International break could be a blessing in disguise for Newcastle United

International break could be a blessing in disguise for Newcastle United


After a very positive second-half display against Sunderland, there is a brief sense of optimism and hope that they can still claw themselves out of the relegation zone.

It was only a draw, but it could prove to be an invaluable point come the end of the season. Obviously a victory would have been greatly desired and would have relieved the pressure a little more, but the way the Magpies fought back and controlled the second 45 minutes should be heartening for fans.

Over the next two weeks, Rafa Benitez has the opportunity to really work with this group of players, get them all playing the way he wants them to, and to formulate a game plan similar to the one that has made him a respected manager worldwide.


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Already in the fortnight the Spaniard has been at St James’ Park he has turned the Magpies into a far more solid and cohesive unit, now he needs to work on turning that organisation into points with the clock ticking.

During the first-half on Sunday, Sunderland were clearly the better side. The Black Cats arrived at St James Park with a clever strategy and they disrupted Newcastle’s flow. Benitez’s side struggled for rhythm, and didn’t have any efficiency or desire during the opening 45 minutes.

If Sunderland had played the same way throughout the entirety of the game, Newcastle would probably have lost. But thankfully for Newcastle, during the second-half, the Black Cats sat a lot deeper and the Magpies grew into the game and eventually got their rewards with an equaliser. Georginio Wijnaldum and Jonjo Shelvey started to actually have an influence in the game and the former provided a lovely cross for Aleksandar Mitrovic to attack and grab the leveler.

In the end, a draw was probably a fair result, but despite dropping two points, Newcastle can take positives from the derby.

Firstly, the abysmal record against Sunderland has been somewhat halted, as a loss on Sunday would have been their seventh in a row against their bitter rivals. Also, the second half showed a glimpse of what this Newcastle side can actually do when they have a little bit of confidence and some direction.

Benitez knows there is the basis for a decent team there, but the fact that Steve McClaren’s run ended on the back of a poor losing run, it means that the squad is lacking confidence and that has been evident in Benitez’s first two matches in charge.

Now, with a two-week hiatus to think up the perfect game plan to take to fellow strugglers Norwich City, Benitez has the chance deliver the result Newcastle so desperately need. McClaren seemed to waste the 18-day gap they had mid February when they went to Spain, but one gets the feeling Benitez would manage his time more efficiently.

The players need that time with Rafa to learn his methods and gain some self-belief, while Benitez needs that time to be able to get his ideas across to his squad. One thing is for certain, the match against Norwich is do or die. Lose and they will be six points from safety and just about consigned to the Championship, win and they will put themselves in a great position to pull off an escape.

If anyone can save this once great club from dropping into the second tier it is Benitez, and the extra time he has with the squad over the international break can only be beneficial.

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