Boxing day är som ni vet en klassisk fotbollsdag i England och i år bjuder den dessutom på ett kärt återseende. Newcastle kommer till Liverpool och det betyder att Rafa Benitez kommer att stå vid sidlinjen. Spanjoren har ett tufft jobb i en klubb som suktat efter en försäljning i många år, men har trots det gjort skatorna till ett svårspelat lag. Jake Jackman(@JakeJackmann) från @eplroundtable följer laget troget och berättar här om säsongens första halva:
- You are currently 15th in the table, five poins from 18th and relegation. Are you satisfied with the first half of the season?
It has been okay so far. The summer was disappointing and it has left us with low expectations for the season. If we stay up, that will be a huge success, but it is sad that a club of our size has been reduced to that. To be five points clear at this stage is impressive considering the start we had, but with two or three more quality players, we’d be a lot higher and that’s the frustration.
- Has Rafa changed anything from the last season or do you play in the same way now as last year?
Not at all. If anything, it has got more negative. We played five at the back against a team that hadn’t kept a clean sheet all season on Saturday. Fulham then ended that run at the back and it was one of the first times that Rafa has faced vocal criticism for his tactics. It gets results and will probably keep us up, but it’s boring to watch.
- Gini Wijnaldum has developed into a very important player for us since we signed him from Newcastle, how did you rate him when he was at Newcastle? Are you surprised to see him as one of most frequently used midfielders at Liverpool?
I’m not surprised at all. I’ve been a fan of Wijnaldum since breaking through in the Eredivisie. His role has changed at Liverpool, but it has been a return to where he played in the Netherlands. He is an excellent footballer, who doesn’t stand out as much at Anfield, but he is showing his worth after intense competition was brought in.
- Which Newcastle-players have impressed you the most this season? Any disappointments?
The defenders have been the standout performers as you would expect from a Benitez team. Fernandez has been a great signing and looks to be the player from the Swansea defence that was Premier League quality as opposed to Manson who has been average since leaving. Schar has been very good and had some ball-playing qualities that makes him a more exciting player to watch. Rondon has been an excellent performer since getting fit and looks to be the perfect forward for the Benitez system. He will be a player I expect to cause problems for Lovren on Boxing Day. His raw strength is quite something to witness and no defender will relish the opportunity of facing him.
- What are your expectations on the second part of the season?
Survival has to be the goal. It isn’t glamorous but as I stated before, it is the reality of the situation that we now find ourselves in. The worry is what happens past then as the ownership situation is uncertain and Benitez’s contract is up at the end of the season. There will be change, but hopefully it’s in the boardroom and not the dugout.
- January is getting closer, do you think there will be any new players coming in at Newcastle?
I think there will be signings but maybe not the calibre of player that we need. Benitez is already in transfer window mode with a lot of his media comments and it is clear that he is setting out his stall early. His contract situation gives him some strength there. We need creativity to fix our attacking problems. Miguel Almiron from Atlanta United seems to be the main target. Let’s hope he comes in.
- What kind of game do you expect on Boxing day?
I would expect a very defensive performance from Newcastle as we look to keep things tight and nick something on the counter. It’s hard to see us taking anything from the game, but we have scored in every game against a top six team this season, despite the negative tactics .