SINCE making a much-publicised appearance at St James’ Park at the start of October, Amanda Staveley has not watched a Newcastle United game in person. If, however, she has been keeping abreast of their performances from afar, she should be clear about one thing.

If she is serious about wanting to take over from Mike Ashley, she needs to push through a deal in time to be able to invest in next month’s transfer window. If she waits until the summer, she could find herself taking charge of a club that is back in the Championship.

As things stand, Newcastle are having to endure a painful state of purgatory. Potential salvation lies just around the corner, tantalisingly offering the potential of a much brighter future. But with every week that passes without a takeover going through, the situation in the present deteriorates markedly.

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Taken in isolation, a defeat at the home of the reigning champions is not something to set the alarm bells ringing. But the wider context of Newcastle’s 3-1 loss at Chelsea is that they have now picked up just one point from the last available 18. They have won just one of their last ten matches, and while they remain five points and four places above the drop zone, their position is becoming ever more precarious with every game that passes.

Rafael Benitez knows that, but speaking in the press room of the stadium that once saw him lead Chelsea to European glory, he was keen to revert to his tried-and-tested narrative of thwarted ambition. To Benitez, the results of the last two months should not be a surprise given Ashley’s refusal to back him during the summer transfer window. His players are doing their best, but while he has just about stopped short of saying it directly in the last few weeks, it is clear he accepts that some are simply not good enough.

“We knew from day one that we will be in the bottom half of the league,” said Benitez, who has undoubtedly become bolder in terms of his willingness to directly challenge the decisions made by Ashley and Lee Charnley this summer. “It is not a surprise to anyone.

“We have to improve, but I think we have enough quality to stay up. To stay up? I think so. But when people talk about these games, this is the Premier League. We know we have to improve a lot of things, but still we will be a team in the bottom half of the table. Is this a difficult moment? No. It is exactly what we were expecting on the first of September.”

Which brings us to the first of January. When asked whether January would be a big month for Newcastle, Benitez replied, “I have no idea”. When asked whether he didn’t know, he said, “I have no idea”. Because of the takeover? “I have no idea”. Clearly, the Magpies manager remains well and truly in the dark.

The truth is that nobody knows, because nobody knows whether Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners group will have completed their proposed takeover before the transfer window closes for the final time this season at the end of next month.

If a deal goes through in the next five or six weeks, there might still be time to complete the kind of purchases that could transform Newcastle’s fortunes. Sources in the Middle East continue to talk of a potential £100m transfer kitty, and Staveley is understood to be keen to invest as quickly as possible in the event of a successful takeover in order to protect her investment.

If, however, talks collapse or continue to stall, it is extremely hard to imagine Ashley putting his hand into his pocket to sign a £30m striker or £15m centre-half. If there is no takeover, Benitez will have to go with what he has, and on the evidence of the last two months, that would mean a frantic battle to stay out of the bottom three. Despite the Spaniard’s confidence, there is little at the moment to suggest he would win it.

Newcastle patently don’t have the players to compete with Chelsea or Manchester United – the next two games will show whether they are capable of matching Leicester City or Everton. If they are unable to do so, the prospects for the second half of the season will be grim.

Benitez has to take some responsibility for that, and for all that he is right to bemoan this summer’s lack of investment, some of the Spaniard’s decision-making in the last few weeks has been at best questionable, and at worst downright misjudged.

Saturday’s decision to switch to a five-man defence was an attempt to mirror the formation that has proved so effective for Chelsea under Antonio Conte, but it fell down because of the need to play Matt Ritchie at left wing-back.

The Scotsman looked all at sea from the outset, unsure whether to drop deep to give himself space to cover Victor Moses’ attacking runs or push up in an attempt to force his opposite number back. In the end, he got himself into an almighty muddle, with his misjudged header enabling Moses to cross for Chelsea’s second goal and his rash challenge on the same opponent resulting in the penalty that allowed Eden Hazard to score the home side’s third.

Playing Ritchie at wing-back didn’t work, although it was still more sensible than the decision to name Mo Diame in the starting line-up. Diame has underperformed in all his Premier League appearances this season, yet Benitez still retains faith in him. Having spent the best part of two years trying to sell Moussa Sissoko, Newcastle have managed to find a central midfielder more lumbering and ineffectual than the Frenchman.

It wasn’t all bad from a Magpies perspective, and having shaded the opening ten minutes, the visitors claimed a surprise 12th-minute lead when Chelsea’s defenders failed to deal with Florian Lejeune’s long ball. Marcos Alonso’s prodded back-pass played Thibaut Courtois into trouble, and the ball broke kindly for Dwight Gayle to roll home.

Andreas Christensen headed against the post as Chelsea responded brightly to falling behind, and the hosts levelled when Lejeune could only divert Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross to Hazard, who fired a first-time volley past Karl Darlow.

Chelsea scored again shortly after the half-hour mark, as Newcastle’s defensive failings one again proved their undoing. Ritchie headed a cross-field ball to Moses, he crossed from the right, and Alvaro Morata brushed aside a hesitant Chancel Mbemba to head home from inside the six-yard box.

Hazard scored his second goal of the afternoon from the penalty spot after Ritchie felled Moses, and the Belgian would have completed his hat-trick had it not been for a fine save from Darlow.

Hazard was sensational, and with Belgium having been drawn with England in next summer’s World Cup finals, Gareth Southgate will spend the next few months worrying about how to stop the mercurial midfielder.

That is a difficult challenge, but it is nothing compared to the conundrum Benitez will be facing between now and next summer if Staveley is unable to come riding to the rescue.