Newcastle United and manager Rafa Benitez earned a vital victory on Saturday, securing three points at Huddersfield Town in a 1-0 result. It was a familiar tactical approach that brought the positive scoreline, with a focus on defensive discipline. However, watching this team has a different twist, thanks to the efforts of Salomón Rondón up front.
Benitez seems to be set with his formation now, with the use of three central defenders and two wing-backs. This was seen again for Newcastle at Huddersfield, with Kenedy and Javier Manquillo operating out wide. The shape puts even more pressure on the forwards to create chances and make the most of their opportunities, and that was definitely the case for Rondón. The Venezuelan striker put away the match winner in the 55th minute, capping off an impressive counter-attacking sequence for the Toon.
A perfectly-weighted pass from Manquillo sprung Rondón towards goal, and he would not miss one-on-one versus goalkeeper Jonas Lössl. A game last month against Bournemouth saw him dominate also, as his brace led to another important victory. Rondón’s performances are showcasing a confident player who is capable of delivering in the big moments, perhaps something that was missing for Dwight Gayle.
Last season, Gayle struggled to produce in the top flight, eventually concluding the campaign with six league goals. Joselu and Islam Slimani did not fare much better, and Benitez had a genuine problem getting anything from the position. Gayle certainly has the ability, evidenced by his fantastic run with Newcastle in the Championship during 2016-17 and his current fine form on-loan at West Brom. But the crucial moments in the final third would go begging in the Premier League, and that is where Rondón is making his greatest impact thus far.
Now with arguably an even more conservative approach with five at the back, Newcastle’s number nine must be able to find the back of the net. Rondón is accomplishing that objective, already with four goals in the last six games. At Huddersfield, they gave away the majority of the possession (more than 70 per cent) and did not necessarily enjoy strong passing throughout the match (56 per cent accuracy).
In the encounters that matter the most, he is finding ways to get it done and put his squad ahead. Currently six points clear of the drop zone, Tyneside can breathe a huge sigh of relief heading into the holiday fixtures. The Magpies return to action next weekend when they host bottom-of-the-table Fulham on Saturday afternoon.
Rafa Benitez had a plan when the club swapped Dwight Gayle for Salomón Rondón this past summer. Against the teams in the bottom half of the table, one goal can make all the difference. Rondón is scoring those types of goals, and that is putting smiles on the faces of Newcastle United fans.