Ayoze Perez may have picked up all the plaudits, but the tactical genius of Rafa Benitez played a major role in Newcastle’s comeback against Everton on Saturday.
When Rafa was forced into a change at half-time due to Jamaal Lascelles picking up an injury, he brought on Paul Dummett as his replacement.
But rather than slot him in at centre back — a position that Dummett has excelled at in the past — he changed the formation.
The trusted five at the back — Rafa’s preferred choice of late — was abandoned, and Dummett went out to left back with Matt Ritchie swapping onto the right flank, and Miguel Almiron patrolling the left.
It was the recognition that the Magpies needed an extra body in midfield to compete with Everton, having been overrun in the first half, that make Rafa’s tactical nous head and shoulders above anyone they could ever hope to replace him with, were he to leave in the summer.
In fact, some fans have questioned why Rafa sticks with Perez week after week, and have often called for him to be replaced in the starting lineup. I will bet they are pleased he did now!
But it is because Rafa thinks on a different plain to most of us. He knows that Perez has the ability to produce that sort of display. It is also why, regardless of how much criticism he gets from pundits, he will always set his side up with the best formation to get a result, even when it is largely derided as negative and boring.
The problem is, the people who are criticising him are former managers who are sitting in a studio because they do not have the managerial ability that he possesses.
That is why the second half against Everton is another clear sign — if there weren’t enough already — that Mike Ashley must give Rafa everything he wants and needs to sign on for a longer stint at the club.
Yes, Rafa has made tactical mistakes in games, who hasn’t? But the club hierarchy will rue the day they ever let him go, because, frankly, he is virtually irreplaceable. Someone capable of building something on Tyneside, future generations of Toon fans may not have to endure the kind of struggles we all have, if Ashley gives the man what he wants.
Newcastle fans, how far would you go to keep Rafa at the club? Will Ashley realise it too, and give him what he wants? Your thoughts would be appreciated. Comment below…