Newcastle United: Rafa’s departure and my disillusionment.

Since the news broke that Rafa Benitez would not be staying at Newcastle United beyond the length of his three-year deal this summer, a few people have been asking for my thoughts through a blog post. In completely unrelated and personal ways, the past couple of months have been challenging for me and that in a way has delayed this post. However, a few weeks after his departure and the announcement of Steve Bruce as the successor by which time this had been drafted, I will provide some thoughts…

It was the moment a lot of Newcastle United fans were dreading and it came in the form of a short statement from the club. The statement said, ‘It is with disappointment that we announce manager Rafael Benítez will leave Newcastle United upon the expiry of his contract on 30th June 2019. We have worked hard to extend Rafa’s contract over a significant period of time, however, it has not been – and will not be – possible to reach an agreement with Rafa and his representatives…We would like to thank Rafa and his coaching team for their efforts over the last three years and their significant contribution to what has been collectively achieved.’ That was it. The best manager Newcastle United have had since the Sir Bobby Robson days was leaving.

The inquest is still ongoing in some areas of the press and has prompted much debate. Meanwhile, the supporters have reacted as you may well expect. The inquest I refer to relates around how Newcastle United got into the situation of being 28 days away from the start of the next Premier League season with no manager having apparently been caught unawares. As for the supports, it was another episode under the ownership of Mike Ashley that has polarised the relationship between the clans with a substantial part of its fanbase. For some, it is the final straw. read more

2018/19 Premier League Preview

Admittedly this post is late. So, too is the World Cup Review which will be published in the next two days. The delay to this post was down to me not having the finishing touches done. However, I have not changed the bulk of the text since it was written on Friday.

Just four weeks since the conclusion of the World Cup in Russia and a new season of the Premier League has begun. From now until May, we have 380 games of top-flight football to be nervous, sweat over in the hope it benefits our teams and enjoy.

The 2017/18 season was a historic one full of twists and turns up and down the table apart from the top spot. Manchester City under manager Pep Guardiola was the runaway champions as they set the new records left right and centre. After a 1-1 draw with Everton in their second game, they went on to win 18 consecutive games to set a new Premier League record. They also set new records for most goals scored over a 38 game season and the most points. In doing so, they became the first side to reach 100 points. They were almost unstoppable. However, an invincibles season eluded them as Liverpool inflicted their first defeat of the season at Anfield in January. That was their first of only two defeats as Manchester United inflicted defeat on them at the Etihad to extend the title race by only one week. read more

Premier League 2017/18 Battle for PL Survival: who will go down?

I have not done anything on football for a long time now. For my plans in 2018, I said I would commit to continuing to produce Match Thoughts posts when I caught up with the monthly review posts. This has not materialised due to a mix of personal circumstances and balancing other priorities. Instead, for the remainder of the season, I will turn to a series of questions to answer in the closing weeks of the season. This starts with the battle for survival in the Premier League.

As the Premier League returns this weekend following the final international break before this summers World Cup, most teams only have seven or eight games left and the bottom of the table could not be tighter. Whilst one team are well adrift in 20th, the other two teams in the bottom three are only a matter of nine points away from 10th. That means anyone of West Brom, Stoke City, Southampton, West Ham, Crystal Palace, Huddersfield Town, Swansea City, Newcastle United, Brighton & Hove Albion, Watford and Bournemouth are all in the relegation picture. But, who do I think it will be?

West Brom

Position: 20th, 20 Points
Played 31, 3 Wins, 11 Draws, 17 Defeats, 29 Goals Scored, 49 Goals Against, -25 Goal Difference
Manager: Alan Pardew
Top Scorer: Solomon Rondon 6
Remaining fixtures: Burnley (home), Swansea (home), Manchester United (away), Liverpool (away), Newcastle United (away), Tottenham Hotspur (home), Crystal Palace (away). read more

Match Thoughts December 2017 London double-bill: Arsenal 1-0 Newcastle United & West Ham 2-3 Newcastle United

The final two weekends before Christmas, where has the time gone? Celtic’s unbeaten domestic run of 69 games came to a close with a 4-0 defeat to Hearts while after 364 days, Sunderland eventually won a home game at the Stadium of Light.

In the Premier League, Manchester City kept on winning with a 4-1 hammering of Spurs while local rivals Manchester United only just edged past West Brom 2-1. Chelsea defeated Southampton 1-0 while Liverpool hammered Bournemouth 4-0 on the south coast. The shock of the weekend though came at the King Power Stadium as Leicester City succumbed to a 3-0 defeat to Crystal Palace! read more

Match Thoughts Double header: Newcastle United 2-3 Leicester City & Newcastle United 0-1 Everton

Another week of two games in December means another double bill dose of Match Thoughts from The Mind of Rowan.

The weekend 9th-10th December daw controversy. The title race is probably over after Manchester Cty’s 2-1 victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford, the Merseyside derby ended 1-1 while David Moyes’s West Ham side surprisingly defeated Chelsea 1-0. That was the shock of the weekend while Christian Benteke’s penalty arguably cost Crystal Palace a much-needed victory.

Newcastle United team facing Leicester City at St James’ Park 9/12/17

Another side in need of a much-needed win was Newcastle United who hosted Leicester City at St James’ Park in the Saturday evening kick-off to mark their clubs 125th birthday. Rafa Benitez made three changes to his Newcastle starting line up with DeAndre Yedlin returning to the back four at right-back while Javier Manquillo reverted to left-back with Chancel Mbemba dropping out. Mohamed Diame was not retained as in came Isaac Hayden while Joselu came in for Ayoze Perez just behind Dwight Gayle as Benitez opted for a 4-4-1-1 formation. read more

A Match Thoughts Double-header: West Brom 2-2 Newcastle United & Chelsea 3-1 Newcastle United

As November turned into December, the Premier League had its first set of midweek fixtures and the weekend to follow had a number of huge talking points to come as well.

Wayne Rooney stole the headlines in midweek with a hat-trick in Everton’s 4-0 win over West Ham with a sublime long-range effort for his third. Ashley Young continued his good run of form as Manchester United defeated Watford, Manchester City edged past Southampton 2-1 and Liverpool put four past Stoke while Chelsea just saw off Swansea City. Managers also took headlines too with Mr’s Pardew and Allardyce returning to management with West Brom and Everton respectively. read more

Match Thoughts: Newcastle United 0-3 Watford

The final weekend of football in November saw more intriguing action and not just my awful Movember attempt. A new start for West Brom without Tony Pulis saw them draw 1-1 with Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley. Manchester United edged past Brighton while Manchester City survived a scare from Huddersfield. Mohamed Salah scored against his former club Chelsea, Crystal palace hit Everton for four while Crystal Palace won at home. As a Newcastle fan, I was in attendance at St James’ Park where another team had a convincing win as Rafa Benitez’s side hosted Watford at St. James’ Park.

Rafa Benitez has enforced one decision to make with his starting eleven with Isaac Hayden serving a one-game suspension after he picked up his 5th yellow card of the season at Old Trafford. Mikel Merino was back to match fitness following his back injury but it was Mohamed Diame who got the start in central midfield alongside Jonjo Shelvey with Merino being judged fir enough for the bench. Benitez retained the 4-4-2 formation with an otherwise unchanged side from the one that was defeated 4-1 by Manchester United. read more

Match Thoughts: Manchester United 4-1 Newcastle United

The Premier League returned after the final international break of 2017 this weekend. Arsenal defeated local rivals Tottenham Hotspur in the North London derby, Chelsea hit West Brom for 4 at the Hawthorns while Manchester City continued their storming start after winning 2-0 away to Leicester City. Liverpool also had a convincing win (3-0 over Southampton) while the battle of the strugglers: Crystal Palace and Everton ended in a 2-2 draw. David Moyes also returned to the Premier League but nothing changed really as he tasted defeat to Watford in his first game as West Ham manager.

Another team that eventually had a convincing win (at least on paper) was Manchester United as Rafa Benitez took his Newcastle United side to Old Trafford in the Saturday evening kick-off. With both club captain Jamaal Lascelles and Christian Atsu unavailable due to injuries they picked up against Bournemouth, there were starts for Ciaran Clark in central defence alongside Florian Lejeune while Jacob Murphy got his first league start since Swansea on the right wing of midfield with Matt Ritchie moving to the left wing. Benitez retained the 4-4-2 formation he started with against Bournemouth with Joselu and Gayle starting up front. There were places on the bench for Rolando Aarons and Chancel Mbemba as a result of the injuries. read more

Match Thoughts: Newcastle United 0-1 AFC Bournemouth

The last set of league games before the November International break is always a sombre occasion in British football as fans and players across the country mark Remembrance Sunday. A minutes silence was held at all games across the country. In a thrilling weekend of football on the pitch, there was the first round proper of the FA Cup. In the Premier League, Burnley continued surprising teams away from home; this time Southampton tasted defeat. Jose Mourinho’s poor record away against the Premier League top 6 continued as Alvaro Morata secured a 1-0 win for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Similarly, Arsene Wenger lost to Manchester City again and criticised poor refereeing as part of Arsenal’s 3-1 defeat. Everton showed great resilience to come from two goals down to win a league game, defeating Watford 3-2 and Mohamed Salah inspired Liverpool to a 4-1 win at West Ham in a game which saw the end of Slaven Bilic’s spell in charge.

Newcastle United line-up to face AFC Bournemouth 4/11/2017

At St James’ Park, Newcastle United hosted AFC Bournemouth in a Saturday 3 o’clock kick off. Rafa Benitez brought the changes as altered his sides starting formation for the first time this season. It was 4-4-2 for the home side as Dwight Gayle started alongside Joselu up front as Ayoze Perez dropped to the bench. The change also saw Aleksandar Mitrovic elevated to the substitutes bench. Mohamed Diame did not retain his starting spot as Isaac Hayden returned alongside Jonjo Shelvey in central midfield. Matt Ritchie and Christian Atsu remained on the wings while the back four was unchanged (DeAndre Yedlin, Jamaal Lascelles, Florian Lejeune and Javier Manquillo) and Rob Elliott remained in goal. read more

Match Thoughts: Burnley 1-0 Newcastle United

Halloween weekend saw few nightmare performances in truth in the Premier League with the exception of Everton. Having sacked Ronald Koeman with only two wins this season, they lost 2-0 at the King Power Stadium to Leicester City who had just appointed Claude Puel as manager on a three-year deal. The nightmare continued in the Championship for Sunderland though who lost 2-1 at home to Bristol City before a 3-3 draw with bottom side Bolton Wanderers saw the end of Simon Grayson.

Back to the Premier League though. Manchester United edged out Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 thanks to, Arsenal survived a scare to beat Swansea City 2-1 at the Emirates in Arsene Wenger’s 800th league game in charge of the Gunners. Liverpool exercised their Wembley demons by defeating Huddersfield Town 3-0 at Anfield despite Mohamed Salah missing a penalty while Manchester City similarly avoided a scare as they beat West Brom 3-2 at the Hawthorns. read more