The long and boring break was finally over as soon as Andre Marriner blew the whistle on Sunday afternoon. Newcastle may have lost but there are still a lot of positives to be taken from the game.
Many predicted Spurs to turn Newcastle over on Sunday, that simply didn’t happen. Rafael Benitez’s men contained Spurs for much of the game, there was not a lot in the game before Jonjo Shelvey was rightly sent off.
While it is clear that more players are needed at Newcastle, there are signs of a squad more than capable of staying away from danger this season. Christian Atsu, I thought was very impressive on Sunday. The Ghanaian has improved massively under Benitez and I believe he will turn out to be quite a bargain, especially in this market. Florian Lejeune continued to impress before being hacked down by Harry Kane, the Frenchman will be a huge player for us this season.
When Shelvey was banned last season, it was clear that Newcastle missed his creativity. The positive this time around is we have an ideal replacement in Mikel Merino. The Spaniard came on as a substitute on Sunday and really caught my eye. We all know Shelvey has a superb range of passing, however, a lot of the time he stops to admire his work. Merino was quite the opposite, picking a pass and moving into space to receive the ball again. A typical Spanish midfielder, calm and composed on the ball.
In my opinion, under the likes of Alan Pardew and Steve McClaren that game would’ve finished 5 or 6 nil after the sending off. Under Benitez it’s different, his tactics are second to none and will not allow the players’ heads to drop after a mistake. I have said this before and I’ll say it again, this group of players have been underestimated massively and written off far too soon. There’s a nucleus of a decent squad at Newcastle now. It is refreshing to see a group of players that want to be successful at the club.
The Newcastle players want to play for Benitez, a commitment previous managers failed to receive. There is a different feeling within the squad than there was under McClaren during the 15/16 season. This is a close knit group, which will only help as the season continues. There are no divisions in this side, which is another thing Benitez has eradicated since his arrival.
Despite the defeat, I am confident of a solid season. The early signs are promising and with a few new arrivals to come, I honestly believe we have nothing to worry about this season.
Graeme Bell @GraemeBell_nufc