Newcastle United supporters have been making a lot of noise in recent times after seeing their side finally record their first Premier League victory of the season at the weekend.
Rafa Benitez’s men went into their encounter with high-flying Watford at St James’ Park having picked up just three points from their opening ten league games, and thus in dire need of the win they hope will kick-start their season. And they got all three points in the North East on Saturday as an Ayoze Perez effort in the second half was enough to seal a 1-0 victory over Javi Gracia’s Hornets, a result which moved the Magpies out of the Premier League’s bottom three.
Thus, there have been many thrilled Newcastle fans up and down the country in recent times, several of whom have unsurprisingly been heaping praise on second half substitute Perez, who did exactly what was asked of him in coming up with the goods after being sent on by manager Benitez.
Yet the Magpies’ success on Saturday was just as much about the rearguard effort as it was Perez’s strike after 65 minutes, which is why the exploits of £7.2 million-rated Federico Fernandez (as per Transfermarkt) deserve special praise indeed in helping the hosts finally get that elusive league win.
The 29-year-old was brought to St James’ Park during the summer as manager Benitez sought to improve his centre back options and thus find an ideal partner for captain Jamaal Lascelles, and there is little doubting that the Spaniard has become that number one choice next to the Englishman.
And performances like on Saturday will not do his cause much harm at all, as the defender was dominant in helping Newcastle see out victory against a Watford side that had won their previous two games ahead of their visit to the North East.
Fernandez won four of his six aerial duels to demonstrate that he was more than up to the challenge of going head-to-head with the Watford forwards, not least Andre Gray and Stefano Okaka following their introductions after half time, while he also won both of the tackles he attempted to underline his excellent reading of the game.
Add in a team-high seven clearances over the course of the 90 minutes, alongside a crucial interception, and Fernandez led by example in the heart of the backline, a backline that was disrupted at half time given the injury to captain Lascelles.
But it wasn’t just off the ball defensively in which the 29-year-old shone, he also brought a measure of calm and composure on the ball as well in finishing the clash with a very healthy 89% pass success rate (25/28), a higher percentage than the rest of his backline.
Thus, while Perez will get the plaudits for bagging the winner at St James’ Park on Saturday, Fernandez’s commanding performance at the back played as big a part in earning the Magpies all three points against the Hornets.
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