Rafa Benitez's arrival has come too little too late at Newcastle United

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Following Steve McClaren's sacking as Newcastle United manager after a dour run of results and overall dismal campaign, Rafa Benitez was handed the reins at St James' Park.

The Spaniard only left La Liga giants Real Madrid in January yet faces a completely different challenge just two months on.

You have to admire Benitez, of course - he's taken on a group of players currently struggling for both form and inspiration amidst the looming prospect of relegation - but he's inherited a sinking ship.


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Ultimately, Newcastle's players are just as much to blame for their poor campaign as their previous manager.

Fabricio Coloccini, for example, hasn't risen to the responsibilities of captaincy, making a number of costly mistakes and failing to show the leadership required in a relegation-threatened side.

Alongside the injury-plagued Stephen Taylor, the pair's partnership is the very same that saw the Magpies relegated in 2008 - a bad omen, perhaps?

Most worryingly for Newcastle is the fact they're the biggest spenders of those in the relegation scrap yet still find themselves struggling for survival.

Jonjo Shelvey arrived in January for £12 million but hasn't performed anywhere near how he's expected to, whilst fellow winter signings Andros Townsend and Seydou Doumbia have found themselves sat on the bench in recent weeks.

McClaren was delusional in his transfer dealings, failing to rectify the outstanding issues on Tyneside that desperately needed resolving and leaving Benitez with an unbalanced squad.

A club of Newcastle's size and history should be competing in the top half of the Premier League table alongside the likes of West Ham and Southampton, yet for a long time now a lack of passion and fight has condemned the Magpies to relegation fights.

Benitez is well placed to at least improve the club's fortunes, though. He twice won La Liga with Valencia, orchestrated what many believe to be the greatest ever comeback with Liverpool in the 2005 Champions League final and led Chelsea to Europe League triumph three years ago despite persistent hate from fans.

What's certain is Newcastle are lucky to have a manager of Benitez's calibre and willingness to help a club in need. 

Against Leicester City on Monday, in what was the Spaniard's first game in charge, there were noticeable improvements. Defeat was a disappointing start to the Benitez era, but Newcastle were better organised, created their fair share of decent chances and only lost to a piece of magic from Shinji Okazaki.

This weekend's Tyne-Wear derby will prove most critical in the Magpies' hopes of survival and a win would be the perfect way to kickstart Benitez's tenure.

However, there's a sense of too little, too late. The damage has been done at St James' Park and but for a miracle run of form, Newcastle appear certain to suffer the drop.

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