There were a handful of positives to yield from Saturday’s match for Newcastle United supporters. Facing one of the top 4 sides from last season in Tottenham, the Magpies proved they can compete in this league, despite the lack of reinforcement from the director’s board and backing of ownership. The story remains the same for the Toon Army: a prideful bunch who are constantly in the shadow of an inconsiderate owner. The supporters spent the entire summer hoping for a breakthrough in the transfer window but were once again left short; a story they have seen one too many times.
There is one statistic that has been regurgitated on numerous occasions but demonstrates the exactitude of the issue at hand: the Newcastle United transfer record is the longest-standing in the Premier League. They haven’t broken their transfer record since the 2005/06 season, where they paid £16M for Michael Owen. The closest the club have gotten to breaking the record was in the summer of 2015, where they paid £14.5M for Wijnaldum from PSV. These numbers and figures speak volume to the problem the club has faced over the past decade.
Although there have been tons of negativity surrounding the club over the summer, Saturday proved to be quite the opposite, despite the result. There was some pre-match protesting, revolt and shunning aimed towards Mike Ashley from the masses, but this did not affect the on-pitch performance. United presented a fantastic display of football, especially in the 2nd half.
Here are my thoughts on Saturday’s match:
There were no newcomers in NUFC’s starting 11, which is another reiteration of the conundrum that the club is in. As a matter of fact, the only players from the starting 11 that weren’t playing in the Championship two years ago were Dubravka, Kenedy & Joselu. However, the upside of familiarity, trust and comfort can oftentimes be seen in the on-field display and produce positive results. This is a tightknit group who have been together for a few years now.
Matt Ritchie is one of the players who has been there for a few years now. He had an opportunity to stay in the Premier League 2 years ago with Bournemouth, but then decided to sign with the relegated Newcastle United. Subject to a handful of rumours this past summer, Ritchie rewarded the gaffer and fans with a superb display on Saturday; he was very involved, lively and set up Joselu beautifully on United’s only goal of the day. He was then shockingly subbed off in the 67th minute for Christian Atsu and was vividly irate at Rafa for pulling him off the pitch. It was an odd move to make by Benitez, considering how well Matt Ritchie was playing and in his post-game conference, he admitted he may have made a mistake there. Christian Atsu did not perform well whatsoever; as a matter of fact, I even forgot he was on the pitch at times.
Another player who had a great match was Kenedy. Personally, I thought he was the best player on the pitch for the majority of the match but there were a few moments where he lacked the final touch. With the score at 2-1, Joselu provided Kenedy with a through ball and he was all alone with Lloris but he took a bad touch and the ball slowly rolled into the keepers’ hands. It was a sure equalizer and I’m positive Kenedy would love to have that one back. He looked dangerous all match though and, in my eyes, he was definitely Newcastle’s man of the match. It’s extremely unfortunate and frustrating that the club couldn’t sign a player of his level of talent to a permanent deal.
Mo Diamé was very sloppy in the first half and so was the majority of the starting 11. He turned the ball over on multiple occasions, and one of them lead to the first Tottenham goal. He did eventually settle into the match and showed flashes of cleverness, the same brilliance we saw on display in the back end of last year’s campaign. Alongside Jonjo Shelvey, Diamé is extremely pivotal to United’s success; it almost feels like when he plays well, the team typically succeeds. Speaking of Shelvey, it didn’t seem like he was too involved in the match, like he usually is. You would think he’d have a bounce back game against Cardiff next weekend. The midfield will prove to be the backbone of this campaign and Benitez will be counting heavily on both Shelvey & Diamé.
Deandre Yedlin’s injury did not look good and with United not having the luxury of depth, this could prove to be a crucial injury for the Magpies. Oddly enough, two Newcastle defenders were injured in last year’s opener against Tottenham as well: Florian Lejeune’s leg and Paul Dummett pulled his hamstring. Yedlin didn’t have a great match, he was actually one of the worst players on the pitch. He left Alli wide open on Tottenham’s 2nd goal with a mental lapse. It seems like Manquillo will replace Yedlin, as he might miss a chunk of time with some ligament damage in his knee.
Lastly, the newcomers showed some flashes on Saturday. Muto and Rondon were very involved; and, as a matter of fact, Rondon was inches away from an equalizer as he struck the crossbar in the last 10 minutes of the match. One thing that stood out from watching the 30 minute performance of Rondon: he is a polarizing figure. I think he’ll be very good and should start next week. I also thought that Joselu got a little bit too much credit for his performance and did not believe he played as well as some people believed, albeit his nice finish on United’s only goal. As for Muto, the ball stuck to his foot and he showed some fantastic technique. Rafa may stick with Ayoze at the #10 next weekend but do not be surprised if Muto becomes a mainstay as a center attacking mid this season.
Newcastle United have an incredibly tough upcoming schedule. Away at Cardiff, vs Chelsea, at Man City and vs Arsenal. The Cardiff game will be a very crucial one, especially since NUFC have to face 3 of the top clubs in the league right after. Saturday’s performance by the Magpies showed that they can compete in this league if they can stick together (fans and players), trust Rafa and avoid injuries. Benitez is on the last year of his contract, and another campaign aimed towards “just surviving” simply will not cut it. As for Newcastle fans, the hope is that, come January, they will not be in a desperate position fighting for their lives and relying on Mike Ashley’s pocket; we all know how that ended last time. Only time will tell.