How will Rafa Benitez's Newcastle fare back in the Premier League?
- 9th August 2017
Mike Holden (@Ratings_Mike) looks at what we can expect from Rafa Benitez and Newcastle during the 2017/18 Premier League season.
It wasn’t quite the stroll many had predicted but Rafael Benitez delivered an instant return to the Premier League for Newcastle. They clinched automatic promotion with two games to spare, then gleefully accepted the title from Brighton with virtually the last kick of the season. The hard yards were done before November but there was a heavy dependence on the spine, with standards dropping whenever Ciaran Clark, Jonjo Shelvey or Dwight Gayle were unavailable. Jacob Murphy is the one eye-catching summer addition to date.
Benitez was an elite manager before Millennials began to dominate dressing rooms in the late 2000s, bringing with them a level of individualism and self-orientation that the Spaniard will never be comfortable with. To him, players are like pieces in a game of chess. Queens, rooks, bishops and knights should still know their place and make their move only when it’s time to move. Highly-introvert, he doesn’t really connect with players on a personal level but remains very astute whenever teams do buy into his philosophy.
The shorter 38-game schedule with more blank midweeks should suit Benitez more than the heavy slog that is a 46-game Championship season. And he should also welcome the extra capacity to be reactive rather than proactive from a tactical standpoint. Throw in the tempered expectations of the supporters and you have most of ingredients needed for a decent campaign. If Gayle, in particular, can stay injury-free, then a top-half finish isn’t out of the question. The start should be positive enough to ensure that relegation never crosses anyone’s mind.