The anxiety some of us might have had following a 6-week World Cup hiatus would interrupt Newcastle United’s momentum this season looked foolish at the FT whistle at the King Power Stadium as Eddie Howe’s Mags cavorted in front of a bouncing away end following an emphatic 3-0 away win.
The win in the East Midlands made it six successive victories and however temporary it might be, pushed us up to second in the Premier League. Not that our anxiety hadn’t been with us on the journey to the King Power Stadium because the League Cup win over Bournemouth the preceding Tuesday was a stilted affair and it took an own goal to get us through (admittedly drawn from one of Kieran Trippier’s brilliant crosses).
But on the evidence of the trip to Leicester, we have returned from that forced break looking as good as we did when we tumbled out of SJP after the Chelsea game. Normal service has been resumed.
What was especially pleasing about The Foxes win was it was over a team in form, at home and just as a reminder to everyone, if you needed it, we started the game without Isak, Wilson and ASM. I’ve always thought that might be Howe’s favoured front three – though how he could consider leaving Almiron out is anyone’s guess.
These are heady days for Black & Whiters.
Apropos of nothing, I’ve got a little guide in my head that we might really see what we can achieve when we get to the end of January. I’ve convinced myself the period from last Tuesday’s game v Bournemouth (League Cup) to Palace (a) is absolutely critical. There’s a fair amount of stating the obvious with my rationale I concede.
To go with the PL first, we’ve just won one of the five league games we have over that period. Next up is Leeds at SJP on New Year’s Eve in a game that will be played in a cracking atmosphere.
Win the Leeds game and we travel to London for the first game of 2023 on the crest of a wave to face Arsenal, deservedly top of the table and playing brilliantly. That game is the toughest of a fixture card for January which includes Fulham (h) and Palace (a) though the trip to Selhurst Park I suspect will be challenging given how difficult they made it for us at SJP in the PL and League Cup where we have yet to score against them.
After the Palace (a) game we will have completed twenty fixtures and just over half of the season. It will also be the last game we play in the PL before the transfer window closes.
As everyone is fond of saying, there are no easy games in the Premier League but there will be clubs hardly relishing playing us these days. Four PL games to the end of January however and we can take a breath and see whether we really are in the mix for Champions League qualification as opposed to being on a run where we are out-performing our true ability (which I don’t believe we are).
Then we are still very much alive in the Cups.
Although our passage to the quarter finals have come with additional wins over Palace and Bournemouth, we have done what we have needed to do and won however we’ve done it.
Leicester at home is a decent draw. It might have been worse, though it could have been better. We have avoided the two big hitters from Manchester left in the competition. That was a blessing no matter what some say about how strong we are at Fortress St James’.
We are favourites for the League Cup QF for good reason though I expect Rodgers’ men will want to come back at us following the St Stephen’s Day chasing they got on their home patch. I don’t seriously think they are at risk of relegation and progressing in the cups will be their chance of drawing some comfort from the difficult season they have had. But if Howe’s Mags show the same appetite and endeavour they have this season we will beat Leicester and progress to the semi final and I can’t remember the last time we made it that far unless it was 1976 and the tie with Spurs.
What comes in the semis is obviously the luck of the draw but if the Manchester clubs draw each other and we get the winners of Forest-Wolves, then mothers will be advised not to make any tea.
It’s all there in front of us – if we do what we know we can do and we get a kind draw then its trains, planes and automobiles down south.
Of course we have Sheff Wed (a) in the FAC third round before League Cup business. We need to remind ourselves what a massive game this is for Wednesday. For those at risk of drifting off into complacency, I’d suggest reacquainting yourselves with Newcastle United history and just to pop back twelve months and Cambridge United at SJP. Yes, this is a Newcastle United with different personnel and a completely changed mind-set but ….
For all of that we are ending 2022 reflecting on a brilliant twelve months and wishing for more in 2023 – January will set us up but it is all within our gift.
There is the vexed question of the January transfer window. Twelve months ago, our transfer activity was frenetic as we brought in Trippier, Burn, Targett (loan), Wood and Guimarães. We are being counselled by those journalists closest to United to rein in expectations and be mindful of the restrictions of Financial Fair Play.
The club appear to have dropped hints that they will do deals if they are the right ones but won’t be desperate to sign players for their own sake or pay over the odds. We have heard talk of the club prioritising a right-back to play back-up to Trippier given Krafth’s injury and Manquillo not it seems viewed as a player who can come in and do a job any more.
The news of the new injury to Shelvey, expected to keep him out for 6-8 weeks I suspect might mean his time at United is coming to an end sadly. I say sadly because frustrating as Jonjo has been in his time at the club, I don’t doubt his talent and believe he was playing the best football of his career last season. He played a huge impact in the turnaround from January onwards. I won’t easily forget his daisy-cutter goal at Elland Road and the celebrations in the away end.
But if he hasn’t played the games to trigger a contract extension and United are reportedly looking for a central defensive midfielder then it might look like its time up for the Essex man. That would be a real shame because I sense Shelvey has a real affinity with United and recognises the upward trajectory the club is on and wants to be part of it. It is a bit of heart-breaker if it turns out as I fear.
We’re also told United are interested in a right-sided attacking player. That might sound counter-intuitive given Almiron’s electric form but I’d see a recruit in that position as a replacement for Frazer, who is being spoken of as hitting the exits.
I can’t believe the bad luck we’ve had with strikers this season. Okay, Wilson has well-known injury problems but being sick for the trip to Leicester had me banging my head off the wall when the news came through. It isn’t helped obviously with Isak being similarly knackered, whose arrival for £65m remember coincided with Wilson’s last injury. By the time he returns from injury (hopefully in mid-January) he’ll have missed half the season.
For me a new striker makes perfect sense. I don’t think we’ll be lashing out big dough so that’s why the links to Marcus Thuram at Borussia Mönchengladbach made sense, given the fee he’d like to cost given his contract situation (e.€10m). Whether it’s realistic or not or just agent talk time will tell.
So, if we were to make two big signings for the central defensive position and another striker (we could use four strikers on the books really) with the back-up right-back aligned to ASM and Isak coming back, I don’t think any of us could complain much.
The $64m question however is how much money will be available. In my own cock-eyed way, I half thought United might have returned from the Saudi training camp with some sponsorship deals rubber-stamped. We know United are bringing forward the end of the Fun88 shirt sponsorship and there has been talk of naming rights for St James’ Park and possibly the training ground too. As an unashamed traditionalist, this gets me nervous but I hope they can do it in a way which means we can get our cake and eat it.
Whatever deals were discussed out in Saudi have either not been concluded or are under wraps. We’re just going to have to be patient though the sooner Castore are binned off the better – so many supporters have had an abysmal experience with the quality of the merchandise and poor customer service.
If the club wishes to grow our support around the world they will need a far better merchandiser than Castore because they couldn’t deliver as United fossilised under Ashley, let alone booming under the new ownership.
Anyway, we’ll find out the answers to all of this soon enough and in the meantime we have plenty to think about …. Leeds at St James’ Park … bring it on.
Have a great week.
Keep On, Keepin’ On …
Michael Martin, @TFMick1892