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Wolves v Newcastle: The low-down on Rafa Benitez's side

By Luke Hatfield | Wolves | Published: | Last Updated:

Wolves take on Rafa Benitez's Newcastle on Monday as Nuno looks to continue his winning run in the league.

Can Nuno get the better of Rafa Benitez?

We spoke with Liam Kennedy, football writer for the Shields Gazette, and Ed Harrison, from NUFCBlog.com, to get a proper look at the Magpies.

See what he had to say here...

It seems to have been quite a mixed season at Newcastle, how do you see Newcastle going into these crucial months of the season?

LK: In a strong position, mainly due to the presence of Rafa Benitez at the helm.

With Rafa in charge I am confident Newcastle will have the edge over their relegation rivals.

He is a manager who takes some criticism from some quarters for his approach, which is often perceived as defensive and lacking ambition. I would say it is pragmatic.

He works to the strength of the current crop that he has. And setting this group up to defend, with a proper shape and hit on the counter has worked perfectly, this season and last.

Matt Ritchie

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EH: We have had a mixed season similar to last year.

But last season we came away about this time and finished in 10th place.

We have had a a few injuries but players like Ki, Diame, Shelvey, and Dummett are all fit again and haven't played for a month or more.

Muto has returned from the Asian Cup where he helped Japan reach the final.

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With new signing Miguel Almiron from Atlanta (£20m - a Newcastle record) and loan player Antonio Barreca from Monaco - we hope to get a lot better.

Our previous two games against Man City and Tottenham were encouraging and Rafa likes to build on a strong defence.

So we are in decent shape going into the final 13 games of this season but the proof of the pudding is in the eating - we have to win at least six games to be safe.

There's still talk of a takeover on Tyneside, is there any news on that happening anytime soon? And would that potentially propel the club back to the levels we saw when they were challenging in the upper echelons of the Premier League?

LK: A takeover at this stage looks as far away as it ever has.

Two winters in a row now hopes have been high that Mike Ashley's awful reign at Newcastle would come to a joyous end, but again here we sit with little chance of change. This was exactly the same in 2018, after the Amanda Staveley circus came and went from SJP.

Fans would love to think a takeover would bring fresh investment and a glimpse at past glories - relative, of course - but a return of hope would be a start. And I think most NUFC fans would take anyone but Ashley as things stand.

The ownership situation at Newcastle is a cause of constant speculation at the club.

The man has sucked the life out of the football club. It is soulless.

Benitez is the glue that holds this all together. He is a manager who gets the fans, the club and the city. He is the one person at the club who knows what this club can be, and that's why he's loved.

EH: A consortium led by former Man United and Chelsea CEO Peter Kenyon was said to be close to buying the club in December - but that's petered out.

There were another three consortia who did due diligence and signed non-disclosure forms.

Ashley wants £300m for the club and Kenyon could only raise £200m with financial assistance from the Rockefeller Capital Group in New York City.

There's a debate as to whether Ashley really wants to sell Newcastle because he gets free adverts worldwide for his Sports Direct company.

The signs are plastered all over St. James' Park - not very classy.

Ashley will probably come out soon and say he tried to sell the club but didn't get a suitable offer - and that would be the third time he's done that.

We are all hoping that if we can keep Rafa and new owners come in - we can be on our way to fighting it out again for a top six position which we did under Sir Bobby Robson and also with Kevin Keegan.

Ashley's reign has been a disaster for the Newcastle club. Rafa Benitez is getting sick of fighting against relegation because of the miserly owner.

January has obviously come and gone now, what sort of business did the Magpies do, and how do you rate those deals?

LK: At risk of sounding like a stereotype, the business was good but not good enough.

Rafa wanted four players in January. He got two.

He is meant to have total control of the football side of the business, the fact of the matter is he does not.

He has not had close to the level of control he was promised since the summer after relegation in 2016. That summer he still turned over a profit of £30million after clearing the decks of some of the highest earners.

Ayoze Perez (left) celebrates

Benitez has been looking for a left back for two years he finally got one in Antonio Barreca. He's an unknown quantity but will likely see Matt Ritchie restored to his place much further up the park. So in that sense it's two for one.

And breaking the transfer record which has stood since Michael Owen's signing in 2006 was a massive thing for everyone up here.

Miguel Almiron is another unknown quantity but is a player who Rafa has scouted for a long time. He should ease the burden on Ayoze Perez, a key if divisive cog in Rafa's team, and provide pace aplenty.

EH: We brought in two players on the last day of the transfer window - Paraguayan International Miguel Almiron - a play-maker from MLS club Atlanta for £20m.

And Italian U21 International Antonio Barreca a left back or wing-back from Monaco.

We would have preferred more players in last month but fans generally think those are the two positions we had to fill - Rafa seemed fairly pleased.

How do you expect Newcastle to face up against Wolves on Monday? What's your predicted XI?

LK: I would think Newcastle's team will be very similar to the one we saw at Spurs, with a kind of 5-4-1, or variation of.

Martin Dubravka was at fault at Tottenham but has been outstanding for Newcastle since arriving last January and will continue in goal.

Miguel Almiron was the big incoming at St James' Park.

A back three of Lascelles, Schar and Lejuene with Ritchie or Barreca left, Yedlin right and Longstaff partnered by one of the returning Diame, Ki or both.

Rondon will start up top, likely supported by Perez, although Almiron could get a look in.

EH: With all the players now available it's difficult to say.

Rafa Benitez will concentrates on trying to keep a clean sheet and hope to win it by scoring a goal or two.

This could be a possible starting eleven:

Dubravka; Yedlin, Schar, Lascelles (c), Lejeune, Barreca; Ritchie, Longstaff, Diame, Almiron; Rondon.

That brings in the two new boys as the only changes from the side that lost to Spurs.

Do Newcastle have any injury worries heading into the game?

LK: Jonjo Shelvey is definitely out of the clash, having missed the last month or so of football but his inclusion would be no certainty anyway such has been the form of youngster Sean Longstaff, who has been compared to another Geordie Michael Carrick by some.

Mo Diame, Ki and Yoshinuri Muto (returning from Japan duty) should all be in the matchday squad.

EH: Jonjo Shelvey may be the only player not available for this game.

Salomon Rondon is one man who seems to have taken to St James' Park well, would you say he's their chief threat? Or is there someone else to look out for?

LK: Rondon is a proper number nine, and Geordies have taken to him for that reason.

The only frustration is that no deal has been made permanent for the player - probably to do with the player's age and the club's signing policy.

He is the main threat but also Ayoze Perez, Newcastle's top-scorer always pops up with a goal or two. And his ability to break at pace, as well as his game intelligence, especially away from home, is a real strength in this side.

Salomon Rondon is one player Wolves must look out for.

EH: He's the chief goal scoring threat, but we are expecting great things from Almiron.

Newcastle play counter-attack quite well now, and both players we brought in last month are speed merchants.

Our local lad Peter Longstaff has started the last seven games and five have been again top six teams and he's played extremely well in every game - he could become a huge star on Tyneside.

Wolves have obviously done well since making it into the top flight, from afar - do you think they have what it takes to finish as 'best of the rest' outside of the top six?

LK: Yes. I think Wolves will finish as best of the rest. They have really impressed me this season with their approach.

Money and connections has played a massive factor in getting them this far, but the manager deserves a lot of credit for the job he's done there.

Plenty of other coaches with the same resources would not be in such a good position.

EH: I watched Wolves last season and the club seems to have what it takes.

Wolves have good owners (Fosun International - Guo Guangchang) who have real ambition of success and an excellent manager in Nuno Espírito Santo.

Yes, Wolves have done really well this season and it is a famous club and good to have you back in the Premier League. I still remember Billy Wright.

If Rafa stays at Newcastle and Ashley gives him some money to spend in the summer we hope to do a lot better next season.

Your match prediction?

LK: A tight one. Newcastle away from home can be hard to break down. They are resolute in defence and can catch anyone on the counter.

If Wolves come to play they could open the game up, but this could play into Benitez and Newcastle's hands.

It will be an intriguing one, but I'm going for a 1-1 draw. Now that's what you call sitting on the fence.

EH: It's biased but I'll go for a 1-0 Newcastle win.

You can follow Liam on Twitter by searching for @LiamJKennedy23, whilst you can read Ed's work here.

Luke Hatfield

By Luke Hatfield
@LHatfield_Star

Digital Sports Journalist with the Express & Star and Shropshire Star.

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