Five Problems With NUFC’s performance at Fulham

NUFC Rafa

There was yet another reason for Newcastle United fans to be disappointed, ahead of a gruelling season in the English Football League. After a promising preseason, there was expectation from not just the Toon, but the rest of the football world that the club would display a move in the right direction against Fulham FC. The trouble was that Newcastle never turned up. The Magpies’ fans had put on a lot of faith on Rafa Benitez, a manager who comes at a steep price of £6 million a year in salary and bonuses, but he looked like a man hellbent on imitating former England manager Roy Hodgson, and to a lesser extent, his own predecessor Steve McClaren.

So, what was wrong with Newcastle United’s 1-0 defeat at Craven Cottage? Here are the five most-apparent failings.

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5) The Formation

Yes, it was an away game, but playing three holding midfielders in Jack Colback, Isaac Hayden and Vernon Anita in an already-defensive line-up was a big mistake. It meant that going forward, NUFC were as toothless as a newborn. All three of them combined, could not buy a 20-yard pass with their lives. Anita’s lack of offensive ability also became apparent in his inability to link-up with either of his fullbacks. The formation that Benitez might have been going for, which was a 4-2-3-1, only works if the fullbacks give ample support to the wingers, and for large parts of the game, both Darl Janmaat and Paul Dummett failed to do so. Dummett in particular, should not be anywhere near that team, as he offers going forward as much as a cardboard cut-out of Ashley Cole (I’d bet on the cut-out to put in a better cross, to be honest).

Perez, Ayoze

4) Set-Pieces

Ayoze Perez displayed some of the worst bits of passing in the modern game against Fulham. None of his corners managed to clear the first man, and his free-kicks were as abysmal as they come. You could firmly place blame on Perez for having lack of ability, but the fault lies with the manager. After the first four times, Benitez should have given the message for the Spaniard to relinquish set-piece duties to the much superior Matt Ritchie. But, that message never came.

Fulham’s goal, which came from a set-piece was one of the best examples of what not to do, when defending a corner. There was no one at the far post on the line to clear, and Lascelles (coming to him next) was nowhere near the player. It was a horrendously disorganised defensive unit. The Toon defenders look like expert ball-watchers, with everyone showing a collective lack of understanding of man-marking.

Jamaal Lascelles

3) Jamaal Lascelles

Jamaal Lascelles was as poor as they come. Appointed as the new captain of the club, the 22-year-old should be one of the better defenders in the squad, but his lack of ability to mark his opponent cost the Magpies the goal that would ultimately win Fulham the match. Lascelles was caught on three separate occasions ‘ball watching’ as his opponents peeled away and caused havoc in the Newcastle box. The new captain has one of the worst cases of situational awareness in the division, and will be a major liability in future matches. Chancel Mbemba is a far superior player, and should have started the game.

Shelvey, Jonjo

2) Substitutions

The substitutions came far, far too late to have any impact. Benitez should have brought on Jonjo Shelvey at half-time. The former Liverpool player only had 14 minutes to make an impact, and he did with some great passes. He also instigated what were two very good shouts for handball, with one, a definite penalty. However. by then, the other Newcastle players looked jaded, and Shelvey’s impact was marginalised with poor finishing from Matt Ritchie, and Rolando Aarons.

Aarons should have started, along with Shelvie. Bringing on or keeping three defensive midfielders in a game should only be the strategy if you are leading a game, and want to shutdown the opponent.

Jack Colback

1) Decision-making and Lack of Belief

You’d expect confidence to be sky-high after a Champions League winner joins the team as your manager. Transfers are happening, and the squad is being reworked right in front of you. However, there was no semblence of a side that had any belief. All fourteen of them looked like they were total strangers who had been given 12-minutes to prepare before the match, and hurriedly told to just do what feels right on the pitch.

It’s one thing to overload one side of the pitch, but to never even attempt to switch the play around? That is a major flaw in your game. It’s also a problem to isolate your wingers and not give any support when needed. The midfield players were routinely misplacing passes, with Anita failing to understand the concept of weighted passing.

In Dwight Gayle, and Ayoze Perez, Newcastle had essentially, the same player on the pitch, with Gayle at least making better decisions when on the ball. None of them even attempted to hold up the ball for more than a nanosecond. Their first response was always to try and turn the defender and get in behind. When you have been trying that over and over again, perhaps it might be a good idea to try something else? Sure, you can blame the manager, but personal responsibility has to be taken on the pitch.

Fulham were routinely going past Newcastle defenders with slick passing, and organised movement, but their opponents rarely showed any composure or class on the ball. The entire performance was a shambles.

Newcastle United Fans

Conclusion

A lot of fans will say that, it’s only the first game, but to be honest, if this is the impact Rafa Benitez has after spending so much money, and having a full pre-season, then I don’t know what NUFC’s fate will be, when the going gets tough in December and January. He was supposed to bring the good times back to Tyneside, but the side looked exactly as it did six months ago under Steve McClaren, and in some ways, worse.

Sure, there were penalty decisions that went against Newcastle, but at this level, you have to make your own luck. Going forward, the Magpies are as poor as they come, and look like they wouldn’t be able to finish, even if there were two Playboy playmates on both sides providing hearty encouragement.

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