It has not been an easy few days for Rafael Benítez, who underwent surgery last week in relation to an infection following a hernia operation, but this result and performance will have done the Newcastle United manager’s recovery no harm whatsoever.
Watching from his home on the Wirral, Benítez was able to enjoy the sight of Jamaal Lascelles scoring the only goal of the game to give Newcastle back-to-back Premier League wins and, in the process, pull the plug on the feelgood factor that had swept through Swansea thanks to transfer deadline day.
Renato Sanches was the headline act in that respect yet the 20-year-old’s debut proved to be something of an anti-climax. Maybe that was always going to be the case because of the level of expectation that accompanied the news that he had moved to the Liberty Stadium on a season-long loan deal from Bayern Munich. A surprise inclusion from the start, Sanches looked off the pace and it was no real surprise when he was withdrawn after 69 minutes.
Not that this defeat should be pinned on him for one moment. Swansea were desperately poor in so many areas and the goal they conceded to lose the game, when Lascelles was granted the freedom of the Swansea penalty area to score with a powerful header, summed up the home team’s afternoon. They were toothless up front, desperately short of creativity and guile in midfield and gave the ball away on far too many occasions.
Newcastle, in contrast, executed their game-plan perfectly, aided throughout by Benítez’s open telephone line to his backroom staff. Although Lascelles made a superb goal-line clearance to deny Tammy Abraham in the second half, Newcastle generally looked comfortable. They restricted Swansea to few goalscoring opportunities and would have taken the lead earlier but for Lukasz Fabianski producing a wonderful fingertip save to keep out Joselu’s header.
For Benítez, the outcome was just what the doctor ordered. “After the game Rafa rang, he has congratulated everybody, especially the players because they have done a massive job,” said Miguel Moreno, the assistant manager. “We are very glad because we planned the game in a way to win three points, we didn’t risk anything with Rafa’s health and we also did the job.”
The match was nothing like as enjoyable for Paul Clement. Swansea’s head coach sounded baffled, frustrated and annoyed by the way his team had played. “I’m finding it difficult to understand why I saw what I saw,” he said. “Although the margin of defeat is very small, ultimately decided by a set-play, for me the difference in the two teams in the performance was much greater than that.
“We made too many mistakes, we gave the ball away too often. Even right up to the end, where we did continue to push, we couldn’t get a decent ball into the box. That wasn’t good enough. Our shape didn’t cause them enough problems. We got the overload in midfield but we never got control of the game. Some of the basics we never got right, just that competitiveness.
“I said to the players in the dressing room, there’s all the make-believe stuff, what’s written on the paper and how we think it’s going to go, and then there’s the reality of what actually happens in the game. I think we missed an opportunity there today, I really do. They’re a good, well-organised side but we should have done better, there’s no question about that.”
Ponderous and pedestrian in possession, Swansea only cut through Newcastle on one occasion, when Leroy Fer released Abraham on the hour. One‑on‑one with Rob Elliot, the striker rounded the Newcastle goalkeeper but looked on in despair as Lascelles, covering brilliantly, made a sliding intervention to clear the ball behind.
The Newcastle captain then made another huge contribution at the other end when he darted into the Swansea area to meet Matt Ritchie’s corner with a header that exposed some abject defending. It is the second time this season that Swansea have conceded in that fashion although Clement, pointing to their excellent record when defending set-pieces last season, refused to accept that the zonal‑marking system is to blame. “Something is obviously not right on this in the details of how we defended and that’s what we’ve got to get right,” he said.
Wilfried Bony, another deadline-day signing, had replaced Sanches by that stage but starved of service, the Ivorian had little chance to make an impact on the game as Swansea ran out of ideas. “I said to the players, there is no crisis,” Clement said. “We’ve not played well and we’ve lost the game. It’s very early on, we’ve got new faces who need to be integrated as soon as possible. But, at the same time, we’ve got to wake up quickly.”
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