After a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Chelsea at St. James’ Park last month where the team were completely dominated, Newcastle United and manager Rafael Benitez have since come under some heavy criticism.
While the scoreline — on paper — was close, Newcastle finished the game having only seen an average of 19% possession of the ball (BBC Sport).
Under the instruction of Benitez, the Newcastle players sat deep in an attempt to frustrate Chelsea and almost came close to doing so if it were not for a dubious penalty decision and a very unlucky own goal.
That being said, it was not pretty to watch and Benitez’s decision to use a back five and his overall negative approach to the game has been scrutinised. And, looking at how the game was played out, it is understandable as to why.
However, the Spanish coach did head into the match without two of his key players in Jamaal Lascelles and Jonjo Shelvey.
With the pair, perhaps Benitez would have been braver.
Nevertheless, with or without the likes of Lascelles and Shelvey, going forward Benitez should ditch the idea of using a five-man defence — or at least in the manner he did versus Chelsea — and turn down the pragmatism a bit.
The argument against doing so is, of course, Benitez’s conservatism does get results a lot of the time.
On the other hand — and even though the summer transfer window did not go the way he would have liked — Benitez does still have the tools to play a better brand of football.
Albeit it was a very different Chelsea team, Newcastle’s attacking display against the Blues on the last day of the previous season was incredible with Ayoze Perez, in particular, impressing.
And now with the additions of Salomon Rondon, Yoshinori Muto and Kenedy for the whole campaign this time round, Benitez is even better equipped.
Benitez’s tactics during the Chelsea game were logical but, at the end of the day, it did not bear anything and, quite frankly, seeing that little of the ball was pathetic — especially considering what Benitez has shown he can do with this team against top opposition.