Rafa Benitez evaluates the performance of Newcastle United's summer signings
'Five plus one.'
That is the term Rafa Benitez uses to describe Newcastle United’s business in the summer transfer window.
The stressing of “plus one” – which refers to Christian Atsu, who was effectively a loan deal made permanent – is just a little insight into the thinking of the Spaniard, who has made it very clear he did not get anywhere near what he wanted, or felt he had been promised by the Magpies hierarchy after promotion.
Speaking to the manager, it is clear that, despite still thinking the window was in many ways a disaster, he is more than happy with the players he currently has at his disposal.
And he is more than up for the challenge of coaching each one of them to improve as individuals, which is apparent in the recent performances of the likes of captain Jamaal Lascelles, Isaac Hayden even Atsu and Ayoze Perez.
Of those who served United so well in the Championship, it is clear a number of players with question marks over their heads have stepped up to the mark but what about the new boys – Florian Lejeune, Javier Manquillo, Mikel Merino, Joselu, Jacob Murphy and his “plus one” Atsu?
How have they progressed? Who has been his stand out performer? And who still has to make their mark at St James’s Park?
Benitez has evaluated the performance of each of his summer captures.
Merino, as expected gets obvious praise, as well as Murphy, a £12million buy from Norwich City, the manager’s biggest signing of the summer. The latter may come as a shock to some given that he has started just once in seven Premier League outings so far – the 1-0 win at Swansea City in which the 22-year-old lasted just 59 minutes.
Below are Benitez’s comments on all SIX of Newcastle’s buys...
“Sometimes players with quality with Mikel, it’s easier for the fans to see what they are bringing,” said Benitez when asked if he was surprised at how quickly the Dortmund loanee has adapted to life in the English top flight.
“But the other summer signings, each one is doing their job.”
“People were criticising Manquillo because he was coming from Sunderland and Liverpool and saying he had not done well,” said Benitez on the bargain buy from Atletico Madrid.
“But he was not coming to start the season, he was coming to stay on the bench and then, little by little, start playing more.
“But then (DeAndre) Yedlin was injured and he had to play at right-full-back, then the other day at left-full-back.
“He has given us a little bit and still he can give us much more.
“It’s a question of time that, over time, he will keep improving.
“I am happy with him and the other players who work very hard and want to improve, even if still they are not playing at the level that maybe they can play.”
“You go to Jacob Murphy, for example, he is another one who is a young player, who trains well,” said Benitez on a player who fans have seen very little of in black and white to date.
“He trains in another way, he has Atsu and (Matt) Ritchie playing well, so he needs some time to make sure he will be fine.”
“Lejeune, he was doing really well,” said Benitez, who it is clear when speaking to him, he sees as a potential leader in the United defence this season.
“He was excellent in pre-season, then he was injured and then (Ciaran) Clark and Lascelles have been playing well so I wanted to carry on with them.
“But Lejeune is another one who can give us something different in defence.”
Benitez rates the £8million summer addition from Eibar very highly, and interestingly, given Lascelles high stock, it could turn out to be a shoot-out between Clark and the Frenchman for the other slot in the Magpies’ centre of defence.
Benitez continued: “He will be another player that in the end I will be very happy with because he is very professional.
“On the ball he is quite comfortable, and he can also win balls in the air.
“In terms of improving our possession statistics, maybe he can help with things like that.”
“Joselu, obviously you know people were talking about him too,” said Benitez about a striker who has made the headlines lately for his missed chances more than his goals tally, despite a crucial, if lucky, equaliser that earned a point against former club Liverpool last time out.
“But we knew about the potential of Joselu.
“We know still he is a player that was not playing too much and he has to improve physically, and then he will improve in the other areas.”
Finishing is one thing that has been questioned about the former Stoke City and Real Madrid man.
But Benitez is in absolutely no doubt, that is not one of the Spaniard’s weaknesses.
For the manager, he thinks it is simple a case of confidence.
“His finishing, people say: ‘Oh no’,” said Benitez.
“He is a good finisher in training sessions.
“What we have to be sure is that we can replicate what he does in the training sessions in matches.
“It is a mixture of things though – sometimes it is the anxiety, the pressure, that you have to manage.”
Competition, with the return to fitness of Dwight Gayle and Aleksandar Mitrovic after suspension.
“He is someone who I think will do well,” said Benitez.
“Especially once he has competition, because remember we lost Mitrovic.
“You have to be sure that you have players available and that they can compete for the positions.
“I think the five plus one – with Atsu – signings, they will give us something at certain points.
“Some of them right now, some of them will need some more time, but they will give us something different and we will be a bit better when compared with last season.”