Tonight, Rafa Benitez marks his 31st game in charge of Newcastle. In less than a full Premier League season, the Spaniard has changed this football club beyond belief.

Over a year ago, Newcastle were knocked out of the League Cup by Sheffield Wednesday and Magpies’ supporters were in despair.

Before the season began former manager Steve McClaren said, and I quote “I am determined to give Newcastle fans a team that they can be proud of.” Well, that didn’t quite come to fruition. Promising to try in cups, McClaren set out to achieve what many managers had failed to do for years, bring a trophy home to St. James’ Park.

BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 07: Steve McClaren manager of Newcastle United shakes hands with Cheik Ismael Tiote to celebrate their 1-0 win in the Barclays Premier League match between A.F.C. Bournemouth and Newcastle United at Vitality Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Bournemouth, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

In reality, we got another mediocre manager, who was just grateful for another crack at the big time after a relatively uninspiring and middling coaching career.

McClaren was poor throughout his tenure as United manager, and he knew it. He wasn’t exactly helped though, with terrible decisions from the boardroom, as he got understandably frustrated at not getting the English signings he so badly craved.

January comes around, and United look set to be relegated. McClaren and co are useless, and the team is in terrible condition. McClaren though, finally got his wish. Two English players brought to the club. Townsend and Jonjo Shelvey. It was however, to be to little, too late.

Ian MacNicol/Getty Images Sport

On rolls March 11th 2016. After a week long drama (in typical Newcastle fashion), Mr Rafa Benitez is appointed manager. Not as head coach but as manager, and this is what kicked off the ‘Rafalution’.

What a difference seven months make!

Fast forward to November 2016. Newcastle look like a different club. All instigated by Rafa Benitez. New coaches, new manager, new players, new philosophy, and a new start.

Ian MacNicol/Getty Images Sport

Nothing excites me more than seeing players who actually want to play for Newcastle United. Matt Ritchie and Dwight Gayle are prime examples of this, players that have dropped down from the Premier League to play at St James’ Park.

We’re no longer a stepping stone for players and we shouldn’t be either. 52,000 fans at St James’ every week in the Championship? There’s no way the club should be a stepping stone, and it fills me with pride that Benitez has finally changed that philosophy.

Not only do players want to drop down a league to play for us, but our current players don’t want to leave us! Jamaal Lascelles highlighted this when linked with Chelsea. He said “I am a Newcastle United player and my job is to stay here and hopefully be picking up a trophy at the end of the season.”

Stu Forster/Getty Images Sport

It’s not only on the pitch that Rafa has changed us either (rectifying that damn away record!), off it, we’ve become… professional… Instead of going for a head coach style, we now allow the manager to get the players he wants – who changed that? Rafa Benitez. The fans are now connected to the club again – who changed that? Rafa Benitez.

Okay, you get the picture. And so for that reason, win or lose tonight, Newcastle United are a changed club. And we have Rafa Benitez to thank for it.