In the new season Newcastle United are aiming for the top eight of the Premier League and we are going to compete in cup competitions, we are going to make our own luck and attach some kind of equine propulsion system to the cart, this is what we have been told.
Newcastle United have recruited a former England Manager with a mixed bag of complete success (Twente) and total failure (Wolfsburg, Nottingham Forest) on his CV, we have recruited the Dutch player of the year, one of the, alleged, ten brightest prospects in world football and a defender with an impressive YouTube reel. This has been our completed business so far.
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Newcastle United have beaten Gateshead by a single goal, had mixed fortunes in the USA against a lower league standard of opposition, drawn with League One Sheffield United and lost to League Two York, before losing to Champions League qualified Borussia Monchengladbach by a single goal.
The team has been chopped and changed as you would expect, Mike Williamson has been a worrying almost constant presence despite obvious limitations, and defence is a clear Achilles heel for the team whilst the forward line shows signs that it should improve. This has been our pre season.
In the first ten games of the new season we face Southampton, Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City, Swansea and away trips to West Ham and the first derby of the season against them down the road. Our first couple of months look like a tall order for a porous defence and an untested forward line.
The point to the above factoids is to show the reality of our situation.
It is natural for fans to be caught up in optimism, we would all rather see good things happen, but when optimism turns to expectation and that expectation is not delivered, it leads to the kind of ill feeling that has hung over the club and reached epic proportions in the second half of last season.
A week is a long time in football, and I don’t mind admitting that this time last week I felt the first shoots of optimism creep up on me, as many on here and elsewhere did too.
Saturday’s performance and the slow passage of time, coupled with some rather downbeat words from the manager regarding further signings, have poured a bit of cold water on those embers of optimism though. The fear that the team simply isn’t good enough to achieve the owners stated aims is becoming all too real.
There is a natural pessimism which goes hand in hand with supporting Newcastle, there always has been.
We have not been a successful club in terms of trophies for a very long time and in a way our flirtation with success through the 90s and early 2000s only added to the pessimism, as we saw so much promise wantonly destroyed in the name of greed by the previous and current regimes.
The famous banner used by fans last season, demanding a team which simply tries, was a statement of minimum expectation, the least a fan should hope for, for the price of their ticket, but how do we define trying? If the team put in a required effort of sweat, movement and competition but still lost most weeks, would it be enough? I doubt it.
Like any other set of fans in the world we want success, but success is relative to your level in the food chain and we all want to move up. We all have a slightly different idea of what success would be for the club this year, and shockingly for some I actually think that the owner has pitched it about right, to finish in the top eight and progress in the cups is what needs to be achieved this year, and then we need to kick on further.
The problem is that I don’t believe the club is currently equipped to achieve the stated aims, the second worst defence in the league doesn’t become respectable with the solitary addition of one unproven player.
We can talk about coaching to get the best out of what we have, but the reality of what we have is Williamson, Coloccini and Taylor who have been there since the promotion season, they started as average and have declined every year since 2011/12, coaching will not fix that.
It’s the time of year when fans and pundits alike start thinking about and sharing their expectations for the season ahead, and Newcastle are proving typically difficult to predict. Looking solely at what we are currently able to put on the pitch I would make three assertions…
The attacking part of the team should be much better for the addition of Wijnaldum & Mitrovic and also for the return (however long it lasts) of De Jong and Aarons. In Cisse we have a player who can be anonymous for 89 minutes and stab the ball over the line with one touch, a handy skill to have.
The midfield is not powerful enough. Our last decent stab at form, the fabled 5th place finish, was built on a platform provided by Cabaye and Tiote. Colback is not half the player that either Cabaye or Tiote was in that season. We did not dominate midfield once last season, for all the talk of Sissoko’s power he often goes missing or finds himself isolated, Wijnadum looks a very tidy footballer but not a dominant and territorial midfield warrior.
The defence is not premier league standard and will be our undoing more often than not.
With this in mind, my expectation is for Newcastle to struggle badly in the early part of the season, the opening ten games provide plenty of challenges which we simply do not look capable of rising to So it would be no surprise to me if we were in the bottom three in the run up to Christmas.
Pressure will build, character will be tested and the lack of investment in the defence will become the focus of ire amongst fans and critics. Given time, and with required investment in January, we could climb into mid-table safety in the second half of the season, in other words we could ‘do a Leicester’.
Many of us will have different levels of expectation and we will undoubtedly look at others and label them as delusional, pessimistic or cautious optimism.
Wherever you sit on the spectrum, our expectations will be moulded in the next 12 weeks of competition for the rest of the season, how optimistic are you?
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