Ask the Opposition

Ask the Opposition 21 – Newcastle

Following the comfortable 3-0 win over Chelsea, Manchester City head to St. James’ Park, where they face a desperate Newcastle team struggling to stay afloat in the Premier League. Rafa Benitez got his first win at the weekend against Swansea and will be going for another against a Manchester City side that has been resuscitated by the return of Kevin De Bruyne. The Blues have looked emphatic since the international break and are peaking just before the huge Champions League semi-final tie against Real Madrid.

To get the latest from Tyneside, we spoke to Newcastle fan and all round good guy Jonny Gabriel.

Hi Jonny, thanks for coming on. Is it fair to place all the blame of your current predicament on Steve McClaren or has this disaster of a season been in the works since before the summer?

This has been coming from a long time and the warning signs have been here since Alan Pardew’s time in charge. People often point to our 5th placed finish under him in 2011/2012 but he led us to 16th the next season and has to take some responsibility for the 15th placed finish last year, even if we ended up with John Carver in charge.

Steve McClaren was the wrong manager at the wrong time, we’d been crying out for a change and somebody to freshen things up but he never seemed the right fit which makes out pursuit of him over the years even more strange. He was out of his depth, but at the same time you could tell he always wanted to do his best but it simply wasn’t good enough. As a man he seems great but as a manager he was lacking the necessary ability for what we need.

Of course, there is a common denominator in the time all the managers mentioned have been at the club; Mike Ashley. If there’s one single person the problems we face can be pinned on then it’s him.

Is there a sense among fans of ‘oh I wish we appointed Rafa Benitez before we were doomed for the drop’? He very much feels like the ideal coach to re-establish you as strong Premier League side.

It has often been said that Benitez likes ‘a project’ and I think that’s a good way of looking at Newcastle. There’s a lot of components at the club that have obviously tempted him to come here and could set us in good stead going forward with an experienced and respected manager like Benitez in charge.

There is a sense of wishing we could have appointed him earlier, or someone of his stature sooner, because it does feel like perhaps he has come in a bit too late. We needed an appointment like this after Pardew left for Crystal Palace, if not earlier, but instead we got Carver and then McClaren.

Hopefully we survive and Benitez has a whole summer to shape the squad how he wants, instill his ideas and methods properly and then we’ll see how it goes from there.

You spent quite a lot in January, bringing in Shelvey, Townsend and Doumbia. Have they, like your summer signings, just not worked out like you hoped they would?

With all the signings we’ve made for this season, it seems like they just haven’t all performed at the same time. Wijnaldum was great for the first couple of months but then tailed off, and Mitrovic came into some solid for a few weeks ago, but they don’t seem to all be able to click at the same time.

With the players signed in January; Shelvey started off great and was the type of player we’ve been missing since we sold Yohan Cabaye, his range of passing is great and he has a knack of dictating play really well but he’s dropped off a bit now. Townsend got bedded in slowly to begin with given he hadn’t really played anything but under-21s games for Tottenham, but he’s really been a bright spark in the last few matches and I think his pace has been crucial to the way Benitez has tried to get us playing.

Doumbia’s signing remains a mystery almost as strange as when we brought Facundo Ferreyra in on loan a couple of seasons back. And the fact our signing of Henri Saivet didn’t even make your list speaks volumes, a man supposed to replace Chieck Tiote that can’t even get in the side ahead of Jack Colback.

City are now in the last four in the Champions League. Do you think we can go all the way?

You’ve got at least a 25% chance of doing it. I think getting Real Madrid in the semi was the best draw; Atletico would be tough to breakdown and then have a lot of the counter to cause problems and Bayern are still this huge behemoth of a club. Real Madrid, even if the prospect of Cristiano Ronaldo against Mangala and Otamendi is frightening, still leave pockets and gaps that the likes of Agüero and De Bruyne can exploit.

Then in the final, in a one off game, you always have a chance even if Atletico and Bayern have all those positives over two legs there’s always a way to sneak a win.

One City player you’d take at Newcastle?

Just one? Given all our difficulties this season in scoring goals and making chances then it has to be Sergio Agüero. He’s got the ability to make chance after chance of his own and then put them away. Our defence may be rotten but at least we’d know there’s always a good chance of us getting at least one goal down the other end.

Score prediction?

Both clubs are on a high after the respective 3-0 wins, being the pessimistic fan that I am the best we can hope for is a draw so I’ll go with 1-1. I just hope we’re not on the end of double figures really.

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