Many of us had the not completely off-the-wall idea that Man City’s heart-breaking exit in the Champions League at the Bernabeu last Wednesday night might have left a residual disappointment that could have played on the mind of Pep Guardiola’s side. It was wishful thinking. When the FT whistle blew at Anfield on Liverpool’s draw with Spurs that was all the motivation Man City’s players needed to get out there and take the advantage handed to them from down the East Lancs Road.

And how they took it! We were outclassed in every part of the pitch and if there is any solace in a 5-0 pasting at the Etihad then it is the puncturing of any mistaken belief that we are better than we are. In hindsight the 1-0 home defeat to Liverpool flattered us. The Reds had a couple more gears to move into had they needed to and let’s not forget they had rested key players.

Eddie Howe has pulled off a minor miracle this season, steering us away from relegation and although we had a dalliance with 9th position, this pool of players needs clever recruitment to be considered top half material.

Although we’ll continue to be treated to click-bait nonsense in the shape of transfer stories linking us to every player under the sun, we need to accept that just can’t happen. It’s not because the United regime lacks the resources or will to invest heavily in players. It is simply because we are operating on a financial playing field completely different to that available to Man City, Chelsea and PSG following their takeovers. The laws on Financial Fair Play and third party sponsorship have been changed and act as a choke chain on Newcastle United’s burgeoning ambition in the short term.

Although Ashley is no longer here and the Sports Direct shite that despoiled SJP is no more, the legacy of our previous owner remains in many different ways. The most obvious is a squad that is simply not up to it.

I welcome Howe’s words indicating a clear-out of sorts is intended at the club. I agree with the assessments of key journalists with contacts at United who deliver the message of evolution over revolution. Those of us with our feet on the ground understand there are only so many coat pegs in the changing room and to bring in the players we want to improve quality, we are going to have to say goodbye to perhaps up to 10-13 players this summer. We may not be able to move them all on in one go admittedly.

Those in scope for moves out of United include; Darlow, Manquillo, Lewis, Hayden, Hendrick, Clark, Fernandez, Lascelles, (S) Longstaff, Murphy, Almiron, Ritchie and Gayle. I see very few if any of those players going to PL clubs and that is telling of what has been happening here over the last 4-5 seasons.

This may be a controversial one for some but it would not completely surprise me if Allan Saint-Maximin was to leave United this summer too.

The ability to recycle those players’ wages and any fees into this summer’s transfer pot alongside new investment will prove to be valuable.

Where are the areas for strengthening? Well, I don’t think there are many positions that couldn’t be improved. It’s just my view but only Guimarães and Trippier are at a level to play Champions League football now with Burn, Dummett, Schar, Willock, Joelinton, Targett and Wilson of a standard to help United achieve a top ten position next season.

ASM? I’m less convinced by every game, though the caveat to that is better players around him could bring out more in him – but isn’t that true of any player?

There’s not an area of the squad and indeed starting eleven that couldn’t benefit from new recruits but that is particularly in attack. Wood is a willing hand, Gayle has done his bit (though not for a long while) and Wilson is quality but injury prone it seems.

Wilson’s cameo on Sunday offered a glimpse of what we’ve been missing in terms of his running and positioning. That seems absurd on the back of a mauling but those watching closely could see what he offered in terms of where he positioned himself and how he showed for the ball and the positions he ran into. You’ll tell me if you think I’m clutching at straws.

So, there go two consecutive defeats to the two best sides in the world. Gulp. I do tend to think that although the mood is vastly improved on any time over the preceding 14 years, we will need a good performance and perhaps result this coming Monday as Champions League place chasing Arsenal come up Barrack Road.

A positive result for the curtain call of a dramatic and historic season would just be what we need as the vast majority will applaud Eddie and the lads off into the summer, some of whom we’ll never see in our colours again.

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I was pleased to see the plans for a re-booted Darsley Park set out last week. To no-one’s great surprise we have heard the current Benton facility described as not fit for purpose and below the level of Premier League and even Championship club standards. This is where Ashley has left us.

Although the new board at United has shown a deft PR touch since last October, I did think they missed a trick by not going public to describe what they have in mind more strategically. The press have relayed unattributed quotes from “senior sources” about the work to be taken forward as a temporary fix in some regards with a more ambitious facility planned for over the next three years. We might have benefited from having that set out from the horse’s mouth so to speak.

It’s no big deal admittedly but it is a very positive development that United is paying attention to the here and now and investing in much needed infrastructure.

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There was an entertaining exchange of tweets last week involving The Guardian’s Barry Glendenning (think Bez from the Happy Mondays for a football journalist equivalent) and Neil Farrington, who older Mags will recall from his football correspondent days on the Sunday Sun, in the pre-internet age.

Glendenning has a bee in his bonnet regarding the “monstering” (Simon Bird, The Mirror) Eddie Howe received at Chelsea after our 1-0 defeat this season. Well, not so much that as the exception some NE-based journalists took to being allegedly sneered at by Miguel Delaney (The Independent) and Tariq Panja (New York Times) for well, asking football questions and not referring to the executions of 81 people the previous day in Saudi Arabia. Because the press room at Stamford Bridge is exactly the place where progress on human rights abuses can be made and Eddie Howe has the authority to intervene in that horror. Ahem.

The matter had been brought to social media attention by Luke Edwards (The Telegraph) a few days previously. Glendenning had made some laughable claim that yours truly had libelled Delaney and Panja by referring to the attitude shown by those two. Into the fray came Neil F who with some style handed Glendenning his arse much to the amusement of those following it all in real time.

I don’t think a career in law is one for Barry if I’m honest but he was evasive in responding to Neil’s questions regards The Independent’s ownership and the nature of features it has carried which are gushing in their enthusiasm for Saudi investment in certain areas. Delaney blanks those questions as he does about the nature of The Independent’s proprietor Lord Lebedev (a potential Putin asset) and his readiness to draw a salary from said newspaper. Glendenning also avoids any questions regards his Guardian stable-mate Jonathan Wilson hiring his talents out t the Saudi owned Arab News.

Frankly, it is ludicrous journalists should be questioned in this way and it is only done to draw comparisons with how equally risible it is that Howe should be browbeaten in this manner too. Let’s be completely clear, Howe is only asked these questions because he can be and there’s nothing easier than to exploit the manager being contractually obliged to speak to the media than to fire those unanswerable questions at the lad in the tracksuit. Meanwhile Mike Ashley, who sold United to PIF et al has banked £300m and doubtless provides a flat NO to any requests for interviews to discuss the matter. See also Richard Masters at the Premier League and any number of government ministers.

Anyway, rather bizarrely, Glendenning can be expected to refer to this fanzine as pro-Saudi propagandists, me as a useful idiot (I do like a Leninist insult) and these blogs as long and dreary. On the latter point he has me bang to rights.

It is all a weird turn of events sprung from The Guardian’s sports pages and I’m certain Amnesty International feel buoyed by having Barry and Co directing their er, pithy prose at fanzine gob-shites and football managers in the name of international peace and understanding.

There’s going to be plenty more of this folks so buckle up.

Have a great week.

Keep On, Keepin’ On …

Michael Martin @TFMick1892