Inside Track: Newcastle United

By SFC Media Wed 11 Oct Saints v Newcastle
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Get the inside track on this weekend's opponents Newcastle United from The Chronicle reporter Chris Waugh.

What is like the mood like around the club at the moment, is everyone happy with what has been a solid start?

The mood at Newcastle is pretty positive at the moment - which is far removed from where it was merely six weeks ago. The summer transfer window did not go according to plan, Rafa Benitez aired his frustrations in public, and there were fears across Tyneside that United were simply not equipped to deal with a Premier League campaign. However, after three wins and a draw from their last five games, suddenly the opening three straight losses in all competitions have been forgotten about. Instead, Newcastle find themselves in mid-table, with a decent return of 10 points from seven games, and hopeful that a decent season - rather than another of struggle, as has so frequently been the case in their recent top-flight history - is possible.

What has the team’s style of play been like so far this season?

Last season, Newcastle often dominated possession in matches, given that they were the favourites for the Championship and were expected to break teams down. This term, it has changed somewhat - and the Magpies have enjoyed just about the least average possession in the top flight. Instead, what Benitez has created is a team who are compact, attempt to soak up the opposition, before countering at lightning-quick speed. Newcastle also target set pieces and are very dangerous from such areas. On the road, United are far from pretty at times, and I do not expect them to be anything close to expansive at St Mary's.

How important has it been to have kept Rafa Benitez in the summer given his experience and nous at this level?

This was the single most-important piece of business the club did over the summer. Even if the Spaniard was left frustrated by how the summer window panned out, the fact such a world-renowned manager remained in the first place and is still in situ at St James' Park was essential. If Benitez had left, there would have been outright civil war on Tyneside, so strong is his relationship with the club's fanbase. His experience and know how is also vital going forward. Newcastle, given their lack of proven top-flight signings, would have been relegation fodder under anyone else - but, with Benitez at the helm, there is genuine belief that he will steer them to safety.

Which players have stood out so far this season, and who should Saints be wary of?

Matt Ritchie is the player who really makes Newcastle tick. Not only does he have quality from set pieces, but his energy, workrate and intensity are infectious. He drives his team-mates on. Mikel Merino has also quickly become a fans' favourite because he is has adapted to the Premier League instantly and is extremely good technically. If Merino and Jonjo Shelvey are deployed together in midfield for the second game in succession, then they have the creativity and precision of pace to slice open any defence.

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