Forget Míchel Sánchez - Newcastle's ideal Eddie Howe replacement is staring them in the face

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Rumours are swirling that Newcastle are looking to sack Eddie Howe and appoint the manager of high-flying Girona.

For the first time since he took charge of Newcastle United a little over two years ago, Eddie Howe is under pressure. The progress of the team has been a consistent upward curve since he replaced Steve Bruce back in 2021 - but things have suddenly turned a little sour, and a quick scroll of social media reveals plenty of fans calling for his head following a difficult run that has seen the Magpies win just one of their last eight games – and now, for the first time, there are reports in the press concerning a potential successor.

Sacking Howe off the back of the first lean spell of his tenure after such sustained success would seem premature at best, and self-destructive at worst, but then we really don’t know how the owners will handle a situation like this. Are they trigger happy, ready to change manager at the drop of a hat? Patient? We haven’t the foggiest, but a report from Spanish sports daily Marca suggests that the power brokers at Newcastle are considering replacing Howe with Míchel Sánchez, the impressive head coach of high-flying Girona, who are just a thin sliver of goal difference away from topping the Spanish top flight.

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It's easy to see the appeal – at 48, he can just about qualify as a hot young thing in managerial terms, and what he’s achieved with a relatively cheaply-assembled side is nothing short of remarkable. Sustaining a genuine title challenge with a team with Girona’s resources is an astonishing feat, and it makes perfect sense that his performance in Catalonia will catch the eye of bigger, wealthier clubs. But if Newcastle do get rid of Howe (and heaven knows that they shouldn’t) is Sánchez really the right man to take charge?

There’s no arguing with his achievements – his first job in management, at Rayo Vallecano, saw him earn promotion to La Liga back in 2018, and while he was fired after a tough run in the Spanish top flight, he repeated the feat with Huesca in 2020. Once more, he was removed from his role with an under-resourced club struggling at the highest level, and once more he dropped down to the second tier and brought a club up - Girona. This time, his success has stuck, and now they are sat second in the table just over the halfway stage, 10 points ahead of Atlético Madrid in third and level with Real Madrid at the top.

So he’s a fantastic manager with an impressive track record, no arguments there. But his style of play has been far removed from the way Newcastle play under Howe – and it isn’t easy to imagine the current squad suiting Sánchez’s methods.

Much like Roberto di Zerbi at Brighton & Hove Albion, Sánchez likes to have his team sit deep and absorb pressure, using quick interchanges at the back to maintain possession and suck opposing players into an over-committed high press before launching quick counter-attacks. For Girona, that usually means fast attacks down the flanks, with his wide forwards like Cristian Stuani and the hugely-talented 19-year-old Sávio using the full width of the field to find and exploit space and deliver quick balls into the box.

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Would that sort of thing work at Newcastle? Howe’s side aren’t blessed with highly technical defenders and don’t look to play out of trouble among the back four – instead, they are set up to play with a high press, reducing the size of the field and allowing them to get the ball quickly into their dynamic midfielders, who can carry the ball forward at speed while Kieran Trippier gets up to offer width. Their attack is set up to be narrow and off the ball they look to play with a high-tempo, organised press which hopes to win the ball high up the field. In other words, Newcastle’s tactics are completely different from those employed by Girona.

That doesn’t mean that Sánchez can’t adapt his methods, or that some of Newcastle’s players couldn’t operate perfectly well under a different system, but asking for such a radical departure from either the manager or the playing staff is also asking for trouble, or at the very least for a lengthy period of adaption.

The press-resistant style of Girona has many merits in the modern game, but you can’t simply flick a switch and turn Sven Botman and Dan Burn into technical players who are comfortable playing quick one-twos in front of their own goal, nor can you expect Anthony Gordon or Miguel Almirón to be instantly transmogrified into the kind of players who are adept at using every inch of the width of the field. Newcastle’s squad simply doesn’t look like a good fit for Sánchez as a coach.

So if – and it should be no more than an if, if even that – Newcastle do decide to get rid of Howe, who would make more sense as an appointment? The best fit among the more obvious candidates could perhaps be found a little further down the Premier League table, ironically at another club who are struggling with just one win in eight games. Thomas Frank, who has worked minor miracles with Brentford over recent seasons, seems like the ideal candidate.

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Frank’s Brentford team play with a high-tempo, organised pressing system, much like Newcastle’s. He also bases his tactics on a back four, which would likely suit the squad at St. James’ Park rather better than a back three, which many of the other available top-tier managers (Antonio Conte, Julian Nagelsmann and so on) prefer. He also tries to reduce the size of the field and get the ball quickly to the forward line, and while there is a significant difference in how Brentford achieve that – Frank likes to get quick passes up the field rather than using ball-carrying midfielders – that at least partly reflects the players he has at his disposal. Midfielders like Christian Nørgaard and Mathias Jensen are combative players who produce a lot of turnovers, but aren’t fast dribblers who can break the lines with the ball at their feet.

Joelinton and Bruno Guimarães absolutely are, as are several of their team-mates. They also happen to be among Newcastle’s best and most important players, and it would make sense to appoint a manager whose system makes maximum use of their qualities. That doesn’t seem, on paper, to be the way Sánchez tends to play. It’s much easier to see them fitting neatly into Frank’s tactical set-up.

Of course, Newcastle shouldn’t appoint Frank. Or Sánchez. Or anyone else whatsoever – they already have a manager who has demonstrated that he can get the most out of the current squad not just as a team but also on an individual basis. Recent results have been deeply frustrating, but Howe has been hobbled by an injury crisis that has left him with few fully fit players and several who seem simply exhausted by being forced to play far more minutes than they otherwise might have. This is the first stumble of Howe’s Newcastle career, and there are obvious mitigating factors.

Yes, they were beaten black and blue by Liverpool on Monday evening, and looked abysmal in the process. It will be hard to make the top four again this season, but Howe has surely earned a measure of patience for everything he has done so far. For all the financial investment that Newcastle have enjoyed from their ownership, Howe has still overachieved, and binning him after one bad run would be absurd.

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The reports from Spain may be no more than idle chatter with no basis in reality. It may also be the case that Newcastle are analysing their options with no immediate intention of making a change – current sporting director Dan Ashworth instituted a practice of assessing potential future managers at Brighton regardless of whether the club intended to make any moves, and perhaps that is all that is happening here. It’s also pretty likely that Sánchez wouldn’t want to leave Girona when they are so close to a truly remarkable achievement – Girona winning La Liga would be on a par with Leicester City’s Premier League title in 2016, and it’s hard to imagine Claudio Ranieri leaving half-way through that season.

But whatever the truth of Newcastle’s alleged interest, they should hold fire for now. Howe has earned - or should have earned - plenty of credit, and betting against him righting the ship seems rather foolish. But should they move on, now or in the future, Frank could easily be the perfect choice for a replacement.

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