Newcastle United have become the quintessential crisis club in the Premier League in the last few years. With fans growing more and more frustrated by the owner’s apparent lack of interest and investment, the decades-long wait for a trophy stretches on at St. James Park, despite a huge home crowd and all of the facilities of a top level club being in place.
In the last few seasons, the Toon Army have at least had something to shout about in the shape of manager Rafa Benitez, a former Champions League winner with Liverpool, but the Spaniard’s patience with the board finally ran out this summer after a hard-fought mid-table finish last term and he decided to leave the club. In his place comes Steve Bruce, a Newcastle fan in his youth, but he has not proven to be a popular choice with the fans following some uninspiring spells at previous clubs, not least their arch-rivals Sunderland.
Despite the financial constraints placed upon him, Rafa Benitez managed to lead the Magpies to a respectable 13th place in the table last season. The Spanish boss remains hugely popular on Tyneside following some progressive campaigns but in reality, a mid-table finish is the best they can hope for at this current moment and that’s what they managed last term, picking up some famous results against the better clubs in the league along the way.
After a dreadful start saw them go winless in ten matches, Newcastle picked up afterwards, particularly in front of their own supporters where they even managed to overcome the eventual champions Manchester City in January. There were some bright individual displays too, with Fabian Schar and Martin Dubravka looking like very strong additions and the emergence of youngster Sean Longstaff prompting interest from Manchester United.
It’s fair to say that Newcastle fans are not happy with the managerial change that has taken place at St. James’ Park this summer. Rafa Benitez had won the hearts of the Toon Army during his time at the club, but a strained relationship with Mike Ashley has led to him leaving for China this summer and his replacement, Steve Bruce, doesn’t exactly inspire confidence from his previous Premier League jobs.
What Bruce does possess is experience and generally, he tends to get a tune out of players in the early stages of any job he takes on. As a Newcastle fan as a youngster having been raised in nearby Wallsend and having played for their famous youth club during his younger days. Having come in for criticism already for previous managing rivals Sunderland and for the way he left his last job at Sheffield Wednesday, the 58 year old will start on the back foot from the off in what is surely one of the most difficult jobs in the country right now.
The New Arrivals
Only one major new signing has been made by Newcastle so far this season and that comes in the shape of Brazilian forward Joellinton. The 22 year old scored seven times in the Bundesliga for Hoffenheim last term but has shown enough for the Newcastle hierarchy to splash out a club-record transfer fee for his services believes to be worth approximately £40m just a few months after breaking it to sign attacking midfielder Miguel Almiron from MLS outfit Atlanta United.
Joelinton has arrived for a club record fee (PA Images)
A couple of youngsters have joined the club too in the shape of Kyle Scott from Chelsea and Jake Turner from Bolton Wanderers but Bruce will want to put a stamp on the squad with a few more new arrivals before the season gets underway, particularly with Mohamed Diame, Ayoze Perez and Joselu all having left the club so far this summer. Aaron Mooy, Andy Carroll and Jarrod Bowen have all been linked.
Jamaal Lascelles has been at St. James’ Park for five years now and he has improved year on year during his time at the club. A strong character in the dressing room, Lascelles was chosen as captain by Rafael Benitez during the Spaniard’s tenure at the club and he is expected to continue in the role under Bruce as he will look to create and build on the partnership started alongside Fabian Schar last season over the course of the new campaign.
With an unsettled midfield ahead of them, the Newcastle defence are likely to have a lot of work to do this season but in Lascelles, Schar and behind them between the sticks Martin Dubravka, the Magpies have a solid spine to their backline. Furthermore, in what could end up being a long season for the side, his mentality could help lift spirits in the dressing room as the talisman of this side.
When will the Mike Ashley nightmare end at St James’ Park?
It’s been a difficult few years for Newcastle fans under the stewardship of Mike Ashley. The owner, who is best known for his sports clothing company Sports Direct, has never been popular with the supporters at St James’ Park, with numerous takeover bids failing and fans feeling that the Londoner doesn’t put enough money into the transfer kitty to really help the club progress towards the upper echelons of the Premier League.
There have been whispers of potential takeovers at times, but they have inevitably all fallen through so far and Rafael Benitez clearly didn’t see an end to the situation in the short-term. As long as Ashley remains at the club, the playing side of things will always be viewed in a negative light not only by the club’s fans but also by the wider footballing community.
Will Joelinton get enough support in attack?
In Joellinton and Miguel Almiron, Newcastle should by rights have enough in their attacking ranks to threaten any team in the league this term. The question is, do they have enough support around them? With Joselu and Ayoze Perez having left, the Magpies are looking a little light up top and you have to wonder if there will be any more incomings through the door before the season gets underway.
In players like Christian Atsu and Yoshinori Muto, Steve Bruce does possess attacking options in his squad but there are serious question marks over the quality of these options. Almiron looked threatening at times but struggled for consistency in his first six months, while Joellinton isn’t exactly the most prolific striker judging on his short career so far, so there could be a struggle for creativity and goals going forward this term.
Where will Newcastle United finish this season?
Unfortunately we just don’t see how this can be a successful season for Newcastle United. Joellinton is a risk and a high-cost one at that, but without Ayoze Perez he has big shoes to fill at the forefront of the Magpies attack. In fact, this whole squad seems a little low on quality and the general consensus is that it has over-achieved in the last few seasons under the watchful eye of an experienced, top level manager in Benitez.
The incoming Bruce has been relegated from the Premier League before with Hull City and come close to having been relegated in many of his other jobs in the English top tier. The fans don’t seem confident in the former Sheffield Wednesday manager’s ability to pull off another overachieving season this term and with the quality that some of the promoted teams have in their sides we can see the Toon Army slipping out of the top tier once again this season.
You have to feel for the Newcastle fans. Despite having one of the biggest fanbases in the country, they have struggled to compete in the Premier League for a number of reasons of late and have twice found themselves relegated to the Championship in the last 11 years. If the bad atmosphere surrounding the club remains then it could be a third relegation of the Premier League era beckoning this term.
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