A 10th draw of the season for United, as West Ham pegged them back at St James’ Park.
Vintage? No. But it keeps the Mags’ unbeaten run intact, with Liverpool still the only team to get the better of them so far in the league.
Here – courtesy of Ryan Gray – are five things we learnt from Saturday’s Hammer time.
- Bruno Guimarães is absolutely vital
After his straight red card in the Carabao Cup semi-final against Southampton, Bruno was reduced to a watching brief from the stands – and the team suffered for it.
Other than Longstaff’s early ball in behind for Callum Wilson’s opening strike, any meaningful connection between the midfield and the front line was desperately lacking.
Instead, West Ham were able to force the ball out wide where they could effectively double up on the likes of Allan Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almiron, both of whom offered little in the way of creativity.
There were a couple of moments where the midfield three tried to replicate the Brazilian’s instinctive, incisive passing, but what Bruno has cannot be taught and every attempt served only to return possession to the opponents.
What’s more, without his tenacity and intensity out of possession, Declan Rice was frequently afforded too much time to deliberate, allowing the visitors to build attacks where other teams have been rushed into a decision by Bruno’s relentless, irritating work rate.
He will be a big miss for the next two matches and Newcastle need to find a way to remain both creative on the ball, and aggressive off it, during his absence.
- Allan Saint-Maximin continues to divide
Bruno’s absence provided Saint-Maximin with the chance he’s been craving to play his way back into Eddie Howe’s starting XI.
Depending on who you ask, he either failed his audition spectacularly, or he was simply a victim of the game’s difficult circumstances. Both opinions have been offered by Newcastle supporters and there’s some truth to each.
What’s clear is that his game has changed from that of the raw enigmatic talent who first joined the club in 2019, but it’s not a shift that obviously suits him.
Initially, his single-minded approach, along with his skill and flair, earned him adoration from some, while others accused him of being too selfish and of not ‘pitching in’ off the ball.
Against West Ham, his ingenuity and flashes of brilliance weren’t on show, as he made a concerted effort to prove he can be a team player, by picking his head up and looking for a pass as early as possible, almost every time he got the ball.
To his credit, he did regularly get back and help Dan Burn with defensive duties, but if it’s going to limit his attacking threat, is it really worth having him on the pitch at all?
Howe needs to find a way to get a more balanced performance out of his mercurial winger, with his struggles one of only a few disappointments this season.
Tough night for Saint-Maximin. If you're going to criticize him (which is completely fine), at least don't use the "he doesn't track back" line. Pretty good indication that someone doesn't know what they're watching. He went with Coufal every single time.
— Sanjay (@nufcsanjay) February 4, 2023
- Teams are exploiting Almirón’s one-footedness
After a sensational and unexpected patch of form, Miguel Almirón has reverted to his former self, with other teams having seemingly worked out the cheat-codes for the Paraguayan.
West Ham doubled up on Miggy, forcing him out wide and on to his right foot, something he is ill-equipped to deal with. They aren’t the first team to do it either.
The result is far fewer goals either scored or created by the Paraguayan, who is now offering diminishing returns.
While his work rate can never be called into question, his inability to adapt and find new ways to become effective is another matter.
- Anthony Gordon’s future looks bright
Ordinarily a young £45 million attacking addition would be cause for great fanfare, but a lot of Newcastle fans are yet to be convinced that Anthony Gordon’s signing was a worthwhile bit of business.
However, the 21-year-old allayed some fears with his impressive 20 minute cameo.
Although the ex-Everton man was unable to find a way to change the result from a draw to a win, he did cause West Ham plenty of problems.
His direct style of play immediately impressed, as he fizzed passes into the feet of his midfielders before running in from the flank, looking for the return.
That aggressive attacking style, coupled with his off-the-ball endeavour, will endear him to those who still need to be persuaded.
Early positive signs.
— willock fan (@swamoil) February 4, 2023
- Ambition is well and truly back at St James’ Park
Newcastle’s draw against West Ham took them to the previously coveted 40-point mark – a landmark that was considered worthy of celebration during the Mike Ashley era.
But the sights are set much higher now, and that points tally signifies far more than just another season in the Premier League.
Traditionally, the 40-point tally was reached, if at all, towards the back end of the campaign, with making up the numbers enough for a hierarchy severely lacking in ambition.
Yet 17 league matches remain this season, as well as the small matter of a cup final, and the current points haul is something to be built on, rather than settled for.
Whether or not top four will be achieved this season, ultimately doesn’t matter. The Magpies have shown enough already to suggest that Europe will follow sooner rather than later, even if it doesn’t happen this year.
Meanwhile, Newcastle supporters have already got all they’ve ever wanted from their team – a manager and a group of players, whose sole aim is to be competitive, and it feels nothing short of fantastic to get that back.
Ryan Gray (@RyanJGray89)