'Rafalution' and what lies ahead for Newcastle United
Before the season started, avoiding relegation was considered a challenging task for Newcastle United. After 8 games, the Magpies are currently 9th and have played some confident football despite not having the deepest of squads. One of the main reasons for the team's good run is Rafa Benitez's experience.
Taking charge of the relegation-threatened side in 2016, he could not save them from the drop despite ending the season with a six-match unbeaten run. He remained with the Magpies and ultimately won the championship title in the immediate season, for which he is admired by the Toon Army. Apart from the revival on the pitch, changes behind off the pitch were key in Rafa staying at the club.
Rafa's current approach focuses particularly on defending tightly while pressing in their own half and whenever they retain possession, the counter-attack is initiated either by the midfielders, a pragmatic approach that Benitez is often known for.
Newcastle have a young defence, so the presence of the double pivot was a shrewd and sort of a no-brainer of a decision by Rafa. This approach seems to work for Newcastle with the players playing the way their manager wants them to. Benitez is the man who Newcastle United fans were looking for to take the club in the right direction after the sacking of Steve McClaren who had a dismal stay as the manager, failing to fulfil the Board's expectations even after spending a good money in the transfer window.
A new owner, perhaps?
This week has been quite a special one for the Toon Army. It all started with an away draw against Southampton, going into the game with a poor away record against the opponents. The week couldn't have got better when Mike Ashley, the current owner of the club announced a possible takeover of the club by this Christmas.
This possible departure of Ashley has sparkled happiness among the fans as he is very much hated for poor spending during every transfer period. Ashley has made it clear that he would sell the club to a person only if he believes that he/she could take the club in the right direction. He also added that he is ready to spend in the winter transfer window if he cannot find a right buyer for the club.
Newcastle fans are ready to welcome any new owner, well, simply because they've had a tumultuous decade and a half under Ashley. There are rumours that Amanda Staveley, a British businesswoman, is possibly considering a takeover. Amanda was present in the stands when Newcastle faced Liverpool at home, two game weeks ago. Later, it was reported that Amanda was seen at the St. James Park, coming out of the club office. Two days ago, The Chronicle stated that there has been a substantial progress in the talks between Amanda and Mike Ashley.
With a possible takeover of the deal, it is expected that Newcastle will be spending a hefty amount in the transfer window. Rafa Benitez will possibly look to bolster his attacking options by signing a quality striker up front. The front line is considered the weak link of Newcastle as Joselu, a recent signing from Stoke City cannot be relied upon for the entirety of the season. Aleksandar Mitrovic seemed a decent option before he was charged with a three-game ban due to violent conduct. The Serbian has failed to suppress his animosity on the pitch and it looks like Rafa has run out of patience.
Dwight Gayle doesn't seem to be quite fit for Premier league. The former Palace striker has a history of doing well in the lower leagues but failing to inspire in the top-flight. With the current squad, Newcastle can certainly beat the drop, but a top 10 finish is highly doubtful. They lack that final finishing touch from their current strikers.
The signing of a top striker was due last transfer window, but Ashley refused to allocate the required amount which clearly didn't go down well with Benitez. The team can further be improved if Rafa could find a replacement for Ayoze Perez, who has failed to impress consistently this season. He is clearly being dispossessed easily and is struggling to perform against physically fit defenders. But, Benitez seems to be impressed with Perez's work rate and he has been a constant part of the Newcastle lineup this season.
If Newcastle can keep their momentum and sign a few first team players in the winter transfer window, they can comfortably finish in the top half of the league table. Who knows, a Europa League spot maybe?