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It is hard to imagine anything other than Newcastle’s odds of winning next term’s English Championship shrinking now that Rafael Benitez has agreed to lead the Toon Army in their fight to return to the English Premier League.
Benitez was unable to rescue Newcastle’s English Premier League life but the Toon Army accrued 16 points from their 10 divisional matches under the manager who started last season in charge of Real Madrid. Sixteen points from 10 English Premier League games extrapolated over 38 rounds equates to more than 60 points, a tally that would have ranked Newcastle eighth on last season’s ladder – above Benitez’s former English employer, Liverpool. Newcastle’s 10 English Premier League matches under Benitez concluded with a six-game unbeaten run that included a 5-1 home win over Tottenham, a 1-1 home draw with Manchester City and a 2-2 away draw with Liverpool. One would argue that Newcastle, particularly in their time under Benitez, were one of the strongest sides to relinquish their English Premier League status since the competition came into existence in 1992.
Even though Newcastle accompanied Aston Villa and Norwich out of the English Premier League, the Toon Army’s home numbers were among the division’s top 10. Newcastle was 7-7-5 in its 19 English Premier League home matches and, generally speaking, the Toon Army reserved their finest performances for the visits of the division’s big guns – they did not lose at St James’ Park to a side positioned third to 10th inclusive. Newcastle defeated Tottenham at home and away in the English Premier League, yet another indication that the Toon Army were, on their day, too good to go down. Steve McLaren failed to inspire Newcastle’s players to produce their best form on a regular basis, whereas Benitez got the Toon Army squad members to show their true merit much more frequently. Benitez will have a fair shot at retaining Newcastle’s shining lights at least for one English Championship campaign and promising young players will find the allure of a Toon Army team led by a coach with the Spaniard’s credential difficult to resist.
Several bookmakers, including Ladbrokes, Paddy Power and SkyBet, are offering odds of 5/2 3.50 +250 2.50 2.50 -0.40 about Newcastle winning next term’s English Championship. Those odds are big, not least because neither Aston Villa nor Norwich looks like finishing in front of a Newcastle side with Benitez at the helm and 50,000 Geordies providing their vocal support at 23 of the Toon Army’s 46 English Championship games. Newcastle owner Mike Ashley must have promised the world to Benitez for the Spaniard to sign on the dotted line and one does not expect the Sports Direct founder to deliver an atlas to him.
Seventy teams were relegated from the English Premier League in its first 23 terms and eight of them reacted positively, bouncing back immediately as the second-tier champion – Crystal Palace in 1993-1994, Bolton in 1996-1997, Nottingham Forest in 1997-1998, Charlton in 1999-2000, Manchester City in 2001-2002, Sunderland in 2006-2007, Newcastle in 2009-2010 and Burnley in 2015-2016. Benitez’s managerial honour roll includes the English FA Cup, FIFA Club World Cup, Italian Coppa Italia, Spanish Primera Division, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Cup and UEFA Europa League but he boasts a couple of Spanish Segunda Division promotions as well from his days coaching Extremadura and Tenerife. What one is saying is that Benitez has proven his managerial ability at various levels of football and that operating in the English Championship is highly unlikely to faze him.
Newcastle to win the 2016/17 Championship
Odds: 5/2 3.50 +250 2.50 2.50 -0.40
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