Det blir ett kärt återseende på Anfield i helgen, Rafa Benitez kommer på besök med sitt Newcastle och det är nog ingen vågad gissning att han kommer att varmt välkomnande. Hans nuvarande lag kommer med en svit på fyra raka matcher utan förlust, bland de matcherna finns en seger mot en av våra toppkonkurrenter, Manchester United. Jake Jackmann(@JakeJackmann) är skribent på bl.a. EPLindex(@eplindex) och NUFC360(@NUFC360) och berättar här om skatornas säsong:
1. You have played four games in a row without losing, but only managed to win one out of those four, what are your thoughts on the past month for your club?
It’s been encouraging and frustrating at the same time. We’ve scored first in each of those matches and only managed to win once, which was incredibly against Manchester United. I think the last month shows that the team still lacks the ability to manage matches and that comes through experience. We have a young team and it is still learning. If we do manage to stay up, they will be stronger for the experience and be able to see matches out more often next year, as a lot of the late goals we concede are avoidable. We’ve only lost twice in our last ten, both against Manchester City. That’s not the sign of a side that will be relegated.
2. I guess that you are getting a bit tired of talking about the ownership situation, but can you tell us a bit about the current situation? What is happening around Ashley?
I think Ashley does want to sell, but you are right, it is getting tiresome. The difficulty has been his high asking price as we would become one of the biggest sales in Premier League history if it was to happen for £350m and for that reason, it is easy to see why prospective buyers are hesitant. The word is that the latest TV deal wasn’t as high as Ashley was expecting and it could lead to him selling up more easily, but we will see. It is difficult to sell a club that is battling relegation as our future is uncertain. If we stay up, I think the situation will become clearer.
3. You signed three players on loan in january, what impact have they made since they arrived?
Islam Slimani hasn’t had an impact as he has been out injured, which shows the risk of leaving it until the last minute. He may not play a game for us at this rate and although he is a better striker than we currently possess, he isn’t much good on the sidelines. Kenedy has been really impressive and provided a spark down the left wing, while his set-piece deliveries have been excellent. It shows the quality of player that Chelsea have in their reserves and it is a shame that they are hoarding talent and not letting them get major game-time elsewhere. Martin Dubravka has been the most impressive though with two assured performances to his name already. He was man of the match against Manchester United and came in as a relative unknown. The keeper proves that Rafa can still find value in this market, even with a tiny budget!
4. There has been a lot of praise for your captain, Jamal Lascelles, this season, how would you describe him as a player and do you think he is a player for the national team this summer?
Lascelles is very much an old fashioned centre half, as he is no-nonsense and puts his body on the line at every opportunity. He is dominant in the air and a good reader of the game. Although he is brave, he is rarely caught out of position and only dives in when necessary. His most impressive attribute is his leadership, as the team are noticeably better with him than without. That is shown by our defensive record as we concede considerably more when he is out of the team. I’d say he is a good outside bet for the World Cup squad and for my money, he should go. We lack leaders and he is already a great one at a young age.
5. You are currently in the relegation battle, how do you rate your chances of staying up?
I’m quietly confident. As horrible as the current table is in terms of points between 11th-19th, it means that there is greater room for error as there are another 7-8 clubs fighting to achieve the same aim. During our last relegation fight, it was a head-to-head contest with Sunderland, but this year, if we can better the results of three teams, we will stay up. Given our recent form and gradual improvement under Benitez, I’m confident that we can do that. West Brom are already well on their way to the Championship and I’m sure we can better the results of two other teams down there.
6. Both Middlesbrough and Sunderland are out of Premiership, why do you think the club´s in the north of England is struggling?
Middlesbrough have struggled for a long time and it is difficult to know why. They have an owner willing to spend money, but have struggled to find the right manager. In that sense, Tony Pulis is a good appointment and will likely deliver Premier League security if given time. Sunderland have been totally mismanaged and we have an unambitious owner. The geography probably doesn’t help either. Players want to live in London and teams in the South appeal more, especially if the same money is on offer.
7. What kind of game do you expect on Anfield?
I expect a similar game to the first match where we looked to defend deep, restrict space and counter quickly. In Gayle, Kenedy and Atsu, we have players with pace and hopefully we can restrict your chances. We did well against Manchester City, keeping the score down and offering a threat in the attacking half. A similar gameplan is likely at Anfield. It’s difficult to see us taking anything from the game given your current form, but if anyone can deliver a positive result, it is Rafa!