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Déjà vu for Newcastle as Rafa Benitez contends with some familiar problems

Martyn Cooke

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Newcastle

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.

Martyn is currently a PTA and Research Assistant in the Department of Exercise Science at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). In addition to his teaching role he is also undertaking a PhD in Sports History that is exploring the origins and development of football in Staffordshire. Prior to working at MMU, Martyn spent a decade operating in the sport and leisure industry in a variety of roles including as a Sports Development Officers, PE Teacher, Football Coach and Operation Manager.

England National Team

“No surprise”: Twitter reacts to rumours of Newcastle’s Jonjo Shelvey’s England return

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Photo: Getty Images.

When news broke that Newcastle United midfielder Jonjo Shelvey could be in line for an England recall, fans around the country reacted in a variety of ways, both of joy and dread, that the former Liverpool man could be on the plane to Russia.

The Times say that his form, combined with fitness concerns over Jack Wilshere and Adam Lallana, have put him in the frame, and England boss Gareth Southgate is set watch as his Magpies team face Everton on Monday.

The 26-year-old has been key to Rafa Benitez’s side this season as they have re-established themselves back in the top flight of English football.

(Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Shelvey has already got six England caps to his name, the most recent coming in November 2015 against France, and he could now earn a return two and a half years later.

His sparkling form has caught the eye as all three goals he has been involved with this season (one goal and two assists) have come in his last four appearances.

Here’s how Twitter reacted to the news…

Many believed it was about time…

Plenty made comparisons to the alternatives, with two in particular coming up a few times…

He’s made some eat their words…

Yet not all agreed…

After three years in the international wilderness, Jonjo Shelvey will need to maintain his current form if he is to enter into the fight to earn himself a ticket on the plane to Russia as a surprise inclusion in Gareth Southgate’s squad to face Belgium, Panama and Tunisia in World Cup Group G.

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Newcastle United

Fernando Torres should reunite with Rafa Benitez at Newcastle next season

A romantic return to the Premier League could suit both parties.

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Fernando Torres
Photo: Getty Images

Atletico Madrid striker Fernando Torres announced he would be leaving his boyhood club this summer, and also ruled out a domestic move to another La Liga club.

The experienced Spanish international would be a prudent signing for Newcastle United, where Torres could reunite with Rafa Benitez and serve as a wise mentor to the Magpie’s attackers.

Torres has enjoyed a quietly productive season in Madrid, bagging eight goals in a primarily substitute role. And just this weekend against Levante, the striker rolled back the years with a trademark volleyed goal into the top corner.

Although the Spaniard is 34 years of age, he could nonetheless contribute in meaningful ways for the Magpies. Newcastle lack experience up top and Torres would be a brilliant teacher for the talents of Dwight Gayle and Ayoze Perez.

(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

In addition, Newcastle simply need depth in attacking positions, with just Perez, Gayle, and Islam Slimani comprising their strike-force. This lack of forward options is due in a large part to the reluctance of Mike Ashley to spend money on transfers, an issue that has annoyed Benitez in the past.

Before Newcastle’s impressive 2-1 win over Arsenal at St. James’ Park this weekend, Benitez again called on Ashley to invest in the squad over the summer.

With the Magpies securing their Premier League status in superb fashion against the Gunners, confidence and optimism is flowing in the Northeast. It seems if there was ever a time for Newcastle’s notoriously stingy owner to splash the cash, it would be this offseason.

Fernando Torres should be top of Rafa Benitez’s wish list, and with the two Spaniards famously enjoying a warm relationship during their time at Liverpool, Torres would take little convincing to make the switch to Newcastle.

ust like his ex-manager, Torres would do well to leave Madrid and take on a project of his own at St. James’ Park this summer.

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Newcastle United

Newcastle United’s Florian Lejeune showing Rafa Benitez was right to take £8.7million risk

The Frenchman has been in fine form for the Magpies since his return from injury.

Jake Jackman

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Photo: Getty Images

Newcastle United have been superb in recent weeks and have climbed to safety after breaking through the 40-point mark.

Their gradual improvement over the course of the season has been great to watch and underlines the quality of their manager, Rafa Benitez.

His squad has often been spoken about as a ‘Championship squad’, but that seems harsh given their position in the Premier League table.

During the summer, Benitez was disappointed by the lack of backing that he received in the transfer window, but the additions that he did make have provided the squad with more quality.

Florian Lejeune signed from Eibar, for £8.7 million, before the season kicked off and there has been a sharp improvement in his performances recently.

The Frenchman missed a couple of months after picking up an injury towards the end of 2017.

He returned to the team against Manchester United in a game that could be considered a turning point of their season.

They started the match in the relegation zone and the three points made the supporters believe that they could climb the league table.

Since that game, the Magpies have taken 13 points from a possible 18 available and managed to move away from danger into a promising position.

(Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

The reason for their upturn in fortune hasn’t been solely down to Lejeune, but he has more than played his part.

Benitez has established a solid spine and that has been vital in the recent winning form.

Martin Dubravka, Jamaal Lascelles, Lejeune, Jonjo Shelvey, Mohamed Diame and Ayoze Perez have been regular starters down the middle of the pitch.

This group of players give Benitez a good base from which to build on over the coming season.

Defensively, Lejeune has done very well in recent weeks and been a major reason why they have only conceded two goals in their last four matches.

He averages 6.97 clearances, 0.93 tackles and 1.96 interceptions per ninety minutes, while his physicality has allowed him to adapt to the English game.

The Frenchman has won an impressive 60.78% of his aerial duals.

In addition to being an assured defender, Lejeune has managed to impress with his ball-playing ability and that has added another dimension to the Newcastle team.

He has completed 78% of his passes and showed on numerous that he can play threatening long balls over an opposition defence.

The best example of this was his assist for Ayoze Perez last weekend against Leicester.

(during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Arsenal at St. James Park on April 15, 2018 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.

It was a perfectly weighted through ball to find the Spaniard and led to the team earning another three points.

Benitez may not have been given the amount of money that he believes is needed to turn Newcastle into the force they can become, but the signing of Lejeune is looking like a successful one.

There were doubts during his first few months in the country, but he has developed into a very good Premier League centre-back and his partnership with Lascelles continues to improve.

The coming summer is going to be huge for the future for the football club and the board must bend over backwards to keep their manager happy.

The success of Lejeune should encourage them to release the funds as Benitez has proven value can be found in the modern market.

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