The international break is upon us again, much to the disappointment of football fans up and down the country as they wait for two long weeks before their clubs play again.
Prior to the last international break in early October, Newcastle United were sitting third in the table with 22 points after a narrow win at Rotherham, three points behind leaders Huddersfield Town. Six games later and going into another break, what have Newcastle fans learned in this period of time?
Consistency has finally improved:
After that 1-0 victory at Rotherham on October 1st, United have played six in all competitions – and have won all six. This extends a period of eight consecutive wins in both league and cup which has sent Rafa’s men to the top of the Championship table. During the opening months of the season, it was fair to admit the team were adjusting and had stumbled on more than one occasion. Defeats to Wolves at home and conceding a late equaliser at Villa Park, as well as losses to Fulham and Huddersfield, made it very clear the Championship was providing early teething problems. However, these games are firmly in the past now as Benitez and the squad have put together a fine run of results; since the last international break, the Magpies have scored 18 goals in their six games, conceding just three. This has coincided with a rise in performance levels that has led to an increase in confidence and the club are now flying high. Long may it continue.
Mitrovic DOES have an important role this season:
The big Serbian striker has been the talk of most fans in recent weeks and, after finally been given his chance, he hasn’t failed to deliver. Mitrovic has netted four times in his last three starts, all of which have come against Preston North End in league and cup. After a frustrating start to the campaign sitting on the bench, “Mitro” has since looked fit and most certainly match-ready. It may be premature to say, but there appears to be a mature side to his game now. He has taken his goals well and has looked a different player in the penalty area this season, not looking to shoot at every opportunity but instead looking up and doing the sensible thing. His calmness in the box was personified during the 2-1 vs Cardiff when he assisted Christian Atsu for the opening goal of the game. Of course, he is playing in a division below last season but, like many other players, a term in the Championship might just do him the world of good. Mitrovic gives the manager a valuable striking option, as well as a burning selection headache.
Newcastle DO have realistic chance in EFL Cup:
October saw Newcastle United reach just their third quarter-final of any cup competition in the last decade after a thumping home win in the EFL Cup vs Preston, six goals to nil. The other two quarter-finals came against Benfica in 2013 and Tottenham Hotspur in 2014 – both very daunting and unfavourable ties which inevitably ended in Newcastle defeats. However, this time it’s different. Newcastle have been drawn away to a Hull City side in the last eight who find themselves in the bottom three of the Premier League. Despite winning their last match against Southampton, they are a side that are struggling to find any consistency and have won just three league matches out of eleven. The draw has been kind to the Magpies with other ties such as Arsenal vs Southampton and Man United vs West Ham to come, and big guns like Man City and Chelsea already out, you get the feeling this could be Newcastle’s best chance of silverware in recent years. Rafa Benitez’s team will be roared on by almost 2,500 travelling supporters at the KCOM Stadium at the end of November. If Newcastle could just scrape past Hull, who knows what could happen next.
Competition for places is even stronger:
Rafa Benitez is very much known for his constant squad rotations at the clubs that he has managed over the years. This is a trait that hasn’t faded at Newcastle and the increase in squad size over the summer is paying off. The (rather good) dilemma is that whenever a front-line player misses out, their replacement ends up doing a decent job. Christian Atsu has two Championship goals to his name in the games that usual starter Matt Richie has missed due to illness and suspension; Aleksandar Mitrovic has netted three times in the league when Dwight Gayle has been rested or been injured and even Mo Diame is starting to come good whenever Ayoze Perez is absent. Since the last international break, competition for places in the team has gone up a level and even with eight wins on the bounce, it’s guaranteed that Newcastle fans will be scratching their heads as to who will start at Leeds in two weeks’ time.