The Christmas period was a tough one for Newcastle United. The magpies took three points from a potential nine, twice being beaten by just the one goal, in two one-nil defeats which saw them drop from the top of the Championship table.
The 0-1 defeat to Blackburn on January 2nd came as a shock to Benitez’ men as they dominated the game but just could capitalise on their chances and put the ball in the net, while Blackburn made the most of their One shot on target, Charlie Mulgrew smashing home a free kick in the 74th minute of the game.
The defeat was Newcastle’s 4th in their last 10 games, and Promotion rivals Brighton took to the top of the table with 5 wins from their last 5, and no defeats in their last 10. So what exactly do Newcastle need to do to get back and hit the levels they were prior to their Christmas slump? Let’s take a look at what the magpies can do to improve.
Use January Well.
As is usually the case in the Football League, January can make or break a teams season. If Newcastle sit back now and watch their promotion rivals sign key players to strengthen their squad then in my opinion they’re rather foolish. An unsteady run of games clearly shows a need for restrengthening to provide a consistency, and to provide cover for the few members of the squad who may be deemed irreplaceable. For example, since Jonjo Shelvey’s ban came in to place, the Newcastle midfield has lacked a quality playmaker to get the ball moving in the middle of the par, and Jack Colback hasn’t quite cut it.
It was Colback who was trusted to play this role against Blackburn and he was heavily criticised by fans as he gave away the free kick which led to the winning goal for the hosts. Whilst Colback is not fully to blame for the defeat, he is also not an attack minded midfielder who can play pin point passes like Jonjo Shelvey can. Therefore another member added to the squad who can add to Newcastle’s attack from the midfield isn’t vital, but maybe the difference between promotion and staying in England’s second division come the end of the season.
Also January see’s the beginning of the African Cup Of Nations, which could see important figures at Newcastle like centre back Chancel M’bemba and Mohamed Diame taking some time out for international duty. Such important players in Benitez’s plans for squad rotations cant go unchanged.
I think for a squad as strong as Newcastle’s it will only take a couple of key signings too really push this already strong squad back to the top of the table, but as previously stated if these changes aren’t made, Mike Ashley’s Newcastle may see themselves struggling in the Championship next season, as some of Newcastle’s squad are certainly capable of competing in the Premier League, and I’m sure they would have the desire to leave to better their careers.
Build on the already strong foundations.
Two words spring to mind when thinking about Newcastle building on what they’ve already done this season. Composure and consistency. There have been a few performances in the last few weeks from Newcastle where the ball just hasn’t been hitting the back of the net. A few consistent goal scorers would help them out tremendously. Dwight Gayle has done magnificently so far and if he keeps building on his current tally of 19 goals in 20 league appearances, it would continue to be a fantastic help for the magpies. If however, a few more of the Newcastle faithful could start getting a string of goals I think it would push Newcastle massively. It only takes a couple of players to find some shooting form and their confidence would skyrocket, as would the clubs. Many players who can chip in with a goal would add a great string to Newcastle’s bow, and you’d be sure to see the results of their efforts come May.
Composure, similarly, is the next tweak Benitez needs to make to his Newcastle side if they want to Win this competitive Championship title. they dominated the away fixture at Blackburn having a total of 25 attempts. If things aren’t going your way whilst your still dominating the game, pressure builds and mistakes can be made, like they were on Monday. If Rafa encourages his players to calm, not rush play, not rush chances and remain composed at all times, they can break through that barrier of pressure, enjoy their free flowing football and the goals will come with that. For example in a game where Newcastle are on the back foot and defending for much of the game, I don’t think Jack Colback would’ve been frustrated and given away a free kick in a dangerous area and would’ve been more focused on defending well ,but he was under incredible pressure to help provide a goal or create a chance which led to his frustrations.
Overall, I do not think their is anything major to worry about at Newcastle. They need to reassure there fans with 3 points in their next championship fixture away at Brentford, after an FA cup visit from Birmingham. If Benitez incorporates good squad management through January and can get his side back to winning ways there is no reason why they can’t take this championship title at the first attempt. That’s if they can out play an in form Brighton side who have come on leaps and bounds under ex magpies boss Chris Hughton.
If Newcastle can put a stop to their winning ways, I feel the title is theirs for the taking with the strength in the squad. The competitive nature of the league should lead to a great few months of Championship football, with so many strong teams this season. Who will come out on top at the end? its hard to tell, but from a neutral perspective, should make for some great viewing.