Newcastle United: Rafael Benitez has major issues to address

Can Rafa keep Newcastle in the Premier League?
Can Rafa keep Newcastle in the Premier League?

Newcastle fan Kevin Doocey is delighted with the appointment of Rafael Benitez but knows the Spaniard faces a huge task at St James' Park. Here, our man discusses some of the problems Benitez must address if the club are to avoid relegation.

With four home games left (Sunderland, Palace, Swansea, Spurs) – performances on home soil will ultimately determine whether Newcastle suffer relegation.

On Friday, Newcastle United relieved head-coach Steve McClaren of his duties at St. James' Park and moved quickly to appoint Rafael Benitez as the club's new manager. McClaren departed after a truly dismal Premier League campaign that produced just six league wins. His replacement not only marks a change but also a paradigm shift with the powers that be at Newcastle.

Since Kevin Keegan resigned back 2008, Newcastle have settled for substandard managers. Our three previous appointments - Alan Pardew, John Carver and McClaren - continued the pattern of a British 'head coach'.

With the Magpies toiling in the relegation zone and just 10 games left in the Premier League, the club hierarchy have ripped up their own long-term blueprint in luring Benitez to the north east.

The Spaniard arrives on a three-year deal, with a reported salary of £2m, and a healthy survival bonus if he can steer us out of the bottom three. He is also allowed to depart to another club if relegation ensues. He brings his own backroom staff, and most notably, the club refer to him as Newcastle's new 'manager' and not 'head-coach' like McClaren. Rafa has arrived on his own terms, and that alone is very significant for the way the club is run.

The Spaniard has his work cut out and will need to address these key issues to stand a chance of ensuring survival.

Squad Motivation - a fractured dressing room

For the past two years, Newcastle have resembled a bunch of individuals rather than a team. Whether it's the uninspiring managers or the distraction of a move away from St. James' Park, there's been no team spirit for quite a while.

Rafa arrives with a wealth of experience, and an impressive CV. He has managed some of the biggest sides in the world and won trophies. If the current squad don't sit up and take notice from a winner like Benitez, then they don't deserve to be professional footballers. The Spaniard knows that motivating this bunch will be key to securing results on the pitch.

Defensive Woes

Newcastle United have somehow managed to ship 53 goals so far this campaign, leaving them with a goal difference of -25. Only Aston Villa - a seemingly already relegated side - have conceded more.

Benitez will need to work towards tightening things up at the back from now until May. With a reputation of building a side around a solid defensive shape, the former Real Madrid boss knows that goal difference could be the deciding factor in avoiding relegation, and correcting the side's defensive frailties will be high on his list of priorities.

Home Form - key to survival

In just over a week, rivals Sunderland come to St. James' Park in the hope of securing yet another victory against the Magpies. However, this encounter bears even more significance than usual. Sunderland are also battling against the drop, and the consensus in the north east is that either the Magpies or the Black Cats will be relegated. This Tyne-Wear derby is a must-win for the newly appointed Spaniard - the club cannot afford to drop points.

With four home games left (Sunderland, Palace, Swansea, Spurs) - performances on home soil will ultimately determine whether Newcastle suffer relegation. Benitez will be aiming to secure victory in all four of those matches, as 12 points may be just enough to stay in the Premier League. Away trips to Villa and Norwich could yield more points, but Benitez knows Newcastle need to start winning on Tyneside or they'll be heading to Burton Albion next year - its as simple as that.

The 55-year-old may have surprised world football by taking on the challenge of keeping Newcastle in the Premier League but, by doing so, he's already endeared himself to supporters. The entire football club - for the first time in almost a decade - is united in the club's survival mission, starting with Leicester City on Monday evening, a tie in which Newcastle are 6.611/2 to pull off an away victory.


Follow @KevinDoocey and visit his Newcastle United Blog.

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