Why Newcastle could compete for the Premier League
As Newcastle completely destroyed a Leicester City side, missing out on several first-team regulars such as James Maddison and James Justin, the thought of a Premier League battle became more plausible than it could have been.
Of course, at first glance, the idea seems far too hopeful and optimistic. It’s Newcastle we’re talking about here, the mid-table team that haven’t finished above tenth in the Premier League since 2012. Still, surprisingly, Newcastle looks better than ever.
They are creative and play very entertaining football. Led by the goal-scoring prowess of Miguel Almiron and the creativity of Kieran Trippier and Bruno Guimaraes, they have produced one of the best attacks in the league. And, as their romp about Leicester showed, they can use it effectively.
But what has changed from the mediocre Newcastle team two years ago to the over-achieving team of today? And will they have a chance to win it all for the first time in almost a century?
Planting the seeds
To properly explain Newcastle’s excellence in 2022, turn the dial all the way back to 2018. The Toon were just months away from a Championship title and their greatest claim to fame was success in the late 90s and early 2000s. After returning to the Premier League Newcastle broke the bank by signing Atlanta United’s Almiron for over $25 milliontheir most expensive catch since the days of Michael Owen.
Almiron was seen as a flop at the time. The Paraguayan striker had just 12 goals in 100 Premier League appearances. Some pessimistic Newcastle fans thought the promising talent would just be a way to make a quick profit, as the club did with Georginio Wijnaldum, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Moussa Sissoko.
But the signing somehow caused Newcastle to spend money in an unforeseen way in an effort to bolster its squad and fend off relegation. After spending $63 million and finishing in 13th place, Newcastle would spend more than $77 million on now key players like Joelinton and Alan Saint Maximin. They finished 13th again that season.
After cutting costs and spending about $41 million on Callum Wilson and more, Newcastle again finished 13th. Mike Ashley was not only frustrated by the increasingly hostile fanbase, but also under pressure to step down as Newcastle’s owner.
A Newcastle takeover
Ashley’s resignation invited a Saudi-backed consortium to take control of Newcastle. It is not known why Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia wanted to buy a football club, let alone Newcastle.
Maybe it’s because Newcastle-upon-Tyne is arguably the most famous city in the north of England and it’s a relatively important city in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps it is a desire to compete with Qatar (PSG) and the UAE (City) in a strange kind of proxy war. Or maybe it’s just a strange way to gain honor and pride. Regardless, Saudi Arabia completed the financial takeover amid some controversy.
The first action? spend. Newcastle had the most expensive transfer window of all time in 2020, with more than $115 million in the winter transfer window alone. Their January catch included Guimaraes, Wood, Trippier and key defender Dan Burn.
It improved their position in the Premier League from 19th in 20 games played to 11th by the end of the season. If only the second half of the Premier League counted, Newcastle would finish fourth, ahead of Liverpool, United and Chelsea. After spending even more money, $144 million to be exact, on Sven Botman, Matt Targett, Nick Pope and Alexander Isak. Now Newcastle are second in the league.
The whole sequence of events; from winning the championship to a potential challenge for the Premier League in just five years; feels like a fever dream for the believers in Newcastle. But like Newcastle’s chances of making it to European football for the first time in a decade, it is real.
It’s not just money
It’s easy to dismiss Newcastle’s success as mere money. Unsurprisingly, all signs point to it. Newcastle had a huge surge of success as the new owners pumped tons of money into the club, enabling the team to make some big transfers. But the management signing of Eddie Howe is arguably what really got Newcastle moving.
When Steve Bruce and the consortium broke up, St. James Park was on fire; and not in a good way. The club was in 19th place and in danger of relegation when he left.
On the field, Newcastle offered nothing new, despite trying to keep up with the rest of the league with his new signings. The offense was mundane and the defense was porous. off the field, Tensions in the dressing room plagued Newcastleand fans regularly criticized Bruce’s “negative football.”
We’ve played a certain way in the past to make sure we got the results we needed. I let them be at ease. But, as I said, the gloves are off now. I’m going to do things the way I like. We’ll do it my way.
Steve Bruce talks to the Guardian after a 1-0 defeat to Sheffield United in 2021
A difference maker on the bench
The signing of Eddie Howe helped Newcastle gain some sort of consistency. Their 4-3-3 form was robust and fluid, allowing them to not only defend solidly and frustrate opponents, but also attack quickly.
Howe is a match made in heaven for a Newcastle team with plenty of attacking depth and playmakers in the squad. His formation focuses on attacking brilliance and defensive flexibility, bringing out the quality of the Newcastle stars.
Trippier and Joe Willock have provided dangerous crosses. Trippier also provided an extra layer of playmaking past Bruno Guimaraes. Miguel Almiron and Callum Wilson provide that essential finish that contending teams need. The defense is as impressive as the offense.
Nick Pope, arguably the best goalie in the league right now, has the highest save percentage and seventh most saves. Trippier is a solid defensive wall, and so is Joelinton when he plays as a midfielder. Howe has put all these players and qualities together, with profound consequences.
What to expect from Newcastle in the Premier League going forward
With new players and a new manager, Newcastle look set to make a deep run in the league. And they showed that in their recent victory against mid-division club Leicester.
They were bold, creative, solid; everything a Premier League winner can be. And while dreams of winning the Premier League may be far-fetched, they have the results to back it up. A 3-3 shootout with City, a 2-1 win over Tottenham and a 1-0 thriller against Chelsea all confirm Newcastle’s renewed rise to the top.
If they can’t find the points to pass Arsenal in first place, Newcastle still look like a favorite to make the top seven and qualify for European football. While it’s easy to blame the consortium and the huge investment, it respects the valiant efforts of a Newcastle side who have rebuilt themselves both tactically and mentally. Look forward to a New Year’s Eve game against relegation contenders Leeds, where Newcastle can certainly show off.
PHOTO: IMAGO / NurPhoto
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