This weekend Newcastle travelled to Liverpool, who predictably held form at home with a 2-0 victory. While I could write 500+ words on a largely predictable match, instead I am opting to dedicate half of this week’s blog to the match review, and half to grading Newcastle’s January Transfers thus far. Howay the Lads!
Goals on either side of halftime by superstars Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane condemned Newcastle United to their second Premier League loss of 2018. Newcastle spent most of the match defending and trying to keep Liverpool’s stars in-check, which helped Newcastle avoid embarrassment against a team that has tallied up 67 goals thus far this season. We’ve seen Rafa Benitez employ this strategy before, and the discipline of his tactics has previously paid off. Newcastle has earned 4 points in 6 games against the top 3, with the only tough matchups left being Tottenham away (after a three week break in March), and Arsenal and Chelsea who visit St. James’ Park. With both these teams currently struggling by their own standards, Newcastle find themselves in an enviable position amongst the teams at the bottom.
Given that Liverpool have a clearly superior squad, I thought the defensive efforts were as good as could be expected. Credit to consistent performers Paul Dummett and captain Jamaal Lascelles for solid days again. I was also impressed with the work-ethic of Christian Atsu. Conversely, I felt the midfield pairing were weak on the day; Mohamed Diame should’ve put one on the board and he wasn’t himself defensively, and Mikel Merino, spectacular earlier this year, really missed an opportunity to shine with the news Jonjo Shelvey would sit out for the match.
While this week’s match was crucial to keep close, next week’s match will be crucial to win. Newcastle sit in 16th place, 2 points above the drop, and host 17th place Southampton on Tyneside. Southampton are a conservative side, amongst teams within touching distance of the drop, they are the only side with a lower goal differential. They’ve collected at least a point in 18 matches, joint top amongst relegation battlers, and have seen out the most ties in the Premier League. Their form isn’t terrible since selling (and not replacing) Virgil van Dijk, so it’ll be important for Newcastle to earn points, preferably 3, on the day. In the earlier fixture, Newcastle split the points at St. Mary’s.
I have made it a rule to never evaluate a club’s January transfers until March, and with good reason. You need to see them in action and mix up with the first team; just because someone can fill a need doesn’t mean they’ll perform well. For every Papiss Cisse, there’s a Seydou Doumbia. Here’s how I rate them thus far:
Martin Dubravka, GK (Sparta Praha): What can I say? Rafa Benitez knew exactly what he wanted, and he got it from the Slovakian International. Purchased on a loan-to-buy, in his first match between the posts Dubravka performed the Herculean task of preserving a win and clean-sheet against 2nd place Manchester United. In the games since, he has performed up to his intended billing. He isn’t David de Gea, but he makes the saves he can and has shown his dependability already. He also provides the ability to play with his feet, providing the 11th outfield player, something which was sorely missed with Rob Elliot and Karl Darlow. While GK Freddie Woodman is largely seen as the future for Newcastle United, Martin Dubravka has certainly made quick work securing the GK shirt week-in and week-out. GRADE: A
Kenedy, LWB (on loan from Chelsea): Kenedy was the first new body brought in during the transfer window and was brought in to do two things. The initial intention was for him to provide cover and competition for Paul Dummett. His other purpose was to provide some flair, class, and athleticism on the wings. To date, we haven’t seen Kenedy in a true left-back role due to the stellar form of Paul Dummett. Playing a wing-type role is not outside of Kenedy’s bag of tricks, however, as he currently profiles as a potential Dani Alves type in the future (he’s still only 22). He has already displayed flair, fearlessness, and a rocket left foot which is primed to improve Newcastle’s offense by simply being a class above our usual player. However, he has fitness issues, having completed a full 90 minutes just once, and he is sometimes guilty of overdoing it when on the ball. GRADE: B
Islam Slimani, ST (on loan from Leicester City): The last piece brought in during the January window is still a mystery to Newcastle supporters. He was brought on knowing he was carrying a knock. His injury was only supposed to last for 2 matches, but he recently suffered a set-back which is likely to have him out until the Tottenham match. Islam Slimani was a force to be reckoned with in his time in Portugal and during the 2014 World Cup with Algeria, however his time in England has not seen him play to his potential. It has been suggested that a change of pace, and Rafa’s tactics, were going to rectify his career in England. Because of his injury and the number of games left, he may never get a chance to make the impact many Newcastle supporters had hoped. GRADE: I (Incomplete)