Newcastle fans deserve better '“ and so does Rafa Benitez

'I'm not happy that we just have to survive every year.'

Monday, 6th August 2018, 7:00 am
Pre-season friendly between Newcastle United and Fc Augsburg at St James' Park, Newcastle. Karl Darlow of Newcastle United.

Newcastle United supporters aren’t happy with that, either.

That was Rafa Benitez had to say after Saturday’s defeat to Augsburg.

Benitez’s press conference was as revealing as the game itself, which the visitors won 1-0.

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Benitez again vented his frustration at the club’s efforts in the transfer market this summer.

The club could yet sign the three or four players United’s manager feels he needs, but fans aren’t holding their breath.

And whatever does happen before Thursday’s 5pm deadline could be too little, too late.

Benitez wants to challenge for trophies and European football.

Owner Mike Ashley, again absent at St James’s Park, is more concerned with the bottom line.

But that preoccupation with the balance sheet could lead to another season-long battle to stay out of the bottom three of the Premier League.

Benitez, having to sell to buy, told of his “surprise” at the club’s unwillingness to spend money in the media suite at St James’s Park after the Augsburg game, which his team had dominated.

They just hadn’t been able to score, which was a concern in itself.

“I’ve said before that I compete for trophies, even with less money, at Chelsea and Napoli,” said Benitez.

“At Valencia we were competing for trophies. Why? Because we had time and confidence from the top and then we delivered.

“Now I was expecting that we would be competing for something after one year especially after guaranteeing the money from TV this season.

“I’m a little bit surprised, but I will do my best.”

Benitez felt his players – who had capitualted against Braga in midweek – had done their best.

Striker Dwight Gayle wasn’t involved ahead of a loan swap with West Bromwich Albion’s Salomon Rondon. Nor was goalkeeper Martin Dubravka, who had a minor problem.

United were brighter and better with the ball, and Matt Ritchie and Christian Atsu were denied in the first half by Augsburg goalkeeper Andreas Luthe.

Ritchie was a bundle of energy for Newcastle, who lost Mohamed Diame to injury before the break.

Ayoze Perez shot wide after the break before an unmarked Michael Gregoritsch headed Augsburg ahead in the 61st minute.

Newcastle pressed for an equaliser, but they couldn’t get a breakthrough in front of a 21,331 crowd at St James’s Park.

The game told us little we didn’t know before kick-off.

It underlined the need for more firepower, though Yoshinori Muto, signed from Mainz last week, wasn’t involved, having not been able to train with his team-mates while he waited for a work permit.

Muto was signed as a replacement for Gayle, and Rondon, it seems, will replace Aleksandar Mitrovic – who joined Fulham last week – at St James’s Park.

The players, again, didn’t speak after the game because of an ongoing dispute about the proposed bonus scheme for the coming campaign.

That issue is another concern. When you lack quality and numbers, what you can’t lack is motivation.

Ashley, it seems, thinks players are paid enough as it is to win games, and he has a point.

But the club’s incentive scheme must match those at rival clubs.

United’s rivals have also spent heavily on players in this summer’s transfer market, and this year looks like being about survival.

Benitez, one of European football’s most respected coaches, deserves better.

And so do Newcastle’s fans.

NEWCASTLE UNITED: Darlow; Yedlin, Lascelles, Clark (Schar, 57), Dummett (Manquillo, 68); Hayden (Shelvey, 57), Diame (Ki, 29); Ritchie (Kenedy, 68), Perez (Roberts, 83), Atsu (Murphy, 57); Joselu. Subs not used: Elliot, Longstaff, Sterry.