Newcastle’s start to the season hasn’t been pretty, with Rafa Benitez’s men picking up just a single point, while two of the games were spent fighting for their lives.
Against an in-form Chelsea and champions Manchester City, Benitez set his side up to stay in the game with a flat back five, a tactic that angered many across the footballing world. The Spaniard’s tactics were far from pretty, and ultimately were worth nothing, with both games ending in a 2-1 defeat for the Magpies.
Were these tactics really worthless?
While Newcastle might not have won any of their four games, they have played three of the division’s top teams, and despite their tough schedule, their goal difference remains intact.
Against Tottenham, Newcastle were at it and deserved to get a point and they would have had a bit more luck been on their side, with both Mo Diame and Salomon Rondon hitting the woodwork.
The story was different against Chelsea and Man City, with Newcastle defending for their lives, but in both games they were so close to getting something. Against Maurizio Sarri’s side, Benitez was a couple of dodgy decisions away from a point, while Raheem Sterling’s and Kyle Walker’s wonder-goals were all that separated the best team in the country and Newcastle.
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Despite losing three of their opening four games, Newcastle’s goal difference is a respectable minus three. In comparison, relegation rivals Huddersfield Town have a less than impressive minus eight, following 3-0 and 6-1 thrashings off Chelsea and Manchester City respectively.
When May comes around and the battle to avoid relegation is on, goal difference is basically worth an extra point, which is where we will see the benefits of Benitez’s defensive approach should his side still be fighting for survival at the end of the season.
While Newcastle did end up finishing in the top half last season thanks to a late run of form, they were initially embroiled in a relegation battle, but the Magpies were able to stay in goals and avoid getting a hammering, while many of the teams around them were seeing the goal difference get worse and worse every week.
It’s certainly not sexy, but Benitez’s defensive approach will pay off in the long run. It has been a brutal start to the season in terms of fixtures, with Arsenal next to come to St James’ Park, but Newcastle’s season won’t be defined by results against the big boys.Instead, they will need to beat the teams around them, which is exactly what they managed to do last season.
Benitez might get flack from ignorant pundits, but Newcastle’s goal difference will play a key role in keeping the club in the Premier League once again.