If you had asked any Newcastle United fan what they were expecting for the second half of the season back in December, a push for a top-ten finish would not have been on anyone’s mind.
The Magpies had suffered a dreadful run of form prior to the turn of the new year with just one win in 11 games, nine of those coming as defeats for Rafael Benitez and his men.
However, the new year has seen a complete change in the north east with just two defeats to their name, coming against Premier League giants Manchester City and Liverpool – a transformation which has seen them move away from the drop zone and emerge as shock top-half hopefuls with six games left to play.
So what has changed to bring about this resurgence from the Magpies?
The truth is, nothing might have changed, but thanks to an inside reveal as to what is happening on the training pitch on Tyneside, fans can finally see the efforts behind closed doors emerging on the pitch in the Premier League.
Star midfielder Jonjo Shelvey said in an interview with Sky Sports: “Rafa is very tactical.
“He’s a very detailed coach, yesterday he kept the four midfielders after training to do a passing thing where you’re looking over your shoulder to see if the opponent is coming.
“It was weird, he was using bibs up in the air and you had to shout out the colour of the bibs. It’s something I’d never done before, but you can tell it’s paying off.
“He pushes us every day. He’s always on to us in training about stepping up a gear.”
Benitez’s bizarre training ground drills are obviously working their magic, and the Spaniard’s insistence that the players keep up the intensity mean that the same effort is put into competitive clashes.
It might be strange to fans and players alike, but the former Liverpool boss has evidently highlighted a weakness of his side – a massive strength of the Champions League winning manager – and his novel approach is paying off.
Newcastle would no doubt be struggling if they did not have Benitez in charge – instead, they are now dreaming of a stunning finish to what was expected to be a difficult season.
In other Newcastle United news, one attacking mainstay is considering exiting the club for their Premier League rivals.