Following Newcastle United’s 3-2 defeat against Leicester City at St James’ Park on Saturday evening – their sixth loss in their last seven Premier League matches – manager Rafa Benitez came out with some choice words in his post-match press conference.
While the Spaniard is experienced and would usually never directly criticise one of his players in public, some of his comments after matches during their recent poor run of form could easily be misconstrued, and members of the squad may not be happy with them.
The Daily Mail’s North East football correspondent Craig Hope tweeted a quote after the latest reverse on Saturday, where Benitez said: “I said it could be like this. The only way [to sort it out] is to work harder and stop making so many mistakes.”
Rafa Benitez: 'I said it could be like this. The only way is to work harder & stop making so many mistakes'.
— Craig Hope (@CraigHope_DM) December 9, 2017
While the second part of that statement may be true and is perfectly acceptable, it is the first part that seems to aim a sly dig at his squad.
The former Liverpool and Real Madrid boss is still obviously upset that he didn’t get the players he wanted to bring to St James’ Park during the summer, and he has had to make do with what he does have at his disposal.
While missing out on previous targets and the current takeover talk may be an annoyance and a distraction respectively, Benitez is experienced enough to know what he should do in the situation.
Saying a sentence like “I said it could be like this” certainly suggests that he didn’t – and doesn’t – have too much faith in his squad, and that won’t be received well in the dressing room or indeed help a squad that is clearly lacking confidence right now.
The defeat against Leicester was their third in a row at St James’ Park and despite finding themselves in the top-half of the table in October following a strong start to the campaign, they are now 16th and just two points above the relegation zone with matches against Arsenal and Manchester City still to come before the January transfer window opens.
While the losses away at Chelsea and Manchester United in recent weeks were understandable, home losses against Leicester, Bournemouth and Watford – failing to score in the latter two – were perhaps not.
Benitez also spoke after the 3-0 loss against the Hornets, and the 57-year-old once again contradicted himself with his support for his squad in his post-match comments.
According to Sky Sports, the Spaniard said: “To criticise our players is not fair because our players are giving everything. You can be better or worse, you can miss a chance or you can score an own goal, whatever.
“But if they give everything, me as a manager, I am happy with that and they [the fans] have to be happy. If we can bring in better players in the future, okay, fine, good. Competition is good.
“But in January, it could be even worse, so we have to stick together and be sure that until the end of the season, we maximise what we have. That’s it.
“On September 1, we knew it could be like this. We were surprised when the team was top six, top eight. The reality is that we have a team which has to compete at the bottom of the table.”
While he started off by trying to protect his players, he then threw them under the bus by basically implying they are not good enough and that he would rather have better individuals, as the ones that he has now are only good enough to be competing for survival.
Benitez may have hoped that those words might motivate his players, but perhaps he would be better off giving them a firm hand around the shoulder – both behind the scenes and in public – to avoid the players misconstruing their manager’s words.
The excuse from Benitez about the quality of players perhaps isn’t a fair one either, because they deserve their opportunity at this level after securing the Championship title last season.
While he may have a number of players who have had little Premier League experience before the current campaign, can you really say that their squad is much worse than Burnley’s on paper? Probably not.
In Sean Dyche the Clarets have a boss that knows how to organise a team, makes his players feel big and knows how to motivate them and get the best out of them, and he ensure that everyone in the starting XI is working together for the same goal.
As a result, the Lancashire outfit are currently seventh in the Premier League – level on points with Tottenham Hotspur and just one point behind Arsenal 16 matches into the season.
Perhaps rather than understatedly having a pop at his players in the press, Benitez should take a leaf out of Dyche’s book and work hard to get his team organised and believe that they are good enough to win Premier League matches again – starting at home to Everton on Wednesday.