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Rafa Benitez has exceeded all expectations with Newcastle United this season

Rafa Benitez has worked miracles at St. James’ Park this season.

Martyn Cooke

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Photo: Getty Images

The Premier League is currently home to some of the best managerial talent in world football.

Pep Guardiola has received much of the plaudits this season for his total-football revolution at Manchester City whilst Jurgen Klopp, Jose Mourinho and Mauricio Pochettino have provided a prestigious supporting cast.

However, upon Tyneside, Rafa Benitez has also been sprinkling his own managerial magic dust around St. James’ Park and has done a remarkable job at Newcastle United, despite working on a shoestring budget with continuous uncertainty at boardroom level.

Victory against Leicester City has all but guaranteed that the Magpies will be playing top-flight football again next season whilst also pushing the club into the top half of the table.

To say that Benitez has exceeded all expectations this campaign would be an understatement.

The 57-year-old had already etched his name into Newcastle folk law by sticking with the club following relegation and securing an instant return to the Premier League last season, but guiding the Magpies to safety is an achievement that arguably dwarfs his previous success.

However, in December the possibility of a top-half finish looked extremely unlikely.

Newcastle had picked up just nineteen points by the start of the Christmas fixtures and were stranded in a poor run of form that made them likely candidates to be sucked into the relegation zone.

However, Benitez has remained calm, composed and confident, even in the face of adversity and sketchy results, and has stimulated a dramatic resurgence during the second half of the season.

Such an achievement should not be downplayed considering the current scenario on Tyneside.

First, Benitez has been forced to work on a shoe-string budget and has had access to limited funds to utilise in the transfer market.

Much of the money that he has been able to spend has been generated through player sales whilst the 57-year-old has had to wheel and deal with loan signings and free transfers.

This was distinctly apparent in January when, with Newcastle supporter’s hopeful of seeing the club make a statement marquee signing, Benitez was permitted only to bring in a handful of loan players.

Second, the Spaniard has been forced to operate under the constant shadow of uncertainty that has been generated at boardroom level.

Mike Ashley’s divisive reign has been well publicised over the previous three years and the regular protests organised by supporters demonstrates the deteriorating relationship between the club hierarchy and the fans.

The club are currently up for sale although the list of likely buyers remains almost non-existent.

Finally, a quick glance through the Newcastle squad-list will allow you to conclude that this is effectively a team that consists of Championship players.

There a no big names and no star signings, yet Benitez had been able to mould the current group of players into a side that could finish the season in the top-half of the Premier League.

In short, the financial restriction and boardroom uncertainty has forced Benitez to rely upon his managerial quality, coaching prowess and ability to improve players.

There is no marquee signing or transfer war-chest – just Benitez working with the squad on the training pitch.

The Spaniard’s ability to improve players is typified by Jamaal Lascelles.

The central defender was once erratic and error-prone, but under Benitez he has turned into a metaphorical brick wall, a genuine leader and is now in contention to receive a call-up for the England squad.

He is almost unrecognisable to the player that looked uncomfortable on the St James’ Park turf less than three years ago.

It is undeniable that Benitez has done a remarkable job at Newcastle, but the future is uncertain and there are plenty of questions that remain unanswered.

Will the Spaniard, who is renowned for his ambition and drive, be content to stay on Tyneside for another year unless he is promised significant funds to invest in the squad?

Is he content to continue working under Mike Ashley and the uncertainty and division that the current owner generates? Only time will tell.

However, what is abundantly clear is that Benitez has worked a minor miracle at St. James’ Park this season and is rightly in contention to be named Manager of the Year.

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.

Newcastle United

Yedlin’s injury update provides lucky escape for Newcastle board

Jake Jackman

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Photo: Getty Images

DeAndre Yedlin was forced off with a knee injury during Newcastle’s opening Premier League match against Tottenham. However, the club have now confirmed that it isn’t serious and he is likely to resume training with his team-mates imminently.

The injury was concerning when viewed at full speed and a number of analysts speculated that the American could be facing a long spell on the sidelines. That would have been disastrous for Newcastle as he has emerged as the club’s first-choice right-back over the last 12 months. The only other options in the squad are an unconvincing Javier Manquillo and an inexperienced Jamie Sterry.

Rafa Benitez campaigned for investment during the summer transfer window, but the club refused to give him a fair budget based on their revenue. This has left the manager frustrated as a number of areas within the squad haven’t been strengthened and he is now short on quality and depth.

One of the areas that he has been left short in is full-back cover. There is no doubting that Yedlin and Paul Dummett have developed into good Premier League players since Benitez took over as manager. However, there is a lack of competition for them and one major injury could spell major problems for Newcastle.

(Photo credit should read LINDSEY PARNABY/AFP/Getty Images)

The board were nearly punished during the first match of the season and there would have been little sympathy towards Mike Ashley if Yedlin’s injury was more serious. His continual lack of investment has made the club over-reliant on certain individuals.

Although there remain doubts over the squad depth, it is fantastic news for Newcastle that Yedlin is going to be back on the pitch in the very near future. He has developed a lot under Benitez and he could be set for a breakthrough year at full-back.

As an attacking threat, he has a key role to play at St James’ Park as he often races down the line to offer a passing option on the overlap. His pace is a dangerous weapon that Newcastle often try to utilise on the counter-attack. Although Yedlin’s end product is inconsistent, he is an important player for the Magpies in attack.

In addition to offering an outlet in the attacking half, Yedlin’s pace is great for the defence, as he can use it to recover from a mistake. This has been seen countless times since Newcastle’s return to the Premier League and it provides balance to the back four.

The USA international will be delighted that he won’t be missing a significant portion of the season, but this scare should serve as a reminder to the board. Benitez needs strength in depth, otherwise, he is one injury away from a crisis.

 

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Newcastle United round-up: Takeover update & two exits imminent

A selection of news and gossip from Newcastle United.

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Photo: Getty Images

Lazaar to Genoa

Ahead of Friday evening’s Deadline Day in Italy, reports state that Genoa are looking set to conclude a loan deal to bring Achraf Lazaar to Serie A for the 2018-19 season – in one of two deals that appear set to go ahead in the coming days.

Gianluca Di Marzio states that Lazaar is being lined-up as a replacement for Uruguay international Diego Laxalt, who caught the eye during the World Cup in the summer and is tipped to complete a move across Italy to join AC Milan.

The Morocco international has just four Premier League appearances for Newcastle since signing in 2016 and spent last season on loan with Benevento.

Yedlin injury update

Newcastle fans and the board will be breathing a sigh of relief after news that DeAndre Yedlin’s injury sustained in the weekend’s defeat to Tottenham Hotspur is not as serious as first thought, the club announced today.

(Photo credit should read LINDSEY PARNABY/AFP/Getty Images)

The United States international limped off towards the end of Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at St. James’ Park but has undergone treatment this week and is expected to resume training with the squad shortly – although it is not clear whether he will be available for this weekend’s clash with Cardiff City.

Yedlin missed just four Premier League games for Newcastle last season, establishing himself as Rafael Benitez’s leading man on the right side.

Takeover latest

It has now been a year since Mike Ashley announced that Newcastle were up for sale and fans have been on a rollercoaster ride ever since, with the initial optimism of a deal being completed before Christmas 2017 being wiped away and the club having to endure another frustrating transfer window.

Unfortunately, there is no good news to share on the matter as The Chronicle stated on a live Q&A session that while investors are interested there is no concrete offer on the table and that Ashley will remain in charge medium-term.

“The official line from the club, and even privately, is that Newcastle remains for sale an on the market. Crucially, however, senior sources have admitted they are working on the basis that Mike Ashley will remain owner in the medium term. That is because they do not foresee a sale happening any time soon.”

– It’s still a waiting game for a potential takeover.

Saivet to Turkey

Achraf Lazaar is not the only man looking set for a move away from Tyneside, as Henri Saivet is also tipped to leave to join a club on the continent as Turkish Football state he has agreed to terms with Bursapor on a permanent deal.

The claim is that a deal could be just hours away after he completed a medical ahead of a proposed return to Turkey, where he spent last season on loan with Sivasspor – making 12 league appearances without registering a goal or an assist.

With just five league appearances since the 2015-16 campaign, it is not surprising to see the 27-year-old on the way out.

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Newcastle United

Newcastle United talent Liam Gibson returns to action after 2017-18 illness hell

The left-back missed all of last season with ulcerative colitis and a blood clot but is now back with Newcastle United’s under-23s.

Mathew Nash

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Newcastle United fans had plenty to be pleased with from their opening day performance against Tottenham Hotspur. Whilst they may have lost the game, it was a performance that will give the Toon Army hope ahead of the new season.

But whilst the Newcastle first-team looks settled, there is one player in the under-23 field who will be hoping to force his way into Rafa Benitez’s thinking in the near future.

Liam Gibson started his first competitive game for Newcastle’s under-23s since May 2017 against West Brom yesterday evening.

(Photo by Serena Taylor/Newcastle United via Getty Images)

Last May the left-back was looking ready to make the breakthrough at Newcastle. Former under-23 boss Peter Beardsley was saying he could make it to the top. He had just come off the back of an excellent 2016-17 campaign with the Newcastle youngsters and a first-team place seemed to be around the corner.


“If someone said you’d be back training a year today, I would have laughed at them. I was that depressed at the time, I didn’t even want to play football anymore. I was saying to my parents, my girlfriend and my brother, ‘that’s it – I’ll never be able to recover from this’.

“To be training and playing now is kind of surreal. I just feel dead lucky.”

– Liam Gibson on his return to action


However, last season was a nightmare for the youngster. Diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, the same condition that once afflicted Darren Fletcher so dramatically, Gibson underwent four operations last season and did not play a single game. A blood clot in his calf also laid him out for a period of time.

But he played 89 minutes yesterday as he continues his comeback. Newcastle fans will hope it is just the start and Gibson can push into the first-team one day.

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