Newcastle on track for European push
Last season saw West Ham United and Leicester City the closest two teams to the traditional ‘Big Six’, but Newcastle United’s start to the new term suggests they can be the best of the rest.
With the Hammers yet to earn a single point and Leicester similarly struggling, the door appears to be open for others from the chasing pack to stake a claim for European qualification.
Newcastle, having held the champions Manchester City to a 3-3 draw on Sunday, continue to improve under highly rated coach Eddie Howe and might be putting together a European push. The Magpies last tasted continental football in the 2012–13 season, when they made it to the quarter-finals of the Europa League. About a decade on, could they be set to return to Europe?
No silly signings after priceless takeover
Newcastle fans had waited years for Mike Ashley to sell the club. While it is fair to ask questions about the human rights record of Saudi Arabia, supporters were simply desperate for a new era. Immediately dubbed the richest club in world football, many football fans expected Newcastle to splash the cash. The rumour mill soon cranked into overdrive and there are very few elite players who have not been linked with a move to St. James’ Park over the last year or so.
There is no doubt Newcastle have cash to splash, but spending it is not quite so easy. With everyone in football knowing Newcastle’s transfer budget is large, finding value is impossible. Nevertheless, the smart appointment of Eddie Howe after Steve Bruce was inevitably shown the door has been followed by a number of very sensible transfers. The bank remains unbroken. England right-back Kieran Trippier was first to join the new era in January. Trippier was looking to return to the Premier League after a successful spell at Atletico Madrid, where he won the La Liga title. Despite previously having been linked strongly with Manchester United, the Bury-born defender opted to join Newcastle and was an immediate success, scoring in back-to-back games as the Magpies eased away from relegation, though he then succumbed to an injury.
Newcastle spent close to £100 million on new arrivals in that first post-takeover window. Eyebrows were raised at triggering the £25 million release clause in Chris Wood’s contract, but the move for the New Zealand striker weakened their relegation rivals Burnley and provided a necessary replacement for injury-prone Callum Wilson. While £13 million for Brighton’s Dan Burn also seemed expensive, the defender proved an upgrade on Newcastle’s other options.
Bruno Guimaraes from Lyon was the headline arrival and the Brazilian has duly formed a strong midfield partnership with Joelinton, who has been transformed by Howe from a striker who rarely scored into a box-to-box dynamo. Guimaraes is already being linked with Real Madrid.
Newcastle have continued to be circumspect with their summer spending. While around £35 million was spent on Sven Botman from Lille, converting Matt Targett’s loan into a permanent deal and spending £10 million on England goalkeeper Nick Pope are the only other arrivals.
Fifth in 2022 league table
Most clubs would climb the table after having about £150 million spent on their squads over two transfer windows, but Howe deserves huge credit for his impressive work at Newcastle so far.
Newcastle have taken 43 points from their 22 Premier League games played in 2022 to date. That places them fifth in a table for the calendar year for 2022, suggesting that their strong start to the new campaign could continue despite failing to make a two-goal lead against City count.
Wilson being fit and firing is key for Newcastle, who are still trying to add to their attacking ranks. A couple of bids for Leicester playmaker James Maddison have been rebuffed by the Foxes and Newcastle are also reportedly keen on the Leeds United star Jack Harrison. Both players would give Newcastle more threat in the final third, with Howe having crafted a solid defence. Pope kept clean sheets in each of his first two league games for the club and was again excellent against the champions at the weekend despite being beaten on three occasions.
Newcastle could have easily gone into their shell against City, attempting to keep the score down after falling behind to Ilkay Gundogan’s early strike with just a few minutes on the clock. After all, Howe had never taken a single point against Pep Guardiola’s teams before, but he opted to take the fight to City and the gamble paid off as Newcastle bounced back to lead 3-1.
That positive approach could reap the rewards for Newcastle, with Europe in their sights.