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Braga 4 Newcastle United 0: Troubling defeat exposes Rafa Benitez’s weak spots

Newcastle take on Braga at the Estadio Municipal de Braga.
Newcastle take on Braga at the Estadio Municipal de Braga.

Newcastle United just aren’t the same team without Jonjo Shelvey and Kenedy – and that’s a BIG worry for Rafa Benitez.

Benitez has just a week left to strengthen his team.

And last night’s 4-0 defeat to Braga underlined Newcastle’s over-reliance on Shelvey and Kenedy, who weren’t involved.

So what’s being done off the field to address that?

The club, which last week sold Aleksandar Mitrovic to Fulham for £20million, has made a substantial profit on player trading so far this summer. And fans are asking where the money has gone ahead of the August 9 transfer deadline.

Benitez, having to sell to buy, has added players, but has he strengthened his squad, let alone his starting XI? United’s manager needs match-winners – and quickly – but they don’t come cheap.

The team that faced Braga didn’t have one new face in it, though Fabian Schar and Ki Sung-yueng came off the bench on a blisteringly hot day in Portugal.

Benitez is frustrated, and there’s increasing anger among fans at owner Mike Ashley’s unwillingness to back his manager.

The game, played at the stunning two-sided Estadio Municipal de Braga, came after days of speculation over the United future of Gayle, who had been left on the bench for the club’s previous friendly against Porto.

A proposed swap deal for West Bromwich Albion striker Salomon Rondon had stalled on ahead of the fixture.

The short-term future of Gayle, reluctant to leave the club, looks to lie at Newcastle unless he has a change of heart on a move between now and the deadline.

And Benitez must seemingly now look elsewhere for a striker in the final week of the window – unless the club, which has made a substantial profit on player trading this summer, belatedly backs him and activates Rondon’s £16.5million release clause.

Midfielder Shelvey – who had missed a training session ahead of the game – sat out the friendly as a precaution. Winger Kenedy, meanwhile, didn’t travel to Portugal after being given some paternity leave.

There were more than 100 United fans at the two-sided stadium, built on the site of a former quarry.

The game, which kicked off in 34-degree heat, lacked the intensity of the Porto game, though both teams created early chances. Braga goalkeeper denied Ayoze Perez in the second minute.

United goalkeeper Martin Dubravka did well to keep out a header later in the half before Perez shot over at the other end of the pitch.

Wilson Eduardo struck the post as the half-hour mark approached and Braga upped the pressure.

Newcastle themselves delivered a series of balls into the Braga box, but the Primeira Liga side were able to comfortably deal with most of what Benitez’s side, which had a five-man defence, threw at them before the break.

The temperature had cooled, but only slightly, by the time the players took to the field again. Benitez replaced captain Jamaal Lascelles with Schar.

United went behind in the 53rd minute. Ricardo Horta cut in from the left-hand side on to his right foot and tucked a low shot into the bottom right-hand corner.

Wilson should have extended Braga’s lead, but he somehow shot wide in the 71st minute.

Joao Navais, however, took his chance in the 77th minute to put the game beyond United.

Fransergio added a third goal with five minutes left, and Dyego Sousa capped a miserable night with a fourth.

NEWCASTLE UNITED: Dubravka; Yedlin (Joselu, 70), Lascelles (Schar, 46), Clark, Dummett; Diame, Hayden (Ki, 62); Ritchie (Roberts, 80), Perez (Longstaff, 80), Atsu (Murphy, 62); Gayle. Subs not used: Darlow, Elliot, Manquillo, Sterry, Yarney, Fernandez, Armstrong.