Déjà vu for Newcastle as Rafa Benitez contends with some familiar problems
There would have been a distinct sense of déjà vu for Chris Hughton as he stood perched on the touchline at the Amex Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
There he was, watching a newly promoted Newcastle United team stutter and struggle to break down a resilient opponent after a summer that had been characterised by a severe lack of investment and activity in the transfer market.
The Magpies were lacking a creative edge in the final third and a prolific striker to operate in the eighteen-yard box, whilst at the other end of the pitch they conceded a sloppy goal just after the halftime interval to concede the three points.
In fact, these were exactly the same problems that Hughton had faced seven years earlier when he had guided Newcastle to promotion but had been undermined by a lack of investment in the transfer market.
The only difference on Sunday was that the 58-year-old was standing in the Brighton dugout and those aforementioned issues are now for Rafa Benitez to contend with.
No money to spend, no big-name signings and no prolific striker
The common perception of Newcastle United is well entrenched. It is a club with enormous potential and a fanatical fan base, but it appears determined to block and disrupt its own progress through self-inflicted chaos.
Throughout the last two decades The Magpies have been within touching distance of becoming a so-called ‘big club’ and yet they continuously contrive to shoot themselves in the foot.
On Sunday, a victory at the Amex Stadium would have seen Newcastle finish the weekend in the top-four. However, the ultimate one-goal defeat can be attributed equally to the lack of investment in the transfer market during the summer as well as the performance of the team on the day.
Benitez, who is undoubtedly a coach of exquisite quality, has been left to approach the new campaign with no money to spend, no big-name signings arriving and a distinct lack of a prolific goal scoring striker.
The Magpies marquee signing this summer was Spanish striker Joselu from Premier League rivals Stoke City. It is perhaps a sign of the internal problems at the club and Mike Ashley’s reluctance to spend significant sums of money that Benitez was forced to bring in the 27-year-old for £5 million to spearhead his attack rather than a player of more substance and quality.
Joselu scored just four times in his debut season with Stoke and was immediately dumped out on loan the following campaign, after Mark Hughes decided that he was not the right man to solve The Potters’ own goal scoring dilemma. In total the Spaniard has scored just ten times in over fifty appearances during the last two years. He is an average, run of the mill striker who is far from being prolific in front of goal.
On Sunday, when he dragged his shot wide mid-way through the first half – although it appeared easier to score – it highlighted Newcastle’s lack of investment in a prominent striker. A more prestigious, prolific forward would have converted that opportunity and set the team on their way to a victory and a place in the top four.
The lack of investment by Ashley during the summer is somewhat bizarre. The previous year he had bankrolled an overhaul of the playing squad that saw the arrival of twelve new players including the big-money signings of Matt Ritchie and Dwight Gayle.
Convincing Benitez to stay following relegation was also hugely impressive, and yet, Ashley has subsequently failed to hand the Spaniard the tools to work with in preparation for the club’s return to the Premier League.
The Magpies had one of the lowest net spends of top flight clubs during the close season and were outspent by a number of Championship sides as revealed by the Newcastle Chronicle.
Surely a more appropriate approach would have been to hand Benitez the money to make three or four high profile signing to build on the momentum that was being carried through from promotion? Instead, the investment never materialised and The Magpies ended the weekend in mid-table rather than in the top four .
Chris Hughton will certainly be able to relate to the problems that Benitez faces – they are no different to those that he had to contend with prior to his dismissal by Ashley in 2010.
And so Newcastle United take up their usual role in the Premier League, that of being a club with so much potential, which is tantalisingly close to achieving something special, and yet hamstrung by self-inflicted issues.
Newcastle will not be relegated this season, but supporters may well be wondering how much more they could have achieved if Benitez had been handed a substantial sum of money to invest in players over the summer.