Salomon Rondon turning up big for Toon at right time
Background Image: Jimmy McIntyre, CC by 2.0
Top-class poachers like to be clinical, flaunting an uncommon knack for being at the right place at the right time. They bury all kind of opportunities: headers, tap-ins, follow-ups, long-range volleys, with either foot. Even when anonymous for long spells, they still find that decisive strike from the slightest touches. That’s the sort of player Salomon Rondon has become for Newcastle United.
Rondon is a product of circumstance. He typifies the divergence in vision between Rafa Benitez and the current Magpies regime. Had Mike Ashley and the club's hierarchy had their way, Aleksandr Mitrovic would probably have remained in Tyneside. The Serb fits the club’s age profile and philosophy. At 29, Rondon was three years over that threshold.
Adamant Benitez held firm. He knew his man and was eager to go the extra mile. After all, owing to budget constraints, there are not many strikers he could realistically attract to the North East. Goals were short in supply. With 39 strikes, they managed the third worst return of teams in the top 15. So even when the club stalled on a permanent deal, Benitez sacrificed Dwight Gayle.
Admittedly it was a transfer which, appeared flawed. Although a goal poacher of repute, the 29-year-old seemed to be on a steady decline. Rondon made his name in Spain for Las Palmas and Malaga. He enhanced his reputation in Russia. However, his stock crashed year after year at the Hawthorns.
The goals dropped every season. From nine in his debut Premier League campaign, it fell to eight and then seven last season. Even non-mathematicians estimated another slump this year.
A series of niggling injuries bolstered that theory. Rondon wasn't involved in the Magpies early season rumbling. Mitrovic and Gayle, meanwhile, settled swiftly at Fulham and West Brom respectively. While the pair struck upon the right magic, it took until November 10 for Rondon to open his league account for Newcastle. Since then, however, the Venezuelan hasn't taken a break.
Rondon has notched four times in six games, providing an assist in another. The Venezuela international's importance to Benitez's team can't be overemphasised. An otherwise toothless Magpies attack has the 29-year-old to thank for coming to its rescue in the last one month. Rondon’s work ethic, energy and enthusiasm make him a torn to the opposition.
Although sometimes apathetic, he shows up at the right moment to settle the contest. This was the case against Huddersfield on Sunday. Rondon was largely anonymous but announced himself with the winning goal. A swift counter-attacking move was the only clear-cut opportunity the West Brom loanee had in front of goal, yet he ruthlessly dispatched it against a wasteful Terriers side.
Rondon is very much repaying Benitez’s faith. His goals have won the Spaniard seven valuable points during that period. Yet Benitez reckons his talisman can do much more with better service from his teammates.
“I am happy with him, but still he can improve because I think he is doing a great job for the team, but we maybe have to support him a little bit more. If he has more support, if he has more crosses and passes into him, then he will score more goals because he can do it.”
Rondon is clearly enjoying the extra burden of playing up tops all alone. His ability to bring his team-mates into play and hold-up the ball have proven invaluable. Joselu, Yoshinori Muto and Ayoze Perez have failed as companions.
Rondon has already surpassed expectations in the North East. With such performances, he could be the difference between staying up and going down in May. That should be enough in earning a permanent home for Gayle in the Midlands while he continues the tour of the North East.