Rafa Explains His Plan For Birmingham – And What Went Wrong

When Rafa Benitez announced his team for the game at Birmingham on Saturday and there were eight changes made, we thought it would be very difficult to win the game.

We had players like Tiote, Murphy, Lazaar and Haidara who had played very little football this season and would lack match practice, even if they were full fit physically.

Tiote had played for around 15 minutes this season and Haidara hadn’t played in over a year.

Rafa said before the game he had to rest some players who were playing too much and he pointed to Dwight Gayle who was playing too much and indicated that Aleksandar Mitrovic would start the game.

Rafa Benitez – made eight changes to the side for Birmingham

But then Mitro was injured after only five minutes and on came Yoan Gouffran the plan was shot a little, but Rafa has said everything was fine for the first 30 minutes until we lost control of the game – and the early substation hurt us.

But Rafa also says it’s important that players who haven’t played much get some playing time, so they will be ready when next called upon.

This is what Rafa said to the local press after the game on Saturday as reported in the Shields Gazette:

“I was a little bit disappointed.” “Not because of the formation, but because we were trying to play with two strikers and we lost one after just a few minutes, so we had to change things in the game.”

“We wanted to manage in a way that was more similar to what we were trying to do and get more from it.”

“But in terms of the defence and the midfielders, I was trying to protect some players who were not playing too much to be sure we have numbers there.”

“I think it was fine.”  “It was fine for 30 minutes, and after we needed a little bit more control, but maybe we didn’t have the legs to cope with the pace of the game.”

“In possession, we could maybe do a little bit better.”  “We gave the ball away too much, and so we had to defend a lot.” “I was happy with a lot of things, but we can improve the understanding.”

“We can improve some obvious things.”

“It was a different approach with Mitrovic.”  “We had an idea with Mitrovic and Murphy, but with Gouff it was different.”

“He had one or two chances. He did well, but in the end for us it meant we had one substitution already and it was hard to manage the physical condition of some players.”

“They needed to be changed or substituted to give fresh legs to the team – but we couldn’t do that.”

“We knew before that the worst thing could be to play another game,” “But, OK, it’s what we have, and we have to try to manage properly.”

“We must try to win, and manage it properly, but make sure we don’t lose focus on the league.”

“It’s important for players without minutes to play another game.” “It can help some of them to be better, to be fit for the rest of the season and to use them.”

“On the other hand, it’s bad news because we have to play more games, use more players and that always creates more risk.”

To us it seemed a risk with so many changes being made – and it reminded us a little bit of how our 9 game winning streak came to an end against Blackburn, when six changes were made and some of the new players coming in just didn’t perform up to scratch.

When players haven’t played for a while they are going to be rusty and off the pace – Tiote was very rusty and kept giving the ball away and was caught in possession in the first half.

There’s seems no way they can perform at the top of their game unless they are playing fairly regularly.

But hopefully we can still get through to the fourth round of the FA Cup and maybe Jonjo Shelvey can play in the replay – he will need some matches quickly when he becomes available after the game at Brentford on Saturday.

That will be the fifth and final game of his suspension.

What do you think?

Comments welcome.

31 comments so far

  • NewcastleMole

    Jan 8, 2017 at 11:13 PM

    Comment #1

    Had to rest gayle because he was playing too much?

    Surely as the manager you can take the decision at any point in the season to rest players. Rafa waited for the cup game because compared to promotion it means nothing. But just like the league cup fiasco we cocked this up because winning or losing wud have been fine but drawing means a needless extra game with added pressure because were at home this time so losing isnt an option.

  • welshgeordie9

    Jan 8, 2017 at 11:20 PM

    Comment #2

    Rafa, what went wrong……………………… way too easy to say something there.

  • Steak and Kidney Pie

    Jan 8, 2017 at 11:22 PM

    Comment #3

    It’s a problem to change the way the side is used to playing, but the squad does have some very handy players.

    Unfortunately though they don’t suit the game plan that has been devised to maximise the impact of Shelvey and Gayle, who are excellent at this level.

    One solution is to sign a passing playmaker to understudy Shelvey. This is far easier said than done, considering Shelvey has a truly freakish range of passing and awareness at this level.

    Another is to devise a different game plan that best utilises the considerable talents of the entire squad, should Shelvey be absent.

    Rafa is superb, but I’m sure he’d be the first to admit that in the past 4 games we’ve not succeeded well in realising this.

  • lesh

    Jan 8, 2017 at 11:30 PM

    Comment #4

    But surely if the game strategy had to be changed when Mitro went off and it didn’t work, might that suggest the need for training to practice contingency tactics?

    Just a thought and yes, there is a limit to what can reasonably covered in training.

  • Steak and Kidney Pie

    Jan 8, 2017 at 11:34 PM

    Comment #5

    I think that having seen the problems associated with playing without Shelvey, that should we fail to sign an adequate understudy, Rafa will be better equipped to devise a higher functioning game plan that can play to the strengths of Mitrovic, Murphy and Gayle without him.

  • NewcastleMole

    Jan 8, 2017 at 11:37 PM

    Comment #6

    End of the summer transfer window we had strength in depth. Now we don’t players either havent been good enough, havent been disciplined, havent been fit enough to play, havent been available for selection due to internationals. Gayle, Shelvey & Richie have been immense we need two more players at their level to sail away with promotion.


    Jan 8, 2017 at 11:46 PM

    Comment #7

    newcastle mole
    i think ritchie has been average at best the last 5-6 games…cant knock gayle his goals tally is good and work rate,and shelvey has been missed,we’ve lacked creativity without him,we do need more players as this little blip we are having at the minute has shown, take out 1 or 2 key players and we look very average but more worryingly the strength of mind of the players seems very brittle,lose a goal and theres a drastic lack of confidence sweeps over the team,which considering how well the season has gone till recently is surprising to me.

  • Steak and Kidney Pie

    Jan 9, 2017 at 12:57 AM

    Comment #8

    The other problem with bringing new and theoretically better players in mid season is the problem of bedding them and potentially upsetting the apple cart. Many have been calling on an upgrade on Perez and Diame in the withdrawn attacker role, for example. But in truth this is a difficult position to play in because Shelvey, in search of Gayle, or Ritchie and Gouffran, often cuts the player out, leaving him confused as to how he should most effectively play.


    Jan 9, 2017 at 1:05 AM

    Comment #9

    the problem with the number ten position for us i feel is that we dont actually have someone who knows how to play that position,perez was at his best as the main striker when he’s been at his best for the club and diame was a central midfielder when he was at his best,and know one in the squad actually palys that position….the only person who you could say had any experience there was SDJ,and he was never fit,and now away on loan.

  • lesh

    Jan 9, 2017 at 1:20 AM

    Comment #10

    Steak and Kidney

    “The other problem with bringing new and theoretically better players in mid season is the problem of bedding them …”

    Bedding them? Oh aye?


    Jan 9, 2017 at 1:21 AM

    Comment #11

    good spot mate,didnt see that!!lol

  • lesh

    Jan 9, 2017 at 1:24 AM

    Comment #12


    But we knew what Steak meant though. Didn’t we? 😐 😉

  • lesh

    Jan 9, 2017 at 1:26 AM

    Comment #13

    Anyway, I’s off.

    Take care all.

  • Steak and Kidney Pie

    Jan 9, 2017 at 2:33 AM

    Comment #14

    Yes, well done lads. Excellent.

  • Steak and Kidney Pie

    Jan 9, 2017 at 3:04 AM

    Comment #15

    ……..and that’s Mr Pie to you two.

  • Jib

    Jan 9, 2017 at 5:07 AM

    Comment #16


    We drew with Birmingham away bonny lad

    Last season Supermac lost to Leicester (who were chasing the PL title so turned out a weakened side) in January

    Jan 2010 Lost to WBA Ryan Taylor red card
    Jan 2011 Lost to Stevenage Tiote red card
    Jan 2012 Lost to Brighton
    Jan 2013 Lost to Brighton Shola red card
    Jan 2014 Lost to Cardiff

    to paraphrase you


    Alan , what went wrong……………………… way too easy to say something there.

    1900 hours today
    Toon U18’s v Swansea U18’s at SJP in their cuptie – will you be there ? – I will

  • Jib

    Jan 9, 2017 at 5:14 AM

    Comment #17

    The list of clubs who have clearly heard Defoe is open to moving back “dahn sahf” is growing (Spurs are sniffing now as well as CP).
    I’ll be very surprised if Moyes hangs on to him this window.

  • Jib

    Jan 9, 2017 at 5:28 AM

    Comment #18

    It’s a shame there were not more cameras at the Birmingham game.

    I’ve watched the poor angle on the Mitro injury over and over , and I think Adam Legzdins their goalie deliberately went in to hurt Big Al , after realising he’d conceded a goal.

    Look at the pics – Murphy’s shot is way past him when he collides with AM’s left knee
    studs up.

    A real shame , because it looked as if ( and Rafa has alluded to it in post match comments) that the coaching team had come up with a really potent 2 pronged attack.

    Never mind he’ll be back before the end of the month.

  • Jib

    Jan 9, 2017 at 6:02 AM

    Comment #19

    William Vainqueur a 28 year old journeyman French midfielder of Haitian descent (his surname means winner in French) who has played in France Belgium Russia and Italy.
    He is currently on loan to Marseilles from Roma and guess who have enquired about him serving a 6 month loan in England.
    He’s a deep lying killer-pass Pirlo type – Colback and Hayden could both learn a lot from him.

  • Lilongwe Geordie

    Jan 9, 2017 at 6:11 AM

    Comment #20

    Were we not linked with Vainquer a number of times in the past? Is it just a media regurgitation, or is Rafa working back through Carr’s list?

    I’m sure we have as Vainquer can also be translated as ‘Conqueror’ and I remember headlines referring to us chasing William the Conqueror at the time…

    I presume he didn’t feature for Roma earlier in the year, as that would make him ineligible anyway, but as his loan is for the full season, it would be unlikely that Roma would recall him just to loan him to us instead.

  • Jib

    Jan 9, 2017 at 6:13 AM

    Comment #21


    According to this the Sporting Gijon sports director Nico Rodriguez flew into England yesterday to complete the signing of Cheick Tiote.

    The article says that is why CT was so reserved in the game (I thought it was because he’s shite) and also an opportunity to wear the shirt for the last time and say farewell to the fans.

  • Jib

    Jan 9, 2017 at 6:16 AM

    Comment #22

    Literally “vanquisher” (if such a word exists)
    Vaincre = To Vanquish

  • Jib

    Jan 9, 2017 at 6:25 AM

    Comment #23

    I think there is more to our dealings with Marseilles and Roma than meets the eye !
    There’s still the muddied waters of the Florian Thauvin loan to be resolved and Roma sold
    Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa to Lyon for a profit to which we are possibly still due a share.

  • Lilongwe Geordie

    Jan 9, 2017 at 6:33 AM

    Comment #24

    I can’t see either of those playing a part in any loan deal for Vainquer. I strongly suspect that it is the media seeing us missing a passing player without Shelvey and skimming back through previous links to come up with a name that they can put into a story.

  • posada

    Jan 9, 2017 at 6:35 AM

    Comment #25

    We need Toite off the books.
    We could finance a couple of good loan deals with his wages alone.

  • Jib

    Jan 9, 2017 at 6:41 AM

    Comment #26

    That’s a terrible accusation
    Folk in the media being so lazy
    I cannot believe it !

  • Lilongwe Geordie

    Jan 9, 2017 at 6:45 AM

    Comment #27

    It would be nice to see some transfer movement this week mind. The squad has enough to go up as is, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look to make tweaks here and there.

    I’d still take Loftus Cheek, and Chalobah had a decent game yesterday for Chelsea as well. Preferably on a loan to buy basis, but I can’t see Conte sanctioning any sale of Loftus Cheek at the moment, Chalobah maybe, but he is closer to Hayden in style than Shelvey, and can play across the back line.

    Another winger, preferably left sided, but wouldn’t say no to either side really. Unless we can get in a top striker, I’d probably stick with Mitro, Gayle, Perez, Murphy with Gouff or youngsters as back up. All of them are capable of getting goals at this level. There is little point in bringing a Championship level striker in for this season.

  • mindshaft

    Jan 9, 2017 at 7:18 AM

    Comment #28

    We were all over them for first 30 mins , it’s our inability to kill teams off when we are so in control of game that is hurting us.
    Sounds like Tiote had a nightmare of a game , him and Colback was a poor choice of pairing although I can see why we would want two defensive mids when playing that formation

  • cyprus

    Jan 9, 2017 at 7:36 AM

    Comment #29

    At least Rafa tried, or attempted, before the injury, something different up front.

    Gayle as a single little forward up front may be figured out by some, as we’ve seen. Big defenders bullying him off the ball. To his credit he has excelled and has deserved a couple penalties.

    But, we need a backup plan. We can’t base promotion on Gayle alone, it’s not fair on the lad. His second part of the season will most likely not be near as lethal as the first.

    Automatic promotion could well become a six horse race at the end…

  • cyprus

    Jan 9, 2017 at 7:43 AM

    Comment #30

    Teams like Reading, Derby (coach don’t seem that terrible now), Leeds and the other two demoted teams, must all fancy themselves for an automatic promotion spot.

    Man if I were Rafa I’d buy or loan big, like today. One wily winger, one Shelvey.

  • firebug666

    Jan 9, 2017 at 7:52 AM

    Comment #31

    Rafa is hopeful of getting some good news on the transfer front this week.

    But putting that aside, I have no worries about us being promoted back to the Premiership, and still have faith in us winning the league.

    It’s not been a disaster, and we all know this is a tough and unforgiving league to play in, we seem to have gone off the boil a little, but I have no doubt we will start to pick up again.

    Big mistake playing Tiote (not match fit) and Colback (not fit for purpose imo) together, very poor from both of them, and all they really managed to do was remind us why we are now seeking promotion back to the premiership.

    Neither know how to play a forward pass, and both are guilty of giving the ball away in dangerous areas.


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