For Rafa Benitez, facing a confident (Wilson called up for England, Howe the reigning October manager of the month) high flying (sixth placed) free scoring (20 goals – only 4 clubs have scored more) Bournemouth, this looks a tough one.

Then you factor in the transfer activity of the two clubs and Jefferson Lerma was bought in for £26m, that one signing alone costing more than 10 of Newcastle’s starting 11 (Dubravka £4m, Yedlin £5m, Fernandez £6m, Schar £3m, Dummett £0, Diame £4m, Ki £0, Kenedy loan, Perez £2m, Rondon loan).

Matt Ritchie the odd one out of course, ironically the £12m paid for him, going to Bournemouth.

Even more ironic, Matt Ritchie at the time chose to leave Premier League Bournemouth for Championship Newcastle because he was ambitious…

That eleven who face Bournemouth, it is actually almost a full team of internationals, with Perez and Kenedy the only exceptions.

Chuck in subs Ciaran Clark and Christian Atsu instead and you would have an entire team of internationals.

We all know that this is not a great team, that it is a side put together on a relative shoestring, with bargain buys supplemented by loan deals and free transfers.

However, Rafa Benitez has always valued experience and as well as so many who are internationals, six of the starting 11 are also aged 29 or over. Furthermore, of the other five players only Kenedy (22) is less than 25 years old.

Also on the experience front, leaving aside three of these players (Kenedy, Dubravka, Schar), the other eight have been regular starters in at least three Premier League seasons (including this one). Some of them having plenty more Premier League experience than that.

Star quality might not be there in abundance but you can maybe see what Rafa Benitez has tried to do on such a limited budget.

This squad couldn’t be further away from Mike Ashley’s old dream of maximising resale potential, Rafa Benitez instead going for a group of players who shouldn’t crumble when the going gets tough.

Three years ago Ashley’s response to a team that had just escaped relegation on the final day was to spend (relatively) big money on young players from weaker leagues who had never played in England before – nine months later Newcastle were relegated.

Maybe one day we will find out just what Rafa Benitez would do if he had a realistic budget but in the meantime, we will see if his experience on a very limited budget can upset the odds.


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Jim Robertson