Tactics from Benitez's sofa

LONDON • It could have been convoluted and messy but somehow Rafael Benitez managed to orchestrate a simple, no-frills 1-0 victory over Swansea City from his sofa in his family home on Merseyside.

The Newcastle manager was tempted to accept his chairman's offer of a helicopter ride to the Liberty Stadium but his family and his doctors told him that he needed more time to recover from an infection caused by a hernia operation.

In his absence his players were stoic and patient and, despite all the cries that his team lack stardust, they proved that camaraderie amid the ordinary can be priceless, taking all three Premier League points with a 76th-minute goal from Jamaal Lascelles on Sunday.

The travelling fans sang the name of their absent manager, in no doubt that he was the architect of a solid performance and, indeed, he was. The Spaniard was on the phone throughout the match to Antonio Gomez, an assistant coach sitting in the directors' box.

Gomez relayed advice from the manager to the tall Mikel Antia, another assistant coach on the touchline, who tapped at his earphone as he gesticulated to the players, sometimes turning to Paco de Miguel, the assistant manager, to convert the messages into action.

"Hopefully it will be the record for my whole life," de Miguel said of his 100 per cent win record while in charge. There was no way he was about to minimise the input of Benitez, however.

The accusation levelled at Newcastle is that they have failed to add quality needed to compete in the Premier League, but some traits of a Championship-winning side are transferable, most notably a keen work ethic.

Just as Swansea seemed to have a stranglehold on possession, Lascelles scored from a looping corner kick, helped by Tammy Abraham becoming distracted by Mohamed Diame to allow the Newcastle captain to head past Lukasz Fabianski.

Newcastle followed up their 3-0 home victory over West Ham before the international break by limiting Swansea to just a handful of scoring opportunities.

"They played their shape better than we played our shape," Paul Clement, the Swansea coach, said. "They were more combative in the duels and deserve the victory."

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2017, with the headline 'Tactics from Benitez's sofa'. Print Edition | Subscribe