to their cost against Wolves in the EFL Championship last Saturday. Players like Vurnon Anita, a virtual ever-present until his red card, were due a rest. Others, Aleksandar Mitrovic for one, deserved to stay in the side.
Yet one bad at the office is the exception that proves the rule and the dangers of complacency proved a lesson, one that was quickly learned and put right three days later. A 2-0 win in The EFL Cup and the reward of a Last 16 tie at home to Preston North End could be a springboard to Benitez’s first trophy at Newcastle.
Newcastle head to Villa Park on Saturday knowing a win will keep the pressure on League leaders Huddersfield and second-placed Norwich, whom Newcastle could leap-frog if they collect 3 points and The Canaries lose.
Rafa’s big selection call will come at the back as if Aston Villa are able to play a double powerful strike-force of Ross McCormack and Rudy Gestede, the latter especially being a threat in the air which Gareth Hanley would match.
If either Villain fails their late fitness tests then Chancel Mbemba would be best equipped to shackle the pace of Jordan Ayew despite an own goal last week and general off day like the team.
Yet Rafa knows it will be his opposite number, Roberto Di Matteo, who has professed his deep respect for the ‘illustrious career’ of Benitez, who will be more worried about Newcastle then vice versa.
(Pic – Rafa Benitez attended an Elite Coaching Forum recently with the best bosses in the game)
A multitude of effective attacking options are at Rafa’s disposal. Aleksandar Mitrovic is champing at the bit for a recall while Daryl Murphy was excellent against Wolves midweek and gave defenders a torrid time physically without looking like scoring. Either big man flicking onto Dwight Gayle could prove a dangerous front line.
Cheick Tiote revealed midweek he is hoping to play in a black and white shirt again soon potentially boosting Newcastle’s defensive midfield bite immensely while Isaac Hayden and Jack Colback are ready, willing and able.
Rafa will be hoping to transform the 0-0 draw in Newcastle’s penultimate game last season at Villa Park that ultimately meant The Magpies were relegated into a win so will likely field a more attacking formation.
As always with Newcastle, expect the unexpected yet with Benitez around, the surprise is usually a positive one except for the opposition. Roll up for The Rafa Raffle…
My money is on Selz; Yedlin, Hanley, Clark, Dummett; Ritchie, Hayden, Shelvey, Gouffran, Diame; Mitrovic.
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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