Dwight Gayle`s season has been a topsy-turvy one to say the least. Despite scoring 23 goals in the Championship last season, Rafa was not convinced he had what it takes to lead the line in the Premier League.
Instead our No.9 has had to watch from the sidelines and bide his time while Joselu was given the nod ahead of him to start on numerous occasions. As the season has gone though, it seems our manager has begun to see the merits of starting the 27-year-old more often.
From mid-November to early December, the striker put a small run together of three goals in four matches, but even then, he was benched for the 2-2 against West Brom mid-way through that good spell. At no point this season has the former Crystal Palace forward played more than three games in a row. Could this be down to a lack of faith?
One of the notable differences between our tactics in the Championship and the Premier League is that generally the lone striker doesn`t have as much support in attack. They are more isolated with the Magpies having less possession. The need for a physical presence up front is required to do the donkey work and hold up the ball.
A poacher with pace like Gayle will therefore not always suit the tactics that our manager employs, and the arrival of Islam Slimani in the January transfer window was telling, as it shows the type of forward Rafa would prefer to deploy.
Benitez generally likes a target men. At Valencia he had John Carew, and at Liverpool he brought in Peter Crouch just a year into his spell as the Merseyside club`s manager. Still, for me, pace and mobility are qualities that are vital at the top level.
If you play on the counter attack, the likes of Jamie Vardy and Mo Salah show that speed can kill opponents, and while it may not be suited for every match situation, I think he deserves a longer run in the first team, even more so after his double at the weekend. His main rival for a starting position could now be out until deep into March, and he will need to take full advantage over the next few weeks so the manager has no choice but to keep him in the side for an extended period.