With Newcastle United going through some stuttering league form as of late, their dip in performance has largely been attributed to the FA-imposed absence of influential midfielder Jonjo Shelvey.
Slapped with a five-game ban after being found guilty of using racially abusive language directed towards Wolves midfielder Romain Saiss, the Magpies have won just one of the four games he’s missed thus far.
Clearly, the fact the Toon Army have not been able to call on his masterful passing range has had an impact on their ability to break dogged opposition down, though solely blaming their recent malaise on his missing of fixtures is perhaps a tad too simplistic.
Not being able to call on a player of his ilk is always likely to see a midfield, particularly a Championship one, struggle somewhat, though the notion his return to the side will sort out every single problem is quite frankly ludicrous.
Even when the former Liverpool and Swansea City ace has been playing, there have been games where United have struggled to find a way through. There have been difficult days against the likes of Barnsley, Burton and Aston Villa while the 24-year-old was supposed to be pulling the strings in midfield.
That’s not to say his eventual return won’t markedly improve Newcastle United’s overall play, but there are other issues afoot at St. James’ Park.
Namely, their lack of genuine pace.
Though the likes of Matt Ritchie, Christian Atsu, Dwight Gayle and Yoan Gouffran can stretch defences at times, you’d never describe any of those as particularly fleet-footed. In fact, only DeAndre Yedlin can really be considered as an option who offers genuine pace and the American is far from a regular.
At their worst this season, Newcastle have entirely run out of ideas early into the second-half and outside the aforementioned American, there are no real options to force the side behind enemy lines.
With so much emphasis based on the distinct lack of creativity outside of Shelvey – and that certainly is a problem – it feels like somewhat of a cop-out. Citing that as the sole reason in the much wider issue of Newcastle failing to find relevant solutions in the majority of tight games masks others afoot.
When everything clicks, there’s little doubt they are the best side to watch in the league. Still, nothing about the Championship regularly affords the Tyneside giants everything their own way, meaning being able to call on more direct outlets are just as important as Benitez’s first-choice eleven.
The team need to find another gear to enjoy their promotion campaign, rather than endure it.