Having secured the Championship title and an instant return to the Premier League last season by securing 94 points, Newcastle United fans would have been hopeful of a successful top flight campaign – as long as Rafa Benitez stayed with the club.
That wasn’t a certainty even after they went up, with the Spaniard unhappy that he hadn’t been backed by owner Mike Ashley during the January transfer window as he looked to get the players in that he felt would ensure promotion.
However, just days after they secured the trophy, the 57-year-old held positive talks with Ashley and decided to stay after the duo agreed on their summer transfer strategy.
It is fair to say that strategy probably didn’t go to plan though, and while he would have been happy to bring the likes of Joselu, Jacob Murphy, Mikel Merino and Florian Lejeune to St James’ Park, he would have been disappointed that he didn’t strengthen his team even further with more players with Premier League experience.
Benitez would certainly have liked to have brought in a new goalkeeper, and it certainly wouldn’t have been a surprise if he wanted a left-back and another striker as well.
However, that never happened and the former Liverpool and Real Madrid boss had to make do with what he had at his disposal to January.
Things weren’t looking good after the opening two Premier League matches with two successive defeats against Tottenham Hotspur and fellow newly-promoted side Huddersfield Town with no goals scored.
Their fortunes soon changed though and three straight wins followed against West Ham United, Swansea City and Stoke City as the Magpies moved into the top-half of the table.
Following another disappointing 1-0 defeat against the team they narrowly beat to the Championship title – Brighton and Hove Albion – Newcastle would have known that they needed to bounce back again, and once again they succeeded.
Draws against Liverpool and Southampton were followed by a much-needed three points against Crystal Palace in October – the last time the Tyneside outfit won a top flight match.
Since then, they have only taken one point from the possible 18 available and while they have suffered somewhat expected defeats away against Manchester United and Chelsea, home defeats against Watford, Bournemouth and a loss at Burnley were more disappointing.
With 15 matches of the season gone, Newcastle have been beaten by Huddersfield, Brighton, Burnley, Bournemouth and Watford and while it may be understandable given matches between teams outside of the top six have been so tight, Benitez and the club’s supporters will also be disappointed.
While it is clear to see that the Magpies don’t have the best team or squad in the English top flight and things are complicated off the pitch with owner Mike Ashley putting the club up for sale , those fans may have expected that with the experienced Spaniard at the helm that they would be doing better than they are right now.
Having led Liverpool to Champions League success and managed other big clubs like Real Madrid and Napoli in his career, Benitez should have the experience and know-how to not only get the best out of his players, but also to pick up positive results.
The 57-year-old should also be experienced in getting teams out of slumps, and that is exactly what Newcastle find themselves in right now.
Quick-fire home matches against Leicester City and Everton at St James’ Park this week give the Tyneside outfit the perfect opportunity to do just that, and Benitez needs to show his managerial class and experience to help the Magpies to at least four points with difficult-looking fixtures against Arsenal and leaders Manchester City on the horizon before 2018.
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