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Newcastle United round-up: Injury update; Clark discusses Benitez absence; New sleeve sponsor

Jake Jackman




Newcastle United have been given an injury boost ahead of this weekend’s trip to Swansea City. Francisco de Miguel Moreno was standing in for Rafa Benitez at the pre-match press conference and the Chronicle report the following quotes from the Spanish coach:

“Chancel is not too bad. Reading the newspaper, it seems like it was a bad injury. Today we don’t think so. The assessment is quite good. DeAndre is working very well – he is working hard to get to the game. He has been training fully in the last three or four (sessions), so I think he has a good chance to come to the game. Lejeune, as well. They are both in the same situation.”

The news regarding Mbemba is positive as it was feared that he would miss a significant portion of the season. Lejeune and Yedlin are arguably first-team starters when everyone is fit, which means that the squad will be stronger for their return. It would be a risk to bring both into the starting eleven on Sunday, but they are both likely to feature.

Ciaran Clark has emerged as one of the most important players in the Newcastle squad since joining from Aston Villa. He spoke to the press ahead of the trip to Swansea and admitted that it was business as usual for the players, despite the absence of Benitez.

“Obviously, we hope Rafa can be back soon but we are getting on with things and working hard. We’re focused on the game on Sunday. We will just go out there and do the things we’ve done since I’ve been here. The coaches put on a session and we know what we need to do. We know what we need to do, we go out there and do our jobs.”

It will be a huge blow if Benitez isn’t back in time to take his place on the touchline against Swansea, but the players can deliver without him. The manager’s health issues could motivate the team to get a positive result for him. They know the system and know what it expected of them. It won’t be an easy game, but they have the quality to take something from it.

The club have now announced their sleeve sponsor for the season as they have agreed a deal with MRF Tyres, according to the Chronicle. The Indian company will now be on all kits this season and this is seen as a good deal for the club as India is a growing market. After it was agreed that Premier League clubs could have a sleeve sponsor, it was important that the Magpies found one as it is a key revenue stream.

Newcastle haven’t been as effective as they could be when it comes to commercial deals. They are not one of the top clubs, but they are in the Premier League and need to take advantage of that brand as much as they can. Supporters will be hoping that this has brought in revenue that could later be used in the transfer market, as the club were short on funds during the summer.

Jake is a student based in the South East. He is a Newcastle fan and has a keen interest in Dutch football. Jake can be found on Twitter here - @jakejackmann.

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English Premier League

Newcastle United 1-0 Manchester United: Three talking points from St James’ Park

Jake Jackman




Newcastle United delivered one of their best performances of the season as they overcame Manchester United in a hard-fought victory. Due to Huddersfield Town’s win earlier in the day, the Magpies started the match in the relegation zone and only three points would see them climb out of the bottom three. That is exactly what they got as they ran themselves into the ground to beat a more talented top-six team. This was the club’s first win at St James’ Park since October and it came at a crucial time. Here are three talking points from the game:

Martin Dubravka shone on his debut

Although Newcastle didn’t do a great deal of business during the January transfer window, they did make three loan signings and one of them was the star of the show on Sunday. Martin Dubravka came in for his Magpies’ debut as he replaced Karl Darlow in goal and it would have been easy to be daunted by the occasion, but the Slovakian international took it in his stride. He was near faultless, as he made a number of crucial saves and marshalled his box effectively.

Benitez has wanted a new goalkeeper since he took over at the club, but last summer’s signing Matz Sels didn’t adjust to English football and that left the manager with the problem that he inherited. Karl Darlow and Rob Elliot have shared the duties of being number one, but neither have stood out as being Premier League quality.

The addition of Dubravka supplied instant benefits, as he was quick to claim crosses and had an excellent control of his area. In the first-half, he made a crucial stop to deny Anthony Martial. With just minutes left, he made an incredible reaction save to make sure Newcastle kept hold of the clean sheet. It was a debut to remember and on this evidence, the Slovakian will be the number one at St James’ Park for the rest of the campaign.

Manchester United lacked options to change the game

There were some strange decisions made by Jose Mourinho as he tried to change the game in his side’s favour in the second half. He brought on Michael Carrick and Juan Mata for Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard. This change arguably made them more predictable in attack, as the two players coming on had less pace and dynamism. The third change saw youngster Scott McTominay come on for Nemanja Matic. It was a tough ask for the inexperienced midfielder to get Manchester United back in to the game.

Although the changes arguably made the team worse, there were few options available to Mourinho, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ander Herrera and Marcus Rashford were all missing from the squad. Marcos Rojo and Luke Shaw were on the bench, but neither are attacking players and that is what Manchester United needed.

Paul Pogba looked jaded and lacking fitness for the entire ninety minutes, but he was forced to start due to the lack of other options on Sunday. It is no excuse, but the inability to change the game did leave Mourinho short, especially after falling behind.

Newcastle won the midfield battle

As alluded to above, Paul Poba didn’t look fully fit and Newcastle United took full advantage of that as they won the midfield battle. Mohamed Diame was a figure of frustration for the first-half of the season, but he has improved significantly in recent weeks. He and Jonjo Shelvey were both superb, as they fought hard and distributed the ball well when they had the opportunity to. Between them, they made 13 ball recoveries and five key passes. They fully committed to the cause and played a vital role in the team’s victory.

The renaissance of Diame has been incredible to watch as he is now performing to the level that Rafa Benitez would have expected when he was signed last summer. However, the improvement of Shelvey could prove to be even more important in the long run. The midfielder has been difficult to manage at times due to his ability to lose his head on the pitch. On Sunday, he was a professional and remained focused, which was a mental victory for him.

The Magpies manager and the supporters will be hoping he can continue to perform to this level. If he can, the former Swansea City midfielder can be the player that everybody knows he can become.

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Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace 1-1 Newcastle United: Three talking points from Selhurst Park

Jake Jackman




Crystal Palace and Newcastle United played out a draw at Selhurst Park, but that didn’t do much to ease the relegation fears of both clubs. The home side have now lost only two of their last 15 Premier League matches, which underlines their improvement under Roy Hodgson. Meanwhile, Rafa Benitez will be encouraged by his side’s recent form, as they have lost just two of their last eight matches in the league, both of which came against Manchester City. Although neither set of supporters will be delighted by the result, the match showed that both sides are difficult to beat and that is a positive. Here are three talking points from the match:

Wilfried Zaha has found the consistency to match his talent

The winger has been fantastic to watch this season and there are few better in the Premier League at running with the ball. At times, it looks impossible to dispossess him as he weaves past six or seven challenges to create a chance for his team. Zaha completed three dribbles and made three key passes, which made him one of the most effective players in the final third on Sunday. He came close to scoring at one point, but his effort curled over the bar.

It was evident that Zaha was the player that the Newcastle defence feared and he consistently caused them problems down Palace’s right-hand side. Hodgson has got the best out of him in the final third, but his defensive work rate has been equally as impressive. He completed one tackle and one interception during the match. At the beginning of the second half, he burst a lung getting back to prevent a promising opening for Newcastle by intercepting a ball into Ayoze Perez. Under past managers, the 25-year-old wouldn’t have done that. The appointment of Hodgson may be looked back on as an important moment in the development of the Ivory Coast international.

Kenedy looks to be a great signing for Newcastle

This Newcastle United team has a lot of work rate and the players fight for the shirt, but they have looked short on quality up to this point. Rafa Benitez was vocal during the summer as he continually stated he needed more players, but he never once criticised those already at the club. It was important in January that they added some quality and Kenedy looks to be a great addition. He played his part in the first goal with another dangerous corner delivery.

Every time that he gets the ball, he looks dangerous and during his time on the pitch, he completed two dribbles and finished the game with an 86% pass success rate. That shows his quality and he is a player that Newcastle can look to for inspiration. His end product needs work, as he missed a good chance in the first half and dallied on the ball just after the break when he should have played in Ayoze Perez for a one-on-one chance. If he can continue to impress and improve in the final third, he could play a vital part in keeping the club in the top-flight.

The relegation fight will go down to the wire

It is becoming a common theme that matches such as these are becoming must not lose, rather than must win. Both managers appeared relatively pleased with a point after the match, but either side could have won it. Newcastle were excellent for the first half, but they chose to move to a more defensive style after the break. If they continued to commit bodies forward and pressed Palace high up the pitch when the score was 1-0, they would have had a great chance to increase their lead.

However, Palace’s recent run of form shows they are difficult to beat and that showed on Sunday. That said, they could have been more positive once they had the equaliser. They had new signing Alexander Sørloth on the bench, but they didn’t bring him on. He would have added another physical presence in the final third and could have caused chaos next to Christian Benteke. There are only seven points separating the bottom ten clubs and it is shaping up to be the most exciting relegation battles in recent seasons. Both of these teams will be hoping to climb clear over the coming weeks, but this point did little to stabilise their position.

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Newcastle United

Why Newcastle United have to break their transfer record this month

Jake Jackman



Photo: Reuters

Newcastle United are facing a huge final week of the transfer window as they attempt to bring in the players required to ensure they remain in the Premier League. A third relegation under Mike Ashley’s ownership would be a disaster and it seems that the board are now realising this as they have been kicked into action.

At the beginning of the month, business was slow and it seemed that the Magpies were going to let another opportunity to strengthen pass them by. Rafa Benitez still didn’t know his budget on January 12th, but the lack of proactivity shouldn’t come as a surprise as it has been endemic to the football club in recent seasons.

The breakdown of the takeover came as a disappointment to supporters, but it could lead to the current owner investing in the club. The Mirror reported a few days ago that Mike Ashley was willing to spend what it takes to give Newcastle the best chance of staying in the Premier League.

A large section of the support scoffed at the report, as it was seen as nothing more than a PR exercise from the club to lead fans on. However, this would be counter-productive as supporters would soon see no signings materialise and direct even more anger towards the owner.

It is one thing having the intention of doing deals and another thing to stick to your word. The next seven days will be crucial for the club as they attempt to source and bring in the players required, with a striker being top of their agenda.

The Chronicle report that the Magpies are locked in talks to sign Feyenoord forward Nicolai Jorgensen. The 27-year-old is highly-rated by Benitez and the club may have to pay up to £20 million to secure his services.

This would be a watershed moment for Mike Ashley as a club-record fee would be required to convince Feyenoord to sell the Danish international – a record that has stood for 13 years and precedes the Sports Direct tycoon’s ownership.

He has been reluctant to spend big money and maintain the rate of inflation that has become ludicrous in football. However, the longer he has remained at the helm, the more inevitable it has become that he will have to break that record.

Although it is encouraging that Newcastle are willing to break their transfer record this month, as alluded to in the Chronicle’s report, it feels like an empty gesture from the owner considering the money now in the game.

Their previous record fee saw them sign Michael Owen from Real Madrid. At the time, the England icon was one of the best players that the nation had to offer and it was a signing that showed impressive ambition. His career on Tyneside was a disappointment, but that shouldn’t take away from the enormous nature of the transfer.

However, an eight-figure transfer fee in the modern market doesn’t buy a world-class player. In fact, it doesn’t even guarantee that the player will improve your team.

Middlesbrough paid £15 million for Britt Assombalonga last summer in the Championship, which underlines the inflation of transfer fees since Newcastle set their current record. Back then, spending that sort of money showed ambition. Now, it is merely maintaining the pace.

Despite being reluctant to spend huge sums of money at Newcastle, Mike Ashley did manage to achieve relative success in the transfer market during his early tenure at the club. Graham Carr regularly managed to source talented players for low fees, which allowed the club to carry out a very good business model.

Yohan Cabaye was signed for £4.3 million, before being sold on to PSG for £19 million. Meanwhile, Moussa Sissoko joined for a bargain fee and left years later to sign for Tottenham in a £30 million deal.

The owner probably expected that a similar strategy could be utilised when the team were promoted back to the Premier League in 2017. However, he has quickly learned that isn’t the case, as summer signings Joselu, Javier Manquillo and Florian Lejeune have all struggled to shine at St James’ Park.

The caveat to more money being needed to sign quality is that if recruitment is done right, these same players can be sold on for an even larger profit. Southampton are a great example of a club evolving with the times as they have been prepared to spend more on their targets with a view to selling them on for huge fees down the line.

Benitez will have realised the short-sightedness of Mike Ashley since becoming manager of Newcastle as he has regularly been left short in the transfer market. The Spaniard needs to talk in a language that the owner does understand and that is money.

Not only could Jorgensen score the goals to secure the club’s safety, a prolific 18-months in the Premier League would see his value skyrocket. If he is worth £20 million on the back of successful spells in Denmark and Holland, he would be worth even more if he was to do well in England.

The next seven days will tell us a lot about the future of Newcastle United. Mike Ashley needs to give Benitez the tools to do his job and show that he can be trusted to stabilise the club as a Premier League team until a takeover takes place. Breaking the 13-year transfer record would be a good start.

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