Why Benitez cannot leave Doumbia out for Newcastle against Sunderland

Rafael Benitez only arrived at Newcastle United last week, but he's already in a position where he must select a player in order to satisfy the supporters.


The above picture is of Seydou Doumbia smiling at the Newcastle United training ground earlier this week. He did actually sign for the Magpies during the January transfer window and he doesn't appear to be carrying any knock. There have been brief sightings of the Ivory Coast international over the past seven weeks, but we at least have confirmation that he isn't spending his week in accommodation that he is probably living in at the club's expense.


Now that he has been seen going through his paces, we can now ask why has he played just 29 minutes for a club who are in danger of being relegated to the Championship and who can barely create a clear-cut chance in front of goal? We are not talking about a player who was acquired through Ceefax like Wycombe Wanderers did with Roy Essendoh. This is an established striker who Roma paid £10m for his services 14 months ago. Now he can't get a start for a team at the bottom of the Premier League.


After he was again benched for the fixture at Leicester City on Monday night, bemused supporters took to Twitter to speculate why a player who created a buzz on Tyneside upon his arrival was restricted to three minutes at the King Power Stadium. A reasonable and seemingly valid suggestion was that something must have occurred behind the scenes, although there is no indication that this is the case. However, with seven weeks under his belt at the club and Doumbia yet to play in front of a St James' Park crowd, what other reasons could there possibly be?


If Newcastle were firing on all cylinders and the likes of Aleksandar Mitrovic and Ayoze Perez were finding the back of the net, it wouldn't be a topic for debate. However, Mitrovic has scored twice in his last 14 appearances and his hold-up play in recent weeks has been poor. Upon his introduction against Bournemouth, he was lively for 10 minutes but then barely contributed.


Perez's record is only slightly better than Mitrovic, with two goals being scored in 13 games. He has been used on the flanks so his contribution shouldn't be based entirely on goals, but the Spaniard hasn't been the same player that scored important efforts against Chelsea, Bournemouth and Tottenham Hotspur earlier in the season. The biggest cause for concern for Newcastle's supporters was the sight of Emmanuel Riviere getting an opportunity in front of Doumbia at a time when he had only netted once in 24 Premier League games. The Magpies faithful are fully justified in asking what is going on.


When we are assessing this developing saga with Doumbia, we also have to ask whether things would have been different had his late effort against Stoke City beat goalkeeper Jack Butland? After being sent on in the 84th minute, only a wonder save from the England international stopped Doumbia from opening his account for his new club and becoming an instant hero with the fans. Has the top half of Butland's hand really been enough to leave Doumbia playing just three minutes in the following two games? If that shot goes in, Steve McClaren surely selects Doumbia after Bournemouth. If he didn't, bigger questions would be being asked than the ones that are being put in front of Benitez right now.


Benitez has never been a man to bow down to the demands of supporters. He donned his tin hat and went to Chelsea amid huge controversy, and he left with Champions League qualification and a Europa League winners medal. He believes in his own methods and tactics. However, Newcastle United football club is a different animal compared to his previous jobs, even the one at Real Madrid. While the supporters will want Benitez to give the side some form of identity, they will demand to see players that they know they are lucky to have in their squad.


We are not building Doumbia up to be some sort of world-beater here because he's not. He scored twice in 14 games at Roma and was considered surplus to requirements, but this is a player who has recorded several goals against English clubs in the Champions League for CSKA Moscow. He scored three times against Manchester City last season - including two at the Etihad - and he netted against Manchester United in October. His form has deteriorated since then, but either something has happened that no-one is aware about or McClaren had second thoughts on the player within weeks of deeming Doumbia good enough to keep Newcastle in the top flight.


Benitez has an opportunity to save the situation against North-East rivals Sunderland on Sunday afternoon. He is going to receive criticism for selecting Mitrovic and the supporters simply wouldn't accept Riviere gaining a start in attack for a derby showdown. Benitez simply has nothing to lose by picking Doumbia because he either sees the striker become a Toon hero or he receives backing from the fans if they realise Doumbia doesn't fit into the team. If he is left on the bench, more questions will be raised and will only persist throughout the international break.


The conclusion being drawn right now is that playing Mitrovic will not keep Newcastle in the Premier League and playing Perez as a lone frontman will not keep Newcastle in the Premier League. The optimism and noise would be cranked up a level if Doumbia lined up against Sunderland and imagine if he scored the opener? Not only would he put Newcastle on course for victory but if would lay the foundations for Benitez to become a success on Tyneside. It's a chance he just has to take.

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