Rafa Benitez got off to a losing start as Newcastle United manager last night, and probably learned a lot about his new side.
In fairness, Rafa will likely have been encouraged that his new squad isn’t quite as shit as he first feared.
But if the Magpies are to survive the drop into the Championship, Benitez will need to improve some key areas of his side, and there’s plenty of room for improvement.
We’ve narrowed it down to five:
Newcastle’s defence has historically been totally shite.
Even when they nearly won the Premier League title back in 1996, it was down to their ‘we’ll score one more goal than you’ attitude, rather than their solid base at the back.
Benitez is inheriting a squad with only four centre backs at the club, and only two of those are fit at the minute.
Add to that there’s no fit left back and that’s quite a problem.
Steven Taylor and Jamaal Lascelles weren’t bad against Leicester, but they were let down by makeshift left back Jack Colback, who conceded the free kick that led to Shinji Okazaki’s winner.
The back four looked more organised than it has in recent months, although Taylor looked like he was about to shit himself every time someone ran at him.
Even so, Benitez will be encouraged by the performance of his defence and with a bit more work on the training pitch, Newcastle can improve.
If Newcastle are to stay up, someone needs to score some goals.
Their fortunes were summed up against Leicester, when Aleksandar Mitrovic and Moussa Sissoko wrestled each other to the ground while trying to convert Georginio Wijnaldum’s through ball.
Wijnaldum is their top scorer with nine, although four of those came in the same game and he’s never scored away from home.
Mitrovic has five and looks like he could be a source of goals, but he needs the right support from midfield.
Benitez has options up front, with Ayoze Perez, Mitrovic, Seydou Doumbia and Siem de Jong all available.
He just needs to find the right combination if Newcastle are going to score the goals necessary to climb the table.
Throughout the season, Newcastle have chopped and changed their formation.
Moussa Sissoko has been used out wide for the majority, meaning the Magpies lose his power and physical presence in the middle of midfield – his best position.
Jonjo Shelvey’s signing is good business, so any success going forward must start with finding him the space to create chances from midfield.
Benitez must find a formation to accomodate his most effective players and create as many chances for the front men as possible, even if it means dropping some big names.
If you’ve watched Newcastle at any point in the season, you’ll notice they look absolutely not arsed about anything.
As soon as they go behind, they lose all desire to get back into the game and usually succumb to a defeat – just like they did against Bournemouth in Steve McClaren’s last game in charge.
Benitez’s appointment will lift spirits and bring some fight back into a team that desperately needs it.
It’s important Newcastle get some results while this boost lasts, because heads will soon drop if they don’t get points on the board quickly.
The Away Form
Newcastle have lost 18 out of their last 22 away games and scored seven goals on the road all season.
In their final nine games, they travel to Norwich City and Aston Villa – two games they’ll have earmarked as a massive chance of three points.
The only thing that will keep Newcastle up is their performances in the games against the teams around them, so their form away from St James’ Park will be key.
If Rafa can implement a strategy that keeps the points tally ticking over, he’ll have every chance of keeping the Geordies in the Premier League for another season.