ONLY two of the nine teams Newcastle United have faced this season have managed to beat them by more than the one goal.

Rather than those being Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester City or Manchester United, it was Leicester City and Nottingham Forest of the Championship that have secured a greater margin.

That also highlights why, despite occupying a place in the Premier League’s bottom three after eight games, Newcastle haven’t got the worst goal difference among the clubs shuffling for position towards the foot of the table.

But only Crystal Palace, Huddersfield and Cardiff City have scored fewer, and the fact Newcastle’s only two cleans – and points - have been in goalless draws against Palace and Cardiff suggests the problems on the pitch are potentially worse than Rafa Benitez is letting on.

Now Benitez knows Newcastle have a run of nine matches before the trip to Liverpool on Boxing Day to prove they are not a team destined for the drop this season. Is this Newcastle squad capable of doing that before the January sales?

Here’s what Benitez will be pinning his hopes on before then:


It is said Benitez’s preferred lone striker system has worked before so it can work again.

The Spaniard would even argue, because of the closeness of a number of matches, that it has not been the tactics’ fault for the winless start.

But Newcastle can’t afford to rely on the counter attack for the rest of 2018 and if Benitez keeps playing with the same formation and style, he needs his team to be a greater threat in terms of the midfielders, the wide-men and even the full-backs joining up with attacks.


Nine matches, three strikers but just three goals scored between them – hardly the recipe for a sustained charge towards the top ten is it?

The worry from a Newcastle point of view is that none of Joselu, Yoshinori Muto and Salomon Rondon possess the historical strike-rate required to really kick the team on. These three – or at least one of them - must show they have what is required to score goals.

Joselu, who has scored twice, lacks confidence whenever he is near the box, Rondon has not got off the mark yet, and Muto has not looked up to speed before he scored at Manchester United.


It would be wrong to suggest that Martin Dubravka is to blame for Newcastle’s poor start and not many are. However, he will be frustrated with the amount of times he has conceded so far.

The standard of his shot-stopping and decision making was of the highest order last season, but he has not been able to reach those heights as yet this season even if he has performed reasonably well.

Dubravka does need greater protection in front of him but Newcastle could do with him recapturing the sort of form that he arrived with to help in the fight to stay up.


Jamaal Lascelles’ much-publicised spat with Matt Ritchie last month coupled with claims that he had also disagreed with elements of Benitez’s tactics has not been helped by a dip in performance levels this season.

Lascelles was a £50m-rated defender in the summer but, as the old football adage goes, you’re only as good as your last game.

Was his head slightly affected by the talk of Chelsea and whoever else in the summer? Only he will know.

What matters now, for his own career and for Newcastle, is that the team captain proves why he was one of the hottest English defenders in the country.