Newcastle: Magpies climb to the summit; AFCON draw today; Lascelles growing into captaincy
Newcastle United have climbed to the top of the Championship for the first time this season and if they continue to perform like they have during the last few matches, they will be difficult to stop. Last night, they beat Barnsley away from home with over 6,000 Newcastle supporters making the trip. This was their fourth straight league win and they are beginning to build momentum ahead of their promotion push. Rafa Benitez will be pleased that his side are now at the summit, but they need to avoid complacency and continue pushing on.
It was Dwight Gayle that scored the two goals last night, taking his total to 11 for the season, showing that it was the correct decision to sign him during the summer. He has been in great form at St James’ Park, but this was just his second away game that he has scored in. This will please Benitez as the striker is now having a decisive impact away from home. Before this match, the striker spoke about wanting to score more than 20 goals this season, but that is a conservative aim as he looks set to score a lot more.
Today is a huge day for five of Newcastle United players as the draw for the 2017 African Cup of Nations is set to take place in Gabon. Chancel Mbemba, Achraf Lazaar, Cheick Tiote, Mo Diame and Christian Atsu could all be involved in January, which would be a huge blow for Newcastle as they would be without five first team players. The tournament runs between the 14th January and the 5th February, but players could be away for as long as a month. There won’t be many teams that lose as many players as Newcastle will and that will provide a unique test for Rafa Benitez.
The Magpies could be forced to enter the transfer market in January to ensure their squad has enough depth for that period. It is only one month, but the matches come around quickly in the Championship and a few poor results could severely damage Newcastle’s promotion hopes. If Newcastle are already in a dominant position at the top of the table, Benitez may opt to bring in players with the ability to make an impact in the Premier League, using the second half of the season to bed them in.
Finally, Newcastle captain Jamaal Lascelles is getting a lot of praise for his role in the side’s away form. The Magpies have now kept five clean sheets on the road as they have reversed their terrible away form under Rafa Benitez. In the past, teams have focused on their attack and believed that goal-scorers are key in achieving promotion. That is correct to an extent, but a strong defence is the most important part of any promotion hopeful and Newcastle certainly possess one of the best. Rafa Benitez knows that if his team keep a clean sheet, they have the attacking quality to win matches.
The Newcastle captain started the season in shaky form, but he is now growing into his role and looks like one of the best centre backs in the league. Although he will want to be playing in the Premier League, a season back in the Championship is allowing him to develop out of the limelight and he will go back into the Premier League as a much better player. The appointment of Benitez has had a positive impact on several players in the squad, but it is the centre back who has benefited most.
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