The whole of Tyneside have had a wake-up call after Newcastle United lost their opening two matches in the Championship. They remain favourites with the bookmakers to earn an instant return to the Premier League, but it won’t be as easy as many thought it would be. On Wednesday, Reading travel to the North East to face Newcastle under the lights at St James’ Park. The ground will be full like it was against Huddersfield and Rafael Benitez will know that they need to avoid defeat at the very least.
In his pre-match press conference, Benitez remained upbeat about the season ahead and only sees the start as a minor blip. There is still a lot of work to do before the end of the month, both in the transfer market and on the training ground. In their current state, Newcastle don’t look like they will get promoted this year, but it is still early in the season and it would take a brave man to back against Benitez turning things around.
When he was asked about the side’s start, Benitez was honest about the results not being good enough. He said ‘It has been really bad in terms of results but at the end of the season we will be fine and where we want to be’. Before adding ‘This is just the start. We have to fix things but I am confident we can do well’.
This will be reassuring for Newcastle supporters to hear and it is easier to have faith in Benitez’s comments than it has been with past managers at the club. Steve McClaren used buzzwords in each press conference and repeated them throughout, which made him look rather stupid on a weekly basis. There is a huge belief in Benitez within the fan-base and his comments above show that he is also confident that Newcastle will have a good season. However, he isn’t brushing the early results under the carpet like his predecessors have done.
In terms of transfers, Benitez said ‘We knew what we needed, now we’ve had confirmation of that. We will be stronger soon. At the end of the window we will be stronger because we have good players coming’.
These comments tell us that Newcastle are still in the market for players and that the opening two games have shown more clearly what they need to bring in. It is expected that they will look to bring in at least one forward, who is capable of holding up the ball. They have struggled to make the ball stick in the final third and have missed Aleksandar Mitrovic, who is still suspended after picking up a red card in the final match of last season. The fact that Benitez said that ‘good players’ will be coming suggests they are close to a few things in the market, which should improve the mood on Tyneside after two early defeats.
Benitez is facing some difficult decisions ahead of the match against Reading and could make some changes on Wednesday night. Mo Diame is expected to miss out through injury, while Moussa Sissoko also has an injury. It would be surprising if the Frenchman played for Newcastle again and his ‘injury’ is more than likely a convenient cover for why he isn’t playing. At the press conference, Benitez was asked about possible changes and he said ‘If we need to change some players, we will do it to find the best understanding between players’.
Newcastle have been disjointed in their first couple of matches and it is obvious that Benitez doesn’t know what his best side yet. Ayoze Perez and Matt Ritchie could be in contention to return to the starting eleven against Reading. At the moment, the Magpies look unable to break sides down and need to change their approach from the first two games. Benitez has been wedded to the 4-2-3-1 formation throughout his career and he may need to move away from that at times this season. Newcastle have been predictable and that needs to change, starting from Wednesday night.
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