Three talking points as Leicester City spoiled Newcastle United's 125th anniversary
Newcastle United fell to a home defeat against Leicester City on the club’s 125th anniversary. It was frustrating for supporters that their team couldn’t mark the occasion with a win, but the bigger concern is their plight towards the bottom three, with another relegation battle looking inevitable at the time of writing. The visitors have been excellent since the appointment of Claude Puel and this victory has seen them climb to 8th. They have won their last three matches and they now look to be one of the best of the rest. Here are three talking points from the fixture:
Rafa Benitez is having an identity crisis
It was a surprise when Rafa Benitez took the Newcastle United job at the end of the 2015/16 season and it is clear that the conditions are now affecting him. Mike Ashley has given him little money to spend and the squad isn’t up to the standard that he would like. However, his decisions over the last few weeks have been concerning as it appears he is having an identity crisis of sorts. Last weekend, they played a 3-5-2 and against Leicester, they reverted to a 4-4-2. Neither are formations that Benitez has used often during his managerial career.
At the beginning of the season, Newcastle went on a run of three successive victories and looked like a team that would finish safely in mid-table. Their defensive structure was impressive and Ayoze Perez’s pressing from the number ten position helped compete in the central areas. Yesterday, they were far too open and the central midfielders were left exposed. Benitez has enjoyed success with the 4-2-3-1 throughout his career and he needs to go back to it soon.
Riyad Mahrez needs to move on
Leicester City fans will be surprised that they have kept hold of the Algerian international for this long after the winger won the PFA Player of the Year award during the 2015/16 season. He was excellent during the Foxes’ surprise title-winning campaign and there has been a lot of interest in his services since then. During the summer, he did ask for a transfer away from the club, but that was denied. He deserves credit for remaining focused, but it is now time for the club to let him leave for bigger things.
The winger was impressive against Newcastle as he scored his second goal in three matches. This came from a powerful run through the centre of the pitch before he struck a shot from range that beat Karl Darlow. The goalkeeper may be disappointed that he conceded from the effort, but it was a great goal and underlined the confidence that Mahrez has in his ability. In addition to his goal, the 26-year-old made three key passes and offered a threat throughout.
Jonjo Shelvey needs to start
One of the main problems at Newcastle is the lack of technical ability in the starting eleven. From the four midfielders and two strikers that started the game, only one managed to complete more than 70% of his passes. That was Mikel Merino who ended the match with a pass completion of 85%. That isn’t good enough for a Premier League team and it can be easily addressed if Shelvey is started in every fixture. The England international can be frustrating, but he is one of the few in the squad that can create clear-cut opportunities.
It was a huge surprise that the midfielder wasn’t even brought on as a substitute against Leicester, as it was obvious that the team needed more creativity. The likes of Isaac Hayden, Jacob Murphy and Matt Ritchie are hardworking players, but they struggle to influence the game, especially in open play. They are too hesitant in possession and their decision making is questionable. If Benitez wants to see his side return to winning ways, he has to pick Shelvey, starting from Wednesday.