If I could put forward one tentative suggestion to Rafael Benitez, the man who otherwise could do no wrong, it’s that Aleksandar Mitrovic could be used a little less sparingly.
The hot-headed Serb is a fully-fledged fans favourite due to his performances of all-out passion and public protestations of love for a club who have been left feeling betrayed by far too many of their on-pitched loved ones in recent seasons.
Yet, Mitrovic has started just four Championship games all season, with Ayoze Perez and Dwight Gayle firmly entrenched as the club’s second and first choice strikers.
But this is no new trend. The 22-year-old was hardly a regular starter under Benitez in the latter stages of last season either, the £13 million centre-forward (BBC) left among the substitutes despite Newcastle’s Premier League status hanging by a thread. In fact, his most inspired performance in a Magpies shirt, the ultimately futile two goal salvo in a 3-2 defeat to Norwich, was condensed into 30 second half minutes.
Many have suggested the striker’s indiscipline, demonstrated in his reckless stamp on Tottenham’s Kyle Walker which rendered him unavailable throughout the first three games of 2016/17, is the primary factor for his marginalisation but perhaps Benitez’s outlook is based more on tactics than temperament.
His adoration for smaller, quicker, cleverer strikers is well documented; Gayle and Perez stretch defences and fit his preferred passing philosophy much more fluidly than a physical, predatory pivot.
After all, a lot can be gleaned from Peter Crouch’s second season at Anfield under Benitez. The 6ft 7ins, deceptively technical targetman enjoyed his most prolific campaign in Liverpool red but started just 30 times in all competitions.
The season after, Crouch was picked in a Premier League XI on just nine occasions, though frequently being summoned from the bench late on as an alternative, a plan B – something Newcastle have not had to resort to often in recent months.
Could it be argued that Benitez is adopting the same approach with Mitrovic, a more dynamic player yet one who thrives on crosses rather than through-balls?
It must be pointed out that Crouch was being kept on the bench by first Craig Bellamy and Dirk Kuyt, then Fernando Torres; quick, diminutive strikers capable of stretching defences and running the channels a la Perez or Gayle.