Newcastle United’s brutal wake up call is ideal timing ahead of relentless upcoming fixture list

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The challenges that await Newcastle United must be met head-on as they look to move on from a challenging start to the Premier League season.

At a club where progress on and off the field has been rapid over the last 18 months, perhaps it is understandable a slight bump in the road has been accentuated.

Newcastle United’s improvement since the energy and nous of Eddie Howe replaced the limitations of Steve Bruce has taken the Magpies ambitious plans into overdrive to the extent ambitions are playing catch-up with reality. Qualifying for the Champions League felt a long-term target for United when Howe accepted an offer to take charge at St James Park in November 2021 as his newly-inherited squad still awaited their first win of the Premier League season.

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Eddie Howe, Manager of Newcastle United, looks on prior to the Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion and Newcastle United at American Express Community Stadium on September 02, 2023 in Brighton, England. Eddie Howe, Manager of Newcastle United, looks on prior to the Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion and Newcastle United at American Express Community Stadium on September 02, 2023 in Brighton, England.
Eddie Howe, Manager of Newcastle United, looks on prior to the Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion and Newcastle United at American Express Community Stadium on September 02, 2023 in Brighton, England.

Thoughts were of avoiding trips to Millwall and Preston rather than preparing to take on European football royalty from Milan and Paris. Yet here they are, just weeks away from a first Champions League group stage campaign since the days Sir Bobby Robson cajoled from the touchlines at St James Park and the pace and power of Craig Bellamy and Alan Shearer terrorised Premier League defences.

Some have suggested Newcastle simply ‘got lucky’ over the course of last season as they took full advantage of underwhelming seasons from Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur to claim one of the four Champions League places.

Yet that seriously underestimates the level of consistency and quality’s Howe’s side provided as they lost just five of their 38 league fixtures - a figure better than any other top flight side with the exception of champions Manchester City.

The Magpies also topped the table in terms of fewest goals conceded as they matched City’s total of 33 and boasted the third highest Premier League goal difference across the season. There were noteworthy wins against Manchester United, Spurs and Brighton, as well as an early-season draw against would-be champions City that was less of a hint and more of a loud warning of what was to follow.

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Newcastle roared with power, poise and passion throughout what will go down as one of the most unexpectedly memorable seasons in the club’s recent history. Those qualities were carried over into the opening day of the season when Howe’s side blew away Aston Villa at St James Park - but that win has preceded three defeats that have surprisingly placed question marks over what can be achieved this season.

The Seagulls spent more than £85m on new recruits as they looked to strengthen their squad ahead of an historic campaign, in which they would compete in the Europa League for the first-time ever. (Photo by Alex Broadway/Getty Images)The Seagulls spent more than £85m on new recruits as they looked to strengthen their squad ahead of an historic campaign, in which they would compete in the Europa League for the first-time ever. (Photo by Alex Broadway/Getty Images)
The Seagulls spent more than £85m on new recruits as they looked to strengthen their squad ahead of an historic campaign, in which they would compete in the Europa League for the first-time ever. (Photo by Alex Broadway/Getty Images)

Emerging pointless from visits to Manchester City and Brighton and a home game against a Liverpool side that played with ten men for 70 minutes felt like a blow and in some aspects that feeling may well be true.

The Magpies were expected to give City a rough ride in their first home game since their historic Champions League final win - yet Pep’s men were comfortable despite the narrow nature of their win. Liverpool’s win on Tyneside will go down as a missed opportunity for Howe and his players after the visitors overturned a half-time deficit with two late Darwin Nunez goals, despite being left short-handed by Virgil van Dijk’s first-half red card. And there is no defence for United’s performance on the south coast as Evan Ferguson’s hat-trick gave Brighton a fully-deserved three points in last weekend’s meeting of the two sides.

Despite all of the progress and improvement, Howe, his coaching staff and the players that have achieved so much over the last 12 months should not be beyond criticism or stern analysis. The abject display at Brighton felt like a real low in a plethora of highs under Howe as the energy and intensity that have become hallmarks of his time in charge were conspicuous by their absence.

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There have been some questionable in-game decisions, such as the substitutions of Sandro Tonali and Anthony Gordon during the home defeat against Liverpool that led to a lack of control and quality in the middle and final third. There is also a feeling of imbalance in midfield, where for all of the obvious quality of Joelinton, Bruno Guimaraes and summer signing Tonali, a perfect blend remains out of reach for the time being.

Yet despite the slightly negative feeling left by the trio of defeats ahead of the international break, perspective is required. Newcastle’s opening four fixtures have all come against sides that ended last season in the top seven of the Premier League table and they are only one point behind the total they collected in the same fixtures last season.

Newcastle United midfield duo Bruno Guimaraes (left) and Sandro Tonali (right). (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)Newcastle United midfield duo Bruno Guimaraes (left) and Sandro Tonali (right). (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Newcastle United midfield duo Bruno Guimaraes (left) and Sandro Tonali (right). (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

On paper, a run of fixtures that some may view as favourable is on the horizon with Brentford, Burnley and Crystal Palace all set to visit St. James’ Park and away days at Sheffield United and West Ham United also on the agenda for the Magpies. There is, of course, the small matter of Champions League group stage ties with Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan and Borussia Dortmund to take into consideration and a Carabao Cup third round home tie with Manchester City too.

Such a hectic fixture list will put strain on Howe’s squad but it will also provide an opportunity for each and every member of the United ranks to prove themselves and show why they deserve a chance to secure a chance to play a significant role in helping their manager achieve the long-term goals of his employers.

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Howe has a significant role to play and he will embark on a learning curve over the coming months as he looks to balance player workloads with the necessity of securing wins and moving on from the trio of defeats that have caused some concern on Tyneside.

It may not feel like it, but opportunity lies in wait for Howe and his players - and it is down to everyone to grasp that when it arrives after the international break.

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