Newcastle announced this week that Rafael Benitez will continue as manager next season following their relegation to the Sky Bet Championship. The Spaniard was appointed following the dismissal of Steve McClaren but was unable to guide the Magpies to safety as he wasn’t given enough time. Many believe Benitez could have saved Newcastle from the perils of relegation had he been signed earlier.
He ended the Premier League season beating Tottenham 5-1 and created a strong bond with the Newcastle faithful. It was widely expected that the former Real Madrid manager would execute a break clause inserted into his three-year-deal in the event of relegation but Benitez has decided to help guide his side back to the riches of the Premier League.
Using Football Manager 16, we attempt to predict whether Newcastle can perform in the Championship and return to the Premier League under Benitez’s guidance…
After spending heavily in the last two transfer windows to recruit the likes of Andros Townsend, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Jonjo Shelvey, Benitez was forced to operate with zero transfer funds. The Newcastle board clearly felt their squad was more than capable of winning the Championship meaning no money was spent during the summer transfer window.
Freddie Woodman, Lubomir Satka and Gabriel Obertan all left the club on loan during the transfer window which concluded Newcastle’s summer dealings.
In January, the Magpies looked to add firepower to their ranks and swooped to sign Southampton’s Shane Long for a bargain price of just £1.4m. It was the only signing made by Newcastle all season.
Many names left St. James Park during the mid-season window as Massadio Haidara joined Crystal Palace in a deal worth £3.5m. Papiss Cisse ended his long association with the club following a lack of first-team football and joined Wolves for just £1.2. The biggest departure was young Spanish forward, Ayoze Perez, who left for Liverpool with the Reds splashing out £12.5m to bring the forward to Anfield.
Benitez stuck to a traditional 4-3-2-1 which he had favoured during the final games of his Premier League season. Veteran goalkeeper, Tim Krul, returned to full fitness and took his place between the sticks and made 50 appearances in all competitions.
Daryl Janmaat kept his place at right-back alongside Chancel Mbemba and Fabricio Coloccini at centre-half. Following the departure of Haidara, it was Dutch midfielder Vernon Anita who was preferred at left-back where he notched up 39 appearances for the Toon.
Despite being unable to force his way into Benitez’s plans during Newcastle’s fight for survival, Henri Saivet became a crucial player during the Championship season. He made 36 appearances and netted 10 goals from central midfield alongside Shelvey.
Yoan Gouffran was preferred to Townsend on the left side of midfield despite looking destined for the exit door. The Frenchman found a new lease of life in the Championship and helped his team’s cause with nine goals. Talismanic playmaker, Georginio Wijnaldum, also enjoyed another fine season with the club from the attacking midfield position; scoring 11 goals in 51 appearances. On the right side of midfield, Moussa Sissoko flourished in a more advanced position.
On loan striker, Seydou Doumbia was the favoured option up front as Mitrovic dropped the bench whilst Perez left for Liverpool.
One player really stood out for the Magpies in their first season back in the Championship and it was Sissoko. The powerful Frenchman excelled from a right wing role and scored 19 goals in the process, finishing as the club’s top goal scorer for the season. He was named in the Championship Team of the Year and won Newcastle’s Player of the Year award. The former Toulouse midfielder will be hoping for a similar season under Benitez again.
Mbemba also enjoyed a superb season after finally adapting to life in England. The former Anderlecht defender averaged a 7.33 rating which was the joint highest in the squad. His performances attracted the likes of AC Milan and Atletico Madrid but Benitez was able to convince the 21-year-old to stay at the club.
Shelvey also showed his worth following a disappointing first season at St. James Park. The former Liverpool midfielder failed to have the desired impact following his £12m move from Swansea but his fortunes improved in the lower division. He ended the season with an average rating of 7.26 and became one of Benitez’s most influential players.
It was a season to forget for Jack Colback. The former Sunderland midfielder lost his place in the side due to the form of Saivet which restricted the 26-year-old to just 2 starts all season and with interest from Aston Villa and Huddersfield, it is likely that the Englishman will be sold.
Cheick Tiote and Siem de Jong also fell out of favour with Benitez with alternative options preferred. Tiote made just 11 starts and 15 appearances from the bench as his Spanish manager opted for Shelvey in the engine room. De Jong made just 11 starts but netted four goals and had been rumoured with a move back to the Netherlands.
Newcastle were simply unstoppable as they ran rampant in the Championship and secured the title with ease. The Magpies lost just five games and finished with 103 points as they celebrated promotion back to the Premier League. Benitez’s side finished just two points off Reading’s record number of points during the 2005/06 season. They finished 21 points ahead of second-placed Norwich who also secured a return to the Premier League at the first attempt. Aston Villa were unable to beat Huddersfield in the play-off final meaning it was another season in the Championship for the Villains.
In the Capital One Cup, Newcastle were narrowly beaten by Bournemouth in the third round meaning an early exit for the Magpies. Bournemouth enjoyed a fine run to the semi-final where they were beaten by eventual winners, Manchester United.
However, in the FA Cup, Newcastle’s fortunes were much different. Benitez was able to knock out former sides Chelsea and Liverpool before a trip to Wembley as they reached the semi-final of the competition. They were beaten on penalties by Manchester United who went on to lift the trophy for the second successive season.
Benitez’s second season in the North East was a huge success. He guided his side back to the Premier League at the first time of asking and did it in style. Newcastle fans will be hoping to stave off interest from other clubs and hope Benitez will take the reins for their first season back in the Premier League.
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