Newcastle United supporters have been pretty quiet in recent times after seeing their side suffer a 13th Premier League defeat of the season at the weekend.
Rafa Benitez’s men went into their encounter with high-flying Tottenham at Wembley off the back of a brilliant 2-1 win over Manchester City in their previous league clash, and thus full of confidence as they made the trip to the capital. Yet they made the journey back to the North East empty-handed as a late Son Heung-min strike, one goalkeeper Martin Dubravka should have done better with, was enough to seal a 1-0 success for Spurs, thus consigning Newcastle to a 13th loss of the campaign.
Thus, there have been many disappointed Magpies fans up and down the country in recent times, several of whom are likely to be intrigued by recent comments from Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson, who has made the stunning claim that ‘tactically’ Newcastle boss Benitez is ‘probably the best in the Premier League’.
And given just how wonderfully he masterminded Newcastle’s ascent to tenth place in the Premier League last term, as well as some of the results and performances he has got against some of the top teams during his reign at St James’ Park, it’s difficult to argue with Merson’s assessment.
Ultimately, there was a huge amount of optimism among Newcastle fans when the former Chelsea and Liverpool boss was appointed as Steve McClaren’s successor back in March 2016, with the Magpies attracting a top-quality manager in a bid to move forward.
Yes, he couldn’t keep them in the Premier League that term, with his appointment simply too late in the season, but he then spearheaded their return to the top-flight the campaign after by easing through the Championship, before setting about avoiding relegation in the Premier League last season in finishing tenth.
And the Spaniard did so with a group of players that many felt simply weren’t up to the job – in fact, the majority of that Newcastle team that finished tenth last term were the players that helped win the Championship title the campaign before.
And while the arrivals of Kenedy and Dubravka in January certainly aided them in the second half of last season, one simply cannot overlook or indeed understate the role Benitez played tactically in keeping the Magpies in the Premier League – they were extremely difficult to beat, rarely lost to teams around them in the division, and even pulled off a few upsets in beating Manchester United, Chelsea, and Arsenal at St James’ Park.
And Benitez has again showed his immense tactical acumen this term given Newcastle again failed to adequately strengthen in the summer, with last week’s remarkable 2-1 success over Pep Guardiola’s City indicative of just how great a manager the Spaniard is – while City weren’t at their best, they weren’t allowed to be by a spirited and mightily impressive Newcastle side.
Yes, some fans have bemoaned his negative tactics at times during his Magpies reign, but on the whole he has got the results that have kept Newcastle in the Premier League – one wonders whether a lesser manager would have been able to keep them up last term.
And given how Benitez sets his teams up tactically for any given game, be it against the top sides or indeed away at teams around them in the division, it often proves effective, hence Newcastle are 15th in the table and two points clear of danger.
So while some managers may disagree with Merson in terms of Benitez being the best ‘tactically’ in the Premier League, it’s a stunning claim that certainly has substance.
Newcastle fans… what do you think? Let us know!
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