You may have noticed that, over the weekend, Newcastle United crept into the top four. This was thanks to a 2-1 victory against Stoke that made it three successive wins in the Premier League for the Magpies, a turnaround from their two opening losses, as well as a defeat to Nottingham Forest in the League Cup.
A few weeks ago, there had been little for Newcastle fans to be cheerful about. A frustrating lack of summer spending, plus a small string of consecutive defeats meant that Rafael Benitez was ‘stuck’ with a small handful of lower priced signings, along with a squad who hadn’t quite cut it yet in the initial games of the season.
However, the tides turned when the Magpies grabbed their first three points of the season near the end of August, a 3-0 victory against a West Ham side also lacking in confidence. This triumph acted as a springboard for Benitez’s team, as they went on to win 1-0 away at Swansea and 2-1 at home to Stoke in their following two Premier League fixtures.
So how has the Spanish manager been able to produce this recent flurry of wins with such an unflatteringly low-priced selection of players? Well quite simply, the performances from Newcastle have been creative, energetic and mostly organised, with only one ball crossing their own goal-line in the last three games.
But it’s sheer determination from both the manager and the men on the pitch that has translated into the nine points and the climb up the table. Benitez has had to make do with the individuals he has at his fingertips, but he hasn’t just done that. He has glued the set of players into a coherent and hard-working squad that have worked together as a team to get the job done, showing that you don’t always need to spend big if you have an effective system to apply to a group of fortitudinous players.
The defeats that Newcastle suffered in the early stages of the season did not stop the faithful fans from backing Benitez, and they can take a lot of credit themselves for the successes of their Championship-winning campaign and the recent Premier League triumphs. I don’t think there are many who haven’t backed Rafa since the beginning of last season.
Having said all this, there are a couple of individuals who have clearly been key players for Newcastle so far, one being 28-year-old Matt Ritchie, who picked up four assists in the last three games. His left foot can be deadly if there’s a player with the pace of Christian Atsu to receive the pass, or if there happens to be a 6ft2 centre back lurking in the penalty area following one of his corners…
Which conveniently brings me onto the next star player for Newcastle – Jamaal Lascelles. The young captain has scored two goals in two games for the Magpies, and all four of his Premier League goals have been scored by heading into the net from a corner. While Ritchie is able to provide the delivery, Lascelles is able to leap higher than the opposition to head towards goal.
The Englishman was also able to save his team from dropping points at Swansea in matchweek four, as well as scoring at the other end, by making a crucial clearance off the line from Tammy Abraham’s shot.
All in all, there are a great number of reasons why Newcastle have accomplished three wins on the bounce, but it has to come down to the willpower of the players on the pitch and the intelligence of Rafael Benitez to be able to apply an effective system to the team.
Their next test comes against Brighton on Sunday, who look to be starting to find their own feet in the Premier League.
Written by Harry Mahon.