Rafa’s Revolution Now In Full Swing At Newcastle Unitedby Jack Kitson / 08 March 2017, 16:39Tweet
Rafa Benitez celebrates his one-year anniversary in charge of Newcastle on Saturday and it’s fair to say that it’s been a whirlwind ride for the Spaniard, who is in the process of orchestrating an instant return to the Premier League following last season’s tumble down to the Championship.
Benitez was a shock appointment last March when he replaced the sacked Steve McClaren in the dugout. Only two months earlier the former Liverpool and Chelsea boss had been ordering around the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale at Real Madrid, however he swiftly went from a title race in sunny Spain to a relegation dogfight on Tyneside.
Upon Benitez’s arrival the Magpies were a point from safety, in 19th, with 10 matches remaining. Despite winning three and drawing four of those final games the Toon agonisingly missed out on survival by just two points, while their arch rivals Sunderland conjured up another great escape.
Many expected Benitez, who had a relegation release clause, to then leave the club for pastures new, but shortly after the season came to a close the Champions League winning gaffer surprisingly revealed that he would stay on at St James’ Park - expressing his love for the fans - and attempt to lead the club straight back into the Promised Land.
Newcastle splashed the cash in the summer, £50m (double that of Real Madrid), bringing in the likes of Dwight Gayle and Matt Ritchie. Rafa’s men were unsurprisingly the red-hot ante-post favourites for Championship glory, but stumbled out of the blocks, losing their opening two games.
Any early nerves were quickly extinguished as the Toon went on to triumph in 16 of their following 18 matches in all competitions.
Since suffering consecutive defeats to Blackburn and Nottingham Forest in late November/early December, Newcastle have lost only two of their 17 league games, while they are unbeaten in 11 matches dating back to their opening fixture of 2017.
In the last week they've picked up a superb tally of seven points from three pivotal away matches at promotion rivals Brighton, Huddersfield, and Reading.
As a result, the Toon are back at the summit, leading Brighton by three points, while there is now a sizeable nine point margin between themselves and 3rd place Huddersfield.
Rafa’s troops, who are currently enjoying their longest undefeated streak since 2011, are now as short as 1/5 to return to the Premier league as champions, and only 1/100 to get promoted by any means.
Up next is a potentially tricky encounter at home to an in-form Fulham side that have picked up 14 points from their last six matches, although the hosts are the odds-on favourites for their third win in four.
This fixture is followed by a trio of matches against struggling Birmingham, Wigan, and Burton, although Benitez will be determined for his troops to not lose focus, as on occasions they have taken their eye off the ball when playing teams down at the wrong end of the table.
There are testing games still to play against the likes of Sheff Wed and Leeds, but in truth Newcastle now know the Premier League is within touching distance, and providing they don’t have a complete meltdown, they could even top the 102 points total they tallied in 2009/10.