The margin between finishing top and bottom-half in the Premier League may have become slim, but it isn’t insignificant. In the past five seasons, the gap between tenth and 11th place has been decided by goal difference twice and by a maximum of five points; Chelsea’s 50-point haul stretched clear of Everton’s tally of 45 in the 2015-16 campaign.

As the mega-moneyed top six break away as their own league within a league, the achievement of finishing inside the top ten of the top flight could be viewed as a more accessible goal for the clubs who tend not to start seasons with continental qualification in mind.

If nothing else, the psychology of finishing in the “top” half sounds abundantly more positive than finishing in the “bottom” half, and implies a certain level of stability, which would be valued by any prospective signings and owners alike.

Finishing between seventh and tenth, speaking relatively then, could be considered the “top four” for the rest of the Premier League. As depressing as the concept of a glass ceiling sounds, the rigidity of the top six signals reality. Leicester City’s shock title win was an anomaly.

The top six’s dominance will eventually be broken, but until that time, when fresh and forthright investment is bestowed upon one lucky club, the ambition for the majority of the division will be to consolidate a top-half presence. Regular finishes in the top half, naturally, would increase the likelihood of a club being taken over. It is, after all, less of a leap to move from tenth to sixth, than it is to completely build a club up from battling relegation.

Rafa Benitez, since arriving at Newcastle, has spoken about a vision for the sustainable growth of the club. He has not made lofty promises of Champions League football or silverware, but he has spoken constantly about the need to realise the “potential” on Tyneside.

Mitigating the relegation of 15/16 – Benitez was parachuted into a team already destined for the drop yet still went six of his first ten games in charge unbeaten – it is fair to say that the Spaniard’s proposed project at Newcastle is being undermined.

Having initially run ahead of schedule – he led Newcastle promotion as champions of the Championship and to tenth in the top flight in the 17/18 season – Benitez’s ambition of turning Newcastle into a solid top-half side has been curtailed this term by the club’s punitive transfer policy.

Mathematically, Newcastle could yet finish in the top ten of the Premier League again, but given that other clubs around them have strengthened with more signings, there is a feeling that this would be a far taller task than before.

Benitez has been open about what it would take to convince him to extend his stay at Newcastle beyond his current contract – sustained investment in the transfer market and a revamp of the club’s academy and training facilities – but as yet has not received these assurances. Only Mike Ashley would construe an offer to improve and increase the value of his asset as a wage of war.

And it’s the fans who suffer. A verifiably world-class manager, who has won trophies across European football, has a blueprint for delivering stability and long-term success at Newcastle, but isn’t being afforded the backing to do so.

Benitez can turn Newcastle into a club that needn’t worry about the drop, but rather cement themselves in the top half. Finishing tenth last season was a window into the possibility he provides; it would be good if the ownership saw it that way.

Still, fawning over a top-half finish feels a far-cry from the Newcastle fans experienced pre-Ashley. And it’s a shame that this blog is a discussion of Newcastle’s top-ten, rather than top-six, credentials. But, as the England captain Harry Kane might quip, it is what it is.

Given Newcastle’s transfer activity this season, staying up can and should be viewed as a relative success. But, ahead of Wolves away on Monday, and two home games against Huddersfield and Burnley coming up, there is a chance that the table could look very different in a few weeks.

The club’s record signing purchased in January, the attacking midfielder Miguel Almiron, arrives highly-rated. It’s also worth acknowledging that in Newcastle’s remaining 13 fixtures, they are only due to play two top-six teams.

So, can Newcastle finish top-half? Probably not. But, then, we said the same thing last season, didn’t we?

Rohan Banerjee

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