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Premier League Weekly: Is Rafael Benitez part of the problem for Newcastle, and how can West Ham turn things around?

Rafael Benitez, Manager of Newcastle United (Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Rafael Benitez, Manager of Newcastle United (Stu Forster/Getty Images)

SO after two games, Manchester United and Jose Mourinho are sitting pretty at the top.

West Brom and Huddersfield are the only other teams with two wins, while all United’s principal rivals in the top six have dropped points.

Traditionally, no one used to look at a league table until three matches had been played, but two managers without a point so far will be hoping for a change of luck as PREMIER LEAGUE WEEKLY focuses on the match between Newcastle and West Ham.

Is Rafa’s negativity part of the problem for Newcastle?

AS a newly promoted club and winners of the Championship, Newcastle should be a happy place. Think of when Kevin Keegan brought them up back in 1993 and how they were bold and adventurous. It is 24 years on, a different league and a different club, but there is no reason why that spirit of adventure shouldn’t be there.

But it has been a difficult and fractious summer on Tyneside. Newcastle have not got involved in the frantic spending race the Premier League demands and manager Rafa Benitez has cut an increasingly frustrated figure with owner Mike Ashley carefully controlling the purse strings. The players who have arrived, like £5 million striker Joselu from Stoke, have been of the bargain bucket variety, normally of the kind you might see in a particular chain of sports shop. and not the proven Premier League quality that fans expected. Even the likes of Tammy Abraham and Nathan Ake from Chelsea ended up in the hands of Swansea and Bournemouth instead.

Dele Alli of Tottenham Hotspur runs at Javier Manquillo and Matt Ritchie of Newcastle United (Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

 

It is two defeats and no goals in the Premier League, while a League Cup defeat at home to Championship side Nottingham Forest in midweek further dampened the mood around the club. But is Benitez doing enough to publicly lift that? Every time, the Spaniard appears in front of a camera he adopts this mantra of almost ‘What can I possibly do?’ David Moyes did the same early on at Sunderland last year and the mood never lifted all season. Players are not daft – they will pick up on these negative vibes and their confidence will be undermined into thinking that they can’t cut it with the very best. The contrast around Huddersfield, another promoted club who beat them last Sunday, is stark.

Yet of the 14 players who featured in that game for the Geordies, ten were brought in by Benitez. They are his players. So it’s his job to organise them, motivate them and mould them into as competitive an outfit as possible. A match against another team to start the season with two losses in West Ham is the ideal opportunity for Benitez to remind everyone that he is a coach who has won the Champions League, the Europa League twice, La Liga twice and domestic cups in England and Italy and that he can steer his current club clear of danger in the Premier League.

 

Slaven Bilic, Manager of West Ham United (Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)

Why is it always boom or bust at West Ham?

TWO games and two defeats. That is all it took for reports to emerge that West Ham manager Slaven Bilic was under pressure at West Ham. A heavy defeat at Manchester United and a narrow loss at Southampton are perhaps not surprising for a club like the Hammers, but it is still enough for the nerves to start shaking in the East End as they travel north to face Newcastle.

 

West Ham United's Javier Hernandez (Adam Davy/PA Wire)
West Ham United’s Javier Hernandez (Adam Davy/PA Wire)

 

But why so? Why do West Ham seem unable to carry on in a calm and composed manner? For five seasons between 2003 and 2007, the Hammers’ fate was decided in their final game, with two relegation fights, two play-off finals and an FA Cup final. Forget EastEnders, West Ham United is the best soap opera for twists and turns in that part of the world. In 2015/16, on a wave of emotion they nearly gatecrashed the top six in their final season at Upton Park. Last year in the first season at a swanky new stadium, they spent more time flirting with relegation. Surely it’s about time they found the middle ground.

Four new players were brought in this summer and to general consensus, it was good business for a better campaign ahead. Yet after two matches, questions are being asked. Are Joe Hart and Pablo Zabaleta past their best? Is Marko Arnautovic too much of a wildcard? Can Javier Hernandez cope up front on his own? Bilic needs answers to these dilemmas quickly to silence the rumours and calm down those of a nervous disposition wearing claret and blue, as no side wants to head into the September international break on the back of three opening defeats. Nor does the Croatian want his future to be the subject of heated debate for the next fortnight.

 

Player of the Day

HARRY MAGUIRE has enjoyed a terrific start to the season. He has already scored one and set up one for his new club, Leicester City, and he is not even a creative player. Maguire is a central defender and England manager Gareth Southgate has been suitably impressed as he has called up Maguire for the national team squad for the forthcoming World Cup qualifiers against Malta and Slovakia.

 

Harry Maguire of Leicester City applauds the travelling fans at Arsenal (Michael Regan/Getty Images)

 

Eyebrows were raised in the summer when the Foxes shelled out £17 million to sign him from relegated Hull City, but it is already looking like a good deal. Despite playing in a struggling team, Maguire impressed last season and Leicester were quick off the mark to take him to the East Midlands.

After a couple of good games and his England call-up, the spotlight is on the 24-year-old and he now faces arguably the biggest test for a central defender. He heads to Old Trafford to take on Manchester United and their £75 million striker Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian has bagged three goals in two games for his new club and will expect more at his new home. How Maguire deals with that challenge will certainly provide evidence to Southgate about he might make the step up to international football.

 

Stat of the Day

Huddersfield’s Aaron Mooy (Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

16 – HUDDERSFIELD would become the first promoted side for 16 years to start with three wins out of three if they can defeat Southampton at home.

In 2001, Bolton beat Leicester, Middlesbrough and Liverpool and that cushion was enough to stay up as they eventually finished in 16th place.

 

Adam’s Saturday scores

Bournemouth 1 Manchester City 3

Crystal Palace 2 Swansea 0

Huddersfield 0 Southampton 1

Newcastle 1 West Ham 1

Watford 2 Brighton 0

Manchester United 3 Leicester 0