Like most new owners, Mike Ashley’s takeover of Newcastle United began with a bit of hope and a series of promises that highlighted his ambition to take the club forward to a brighter future. Instead, the Sports Direct owner led the club into a period of darkness and his reign as Newcastle owner ended with the damning stat of being responsible for one-third of the club’s entire history of relegations from the top-flight since its foundation in 1892.
Last summer was yet another underwhelming window for Newcastle fans, with the £25 million signing of Joe Willock from Arsenal being the club’s only acquisition. This lack of funding, combined with years without a proper plan put the Tyneside club in the direct path of a relegation battle; which fast-forwarding to now is a reality, with the Championship looming closer with every passing game.
A new dawn rose in October when the Saudi Arabian-led consortium’s takeover of the club was confirmed, and it is the new owner’s controversial cash that offers fans some hope of surviving their impending doom with well-needed signings throughout the current window.
But as we have seen many times, this is not always a reliable solution to getting results quickly, as new players are not always the answer to difficult situations. Eddie Howe is the man Newcastle fans will need to put their faith in if the club is to stay in England’s top division beyond this season.
New signings can reinvigorate the dressing room and boost the level of quality within it, but if Howe’s tactics and ideas are not getting through they will essentially make no difference.
Since the Premier League began back in 1992, Newcastle United have found themselves battling relegation on several occasions, specifically under the previous regime of Mike Ashley. The club dropped into England’s second division in 2009 and most recently 2016, having avoided that outcome narrowly the year before in 2015.
Newcastle currently sit in 19th position in the league with a total of 11 points and have won just one game out of 19 played so far this season.
Comparing this scenario to the 14/15 season where the Tyneside club avoided relegation on the final day of the season, the numbers at the halfway point are damning. After their New Years game in 2015, Newcastle sat in 10th position with 27 points, winning seven games up to that point; 16 points better off than the club’s current total.
In the 15/16 season, the year Newcastle were relegated, the numbers here do not ease fears either. The Magpies after their New Years game had obtained 17 points and were sat in 18th position. Even with six points more than the current season, the outcome of relegation was unavoidable.
However, there are outlying factors that will give Newcastle fans some hope of avoiding the drop. The league overall back then was scoring points at a higher rate, as the top teams were not as dominant as they are at present and several teams in the relegation zone after New Year’s day went on to stay in the division – such as Sunderland, Crystal Palace and famously, Leicester City.
In the 14/15 season, 17th placed West Brom had a total of 18 points after the New Years round of fixtures, whilst the 15/16 season saw Swansea City sat in the same position on 19 points at the same marking point.
Currently, Watford occupy the 17th spot having collected just 13 points up to this point, albeit having played two games less than the two aforementioned seasons; this should offer Eddie Howe and his men some bit of hope, as achieving a 17th place finish does not seem too unrealistic as of now – especially if the former Bournemouth boss can acquire the right players for the battle throughout January.
Each transfer window there is always one or two clubs that get the bulk of the attention focussed on them and this time around Newcastle United have found themselves as the main subject of interest in England, thanks to their newfound riches and the predicament they currently find themselves in.
Financial fair play allows the Tyneside club to spend £166 million throughout the current window and the club have begun their spree by signing Kieran Trippier from La Liga champions Atletico Madrid for a reported £12 million, with Burnley’s Chris Wood likely being the next player through the door, having had his £25 million release clause activated by the club.
Newcastle will continue to have their name attached to several players throughout the rest of this window but signing players alone will not save the club from what looks like their impending doom.
That task comes down to Eddie Howe more than anyone.
The former Bournemouth boss was part of several relegation fights at his previous club and failed to stay up on only one occasion – a case in which the Cherries would have stayed up if goal-line technology had worked at Villa Park during Aston Villa’s match with Sheffield United, a mistake that prevented Villa going down.
Howe has begun his plan of turning the club’s situation around by adopting his favourite 4-4-2 formation, which will offer Newcastle both defensive stability and attacking threat. The task now is getting players to fit this formation, with the intention of improving performance at both ends of the pitch, which has not been visible in the short time Howe has been at the club.
So far this season, Newcastle are averaging a goal a game and have scored more than one goal on only three occasions. This is not disastrous if matched with a solid defence but the problem for Howe is that he does not have that either.
Newcastle have conceded the joint-most goals in the league with 42 and are conceding shots at an average of 15.7 per game, the third-worst in the division. If the Tyneside club are to stay up, it is these metrics that will have to change first.
Howe seems to have recognised this already and must consider it to be the main cause of his side’s struggles so far, as a host of players that have been linked to the club are defenders. Sven Botman and Diego Carlos are two defenders that Newcastle have had an interest in so far this window, but another problem is if these are the right players for a relegation battle.
A relegation battle requires a certain type of player, who has the ability to keep performing despite losing most weeks. Botman and Carlos have not been accustomed to the feeling of losing that often over the last year or so and therefore it could potentially be a problem when bringing in players of their calibre to the club.
Another issue is whether that calibre of player would want to join Newcastle. Would players like Botman and Carlos be willing to leave their current sides, in which one is playing in the Champions League and the other is fighting for La Liga, to join a dogfight for results every week? While the money on offer will be appealing, these players could easily hold on until the summer and move to a another big club.
Newcastle must avoid falling into the trap of trying to bring in big name players just for the sake of it, which leads to situations like signing players of Chris Wood’s quality when the original target cannot be attained.
Then there is the problems of getting the players to gel in such a short period of time, which has been seen to cause issues many times when a big influx of players all arrive at once – a problem Aston Villa experienced at the start of the season.
This window is a vital one if Newcastle United are to stay in the Premier League beyond this season but it is one that is littered with uncertainties. The club cannot place its faith solely in the arrival of new players and instead need to entrust Howe with captaining this ship, which might also not be enough.
The first half of the season has left Newcastle with a mountain to climb in order to stay in England’s top division, but it is a task Howe has completed before and if The Magpies are still wearing the Premier League patch on their jerseys next season, it will be a highly-rated young English coaches work that has put it there.
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