Bargain transfers and injury nightmares - unpacking Newcastle United's chaotic 2023/24 season

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How do we assess Newcastle United’s performances this season?

Assessing Newcastle United’s season is far from an easy task. How can the night St. James’ Park became a hive of energy and intensity as Paris Saint-Germain were swatted aside sit alongside lifeless, uninspiring displays such as festive period defeats against Luton Town and Nottingham Forest?

Can it really be that the same side that claimed cup wins against Manchester United and Manchester City also succumbed to a demoralising 2-0 defeat at Bournemouth and a error-laden loss at Everton?

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There are, of course, mitigating factors that can be used in defence of those negatives as Eddie Howe has been forced to go into battle across four different competitions against a backdrop of a seemingly never-ending list of injuries and just when there seemed to be light at the end of the tunnel, another player was struck down. One can also take the Sandro Tonali situation into account as the Magpies main summer signing has been forced to watch on from the sidelines after being handed a lengthy suspension for breaching gambling regulations during his time with AC Milan.

Perhaps it is best to rewind the clock two years, when Howe had led the Magpies from relegation certainties to the warm, glowing embrace of mid-table security within five months of his appointment to realise just how far Newcastle have come. In qualifying for the Champions League during his first full season in charge, Howe had fast-tracked the ambitious plans laid out by the club’s PIF-led owners to a rate where they were playing catch-up. Ahead of last season, many a Newcastle supporter would have been satisfied with a top half finish and a good cup run. Securing a return to the Champions League for the first time in two decades and reaching their first major cup final since 1999 was beyond any expectations.

Some may well point to Newcastle’s recruitment last summer and question why such a large sum was paid for Tonali - but there was little inkling of what was to follow and from United’s point of view they were getting a fully fledged, top class international midfielder with vast experience of competing in the Champions League. The £32m paid out for Tino Livramento also provoked questions but, just as Anthony Gordon and Alexander Isak have done, the former Southampton man is starting to make that fee look like something of a snip.

Harvey Barnes gave Howe the hardworking, consistent winger Howe craved - but was struck down by an unfortunate injury after making a bright start to his career on Tyneside. Lewis Hall, now a permanent member of Howe’s ranks, was always viewed as a long-term project and is very much an ongoing task for howe and his coaching staff.

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Yes, there are still questions to be asked of the Magpies such as why an additional striker was not brought in and did they feel a need to boost their defensive ranks to cope with the increased fixture schedule? But in this world where the punishments for falling foul of the Premier League’s Profit and Sustainability regulations and UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules are severe, United have always vowed to stay on the right side of such factors, despite having the vast wealth to breach them without a care for what could follow. Long-term planning has always been the mood music played out by the Magpies hierarchy.

So, back to this season and whether it is success or failure. Newcastle have been inconsistent, of that there is no doubt. Quite simply, you just don’t know which Magpies side you will get and that has made them as unpredictable for pundits and opposition as it has for supporters. In the space of three weeks they went from wins against Chelsea and Manchester United and a heartening draw at Paris Saint-Germain to defeats against Everton, Luton and Forest. That encapsulates how the vast majority of the season has felt.

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W4 D1 L1 | Getty Images

Yet now, with just weeks remaining in the campaign, despite battling without the likes of Kieran Trippier, Nick Pope, Joelinton and Sven Botman for large parts of the second half of the campaign, Newcastle are still firmly in the mix for a second consecutive season in European competition.

They are, in effect, enjoying the season many thought they would have last season, and last season was what some thought they would carry out during the current campaign. Securing a place in the Europa Conference League or Europa League would be a remarkable success given the various challenges Howe and his players have faced throughout a quite frankly bizarre nine months. A failure to do so would take away from that and there would be some questions asked.

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But regardless of how the next three weeks play out, whether European football is secured or not, Howe and his players will head into the summer with lessons learnt and with the clear aim of returning to the high levels they set themselves last season and giving the St. James’ Park faithful something to relish when the new season gets underway in August.

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