A Premier League relegation battle is not for the faint hearted. It is a slog, a 38-game dogfight. Some clubs and managers are built for it, others crumble when the pressure is on. Where do Rafael Benitez and Newcastle United sit on that spectrum?
Looking at their current predicament, it is difficult to see what they do next. Everyone knows the problems at the club: Mike Ashley does not want to spend money on new players. As his apparent attempts to sell the club go on, he is not prepared to invest serious funds into the current squad.
Make no mistake, investment is what this Newcastle team needs. Looking at the squad for yesterday's defeat at Chelsea, there is an incredible lack of quality. In this writer's opinion, there was only three or four players of Premier League quality in that team. The likes of Salomon Rondon, Matt Richie and Jamaal Lascelles can only do so much. So can Rafael Benitez.
The Spaniard has refused to be drawn into discussion on potential transfers, but his feelings on the matter is plainly obvious.
It is one thing to be financially stringent, it another entirely to actively take money out of the club. Since Newcastle's promotion to the Premier League last summer, they have a positive net spend. They have spent less money than they have taken in, the only club in the league to come close to doing so.
You can defend Mike Ashley all you want, as Rio Ferdinand did in the BT Sport studio did yesterday. He does not have to spend money on the squad, that is his prerogative. But this club is floundering under his stewardship, wasting one of the game's top managers who is desperate to see Newcastle succeed.
Sad to see Newcastle, with Benitez and players trying so hard, given so little chance of staying up due to Mike Ashley playing his games and starving squad of investment. #CHENEW
— David Conn (@david_conn) January 12, 2019
The team needs improvements in almost every area. Of course that problem will not be solved in a single window, but the reparation process needs to start now. They need a central defender, a left back, a central midfielder, a winger. They probably won't get any of them.
Rafael Benitez is going to have to work miracles again. He did it last season, but the lack of investment is going to catch up with them at some point. Most of the teams around them improved their squad, they did not.
Newcastle sit in 18th place after yesterday's games. They currently find themselves in the midst of an incredibly tough run of fixtures, and are unlikely to be out of the bottom three come mid-February. Next week's game against Cardiff holds massive significance, as it will be followed by meetings with Spurs, Manchester City and Wolves.
This run will likely sap them of any remaining momentum, something that is so important in fighting the drop.
They need to start scoring goals, and fast. That won't happen with the way the squad is currently constructed. Benitez is the master of grinding out results, but that type of football will catch up with you eventually. It has already started to.
Looking at the teams around them, you fear for Newcastle. Huddersfield aside, they are in a worse spot than any of them.
Southampton have an energetic young manager and much better squad. Cardiff lack quality, but they seem to possess a fight and enthusiasm that Newcastle do not. Fulham are four points behind them, but they have a better squad and a new manager. They also have an owner willing to invest in the squad.
It's not looking good. Mike Ashley has gotten Newcastle into this mess, it is up to Rafael Benitez to get them out of it. He is a wonderful manager that is capable of overachieving, but he can only do so much. This is all going to come to a head soon, and the club could well experience their third relegation of the Mike Ashley era.
So where do Rafael Benitez and Newcastle go from here? Unfortunately, the most likely answer is The Championship.