A few weeks ago, we told you how bad things were at St. James Park, with the Magpies staring down the unexpected fate of relegation. Since then, Rafa Benítez’s men have stepped up their game and were unbeaten in four consecutive league games, before suffering losses to West Ham and Wolverhampton Wanderers having won three on the bounce. Wins over Watford and Bournemouth have contrasted their appalling form however, the Toon Army believe these types of results should be the norm at St. James Park. So, how has the former Real Madrid manager turned things around at St. James Park? Let’s have a look.
Dressing Room Morale
Although often praised for his man management, the Spaniard had a highly public fallout with club captain, Jamaal Lascelles. This spat clearly affected morale in the dressing room with the players not knowing who to pledge allegiance to.
Thankfully, the 58-year-old has let bygones be bygones and brought the charismatic centre-back back into the starting line-up. One should never underestimate how important it is to have the captain and manager on the same page, as the captain is the one that relays the manager’s tactics on the pitch.
Salomón Rondón stepping up
It’s about time that the Magpies star striker finally repaid the faith that Rafa Benítez has shown in him. The Venezuelan scored his first two league goals for the club in an emphatic 2-1 win over high-flying Bournemouth. That was the 29-year-old’s only two goals of the season, despite making eight appearances. Rondón has been fighting for his place against the likes of Joselu and Yoshinori Muto, a fight he has been losing.
Rondón’s work rate has never been in question, however, his end product hasn’t been good enough. The combative striker has won on average 4.4 aerial duels a game and made 1.6 clearances. While his defensive work rate has been high, Rondón has only averaged 1.9 shots per game, meaning he’s either not been brave enough or his teammates aren’t creating the chances needed.
Salomón Rondón has been deployed as a target man, with the Magpies regularly using him as a focal point for long balls. It’s with those long balls that Newcastle progress up the pitch, relying on the 29-year-old to hold up play and bring others into the game. With the Venezuelan on his A game, the Magpies now have a better chance of climbing up the table.
5-4-1 away from home
At Turf Moor, the Magpies admittedly rode their luck with a 2-1 win, but it was ultimately their change of shape that left Burnley extremely frustrated. Benítez has been reluctant to change his team’s shape this season, but for the trip to Burnley, he went with a robust 5-4-1. This system didn’t encourage the wing-backs to bomb down the flanks, instead, it ushered them inwards with the emphasis being on Kenedy and Pérez to expose Burnley’s high line.
Rafa Benítez’s new formation gives Newcastle the defensive solidity they’ve lacked over the course of the season, whilst still allowing them to overpopulate the middle. As said before, Salomón Rondón as an isolated target man gave Newcastle a focal point for long balls, thus allowing them to counter attack quicker. With these principles, Newcastle will avoid an embarrassing relegation scrap.