One game into the new season and already many of us are thinking “It’s gonna be a long hard season“. There seemed to be everything in the one game yesterday didn’t there? Brilliance from ASM, Callum Wilson’s desire to score goals, and the inevitable capitulation of a Newcastle United, once again poorly managed by a tactical dinosaur, completely bereft of ideas of how to put it right when it starts to go wrong.

One of Steve Bruce’s biggest fans, and founding members of the FOSB, Sky sports, decided to enlighten us with a stat before the game commemorating 43 years in the game for Steve, both as a player and a manager, well I’d argue that statistic showed me, and many more that this fraud has been stealing a living for far too long, and if you wanted proof, he delivered it shortly after  that interview, with a display of inept management that Mike Bassett would’ve been proud of, starting with his team selection and spiralling from there.

Now Sky have their stats, and I’m about to go through mine, and they will be far less likely to bring a smile from good old Brucey, that’s right folks, I’m about to drop the “R bomb” in our loveable ex manager, currently inspiring Everton comebacks, in Rafa Benitez. For one of the most disappointing things to come out of yesterday’s game, was the realism that all of that hard work that Benitez put into this squad defensively has been utterly eroded away by this tin pot manager.

In fact, even the personnel has been utterly erased, like Marty McFly’s photograph, as out of the three centre halfs Rafa trusted to carry out his system, two of them started on the bench, and never came on, despite us being absolutely rinsed, work that one out? The other? Sent packing to Spain, in place of who? Emil fucking Krafth? Do me a favour, but let’s take a closer look, a deeper look than the so-called “Mainstream media” dare to tread.

With the help of my statman and fellow pod co host for @SRPblog @faz1981 we’ve put together a comparison of Nufc under Rafa and Bruce, paying particular attention to the defence, which I’m sure you can all agree, after yesterday’s performance, is in absolute tatters. So ignoring the points, and league finishes, that would appear quite similar, we’re not going to be as lazy as those others and say “He’s doing as good of a job as Rafa” because quite simply, he’s not.

As you can see from the stats below, and the main ones to focus on, firstly, is tackles. During Rafa’s reign, in the top flight to be fair to both, you’ll notice we put in way more tackles under Benitez than Bruce, with 730 in Rafa’s last Premier League campaign, vs 607 last season under Bruce. The biggest alarm bell for me however is the interceptions & clearances, as you can see once again considerably higher under Rafa, and as I wrote in a previous piece on Lejunene, given the quality of player he selected you can see why.

It’s not just the fact they were better, it was the way he drilled into them all what their responsibilities were, to the team, and to each other as a defensive unit. You’ll see we’re looking at over 100 more interceptions a season, demonstrating exactly what the Benitez effect is all about. When it comes to clearances, nearly 300 more a season in some cases, perhaps this was due to the fact Rafa didn’t try and pigeon hole wingers in as right & left backs? It’s worth considering.

Once again the passing stats are heavily in the favour of Rafa, further demonstrating why having two ball playing centre halfs in Schar and Lejunene benefited the side, as opposed to relying on Jonjo Shelvey’s 3 passes per season of any note, that Bruce does. Finally, despite what the likes of Sky & Talk sport would have you believe, the possession stats for the defence under Rafa, marginally better than under Bruce. All of these led to us being more defensively solid under our previous manager than our current and conceding less goals, over 10 in fact in the last two seasons by comparison.

We’ve already seen due to changes to the way games are able to flow this season, that many of the chances ruled out through VAR etc will be allowed to stand, so a lot of that luck Bruce enjoyed in previous fixtures  won’t return, and that a lot of sides in the division pose attacking threats, far superior than our own. We’re never going to Keegan our way out of this, and it’s surprising that a former top centre half can’t see and address the defensive frailties we currently have in our squad. If we don’t, and let’s face it, there’s every chance we won’t either, I think we’ll be on the end of more hidings like yesterday, against way better sides than West Ham.

Chris Currie – @wig82