‘Newcastle United are breaking the top six – Tell your friends (but not your journalists)’
Deluded Geordies thinking Newcastle United should be in the Champions League every year.
I’m sure we’re all heartily sick of the boring, witless parade of journalists, plastics and bitters who trot out this kind of lazy line when seeing fit to comment on a Newcastle United situation they have had absolutely zero exposure to, bar what they can catch on Match of the Day.
Tongue in cheek pictures of Mbappe flying into St James when the takeover first looked like happening, have been resold as the ridiculous expectations of our fanbase, especially when used as a comparison to mock the signing of Chris Wood, prior to decrying January signings like Chris Wood as the only reason we got away from the relegation zone. Too much salt makes you stupid it seems.
You can almost hear the floats being cast on the water with the articles that are now starting to spring up after our post-Christmas renaissance.
I have seen opinion pieces on how Newcastle fans can dream next year, that will be reassigned as the fans opinion, and recently a poll asking where fans expected to finish. The outcome will have disappointed, as the vast majority went for a mere top half finish, a healthy realisation that next year will be one of steady progress and not an instant, trophy-laden conversion. Under promise and over deliver, that’s the way lads.
Except there’s something that no one seems to be talking about, that I think can vastly inflate our expectations. Au contraire to what I’ve written above, I’m going to tell you about how next season is a golden opportunity for Newcastle United to crash the party.
Let’s start with that top half aim.
At the time of writing, United are ninth, which is frankly, ridiculous. We had no wins after 14 games and one win after 20 and still, after a four month head start, we have caught up with half the table. If anyone is cautiously considering the threat of any of the sides we have overhauled in this spell you are stark raving daft. While I realise the next few fixtures are likely to impact that position slightly, the fact we’ve even visited the top ten shows up the shortcoming of every one of them.
So, the bottom half could likely be dismissed by a full season with the current Newcastle squad, boosted hopefully by a fully fit Wilson and Trippier. However, we all know the squad is likely to have a few new faces, and a similar shop to January would be ideal for me. If we can capture a couple of top class reinforcements like Bruno and Tripps, backed up by solid Premier league performers like Burn, Targett and Wood, this would start to look like a very healthy squad for an attempt at higher ambitions.
So, given those assumptions, we come to the factor that will give Newcastle a massive edge: gold from the Middle East of course. But no, I’m not talking about Saudi money, I’m actually referring to the World Cup.
I’m sure it hasn’t passed anyone by, that the slightly dubious decision to hold the World Cup in the scorching heat of Qatar, has led to a necessity to play the tournament in the winter. To accommodate this, the Premier League (and all other active top leagues) will pause for a six week break after the games on 12th November. Sixteen matches will be crammed in before that time (we’d had 11 by then in the current season, although next year does start one week earlier) so it’s going to be pretty intense. But for others it’s going to be even worse.
As well as the league taking a break, the European competitions will have to go on hiatus as well. To accommodate this, the group stage of the Champions League is being belted through to complete by the 2nd November, given that the first match is 6th September that’s six games in eight weeks, with the additions of continental travel for half of them. The Europa league is following the exact same schedule, while whoever finishes seventh has the joy of six conference league group matches in eight weeks on top of a two-legged qualifying round in August.
So, if you throw in an EFL cup tie, that makes it 23 matches in a 14 week period (25 for the Conference League), with a particularly punishing schedule from late September to early November. Meanwhile, Newcastle can focus entirely on league matches, hopefully utilising new signings to improve on the form that has been top three standard since the turn of the year.
You see, the reasons big clubs can manage hefty European campaigns while maintaining their league position is because all of their nearest rivals are also in Europe. Suddenly, Newcastle United find ourselves in a position where we aspire to be challengers but, thanks to the early season work of Sir Steve Bruce in ensuring there was far too much of a drag factor to overcome, we will not be near a continental competition.
Of course, there’s still the second part of the season to navigate, with a heftier 22 games to go. So again, check the dates: Premier League matches resume on Boxing Day, with a max of two matches before the transfer window opens. And who do we think might have a few bob to throw around then? I’m sure there won’t be a plan per se to spend big in January but if it’s to reinforce a blossoming effort, I think we all know the money will be there for the right bloke. Bearing in mind this is coming off the back of a World Cup, where superstars emerge who may not be on the biggest contract and might just fancy joining a project with potential. Remember, Bruno signed up to the project in the shadow of the relegation zone, how hard will it be to sell to the next Bruno if we’re fifth or sixth?
I’m all for reasoned debate on anything but I’m not having anyone dismissing that this is a massive factor. The European campaigns are creating a schedule that will exhaust players at the top clubs, and those with half an eye on the World Cup itself will be further distracted from the bread and butter of the Premier League that is the only show in toon round here.
While people will rightly point out that Liverpool and Man City have for years waged campaigns on multiple fronts with great success, I think it’s obvious that it will take a good few years to catch up with these two established, well-funded and brilliantly managed sides. By contrast though, the transitional Man Utd and Arsenal are not the ominous prospects they once were, and Conte’s rejuvenation of Spurs will become a damp squib if he is tempted to PSG. They are all vulnerable.
Admittedly, there are variables, namely Newcastle United coming good. Signings need to be delivered and settle in, the season needs to start strongly and injuries must stay away. But everything I’ve seen so far from the people in charge leads me to have confidence in this happening.
So here’s my prediction, and you can call me deluded if you want, but Newcastle United are breaking the top six. Tell your friends (but not your journalists).
You can follow the author on Twitter @Mr_Dolf
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