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Opinion

Newcastle United fans need to be honest with this – Keep it real

3 weeks ago
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Newcastle United fans have just experienced a season like no other.

Last summer, football supporters were looking forward to being allowed to go back into stadiums, with covid restrictions coming to an end.

For Newcastle United fans though, it was almost certainly a unique situation amongst the 20 Premier League club fanbases.

Yes, plenty people looking forward to getting back to the whole matchday experience of meeting up with friends and family, beers before and after. However, as for the actual football, it was a very mixed reaction.

The 2019/20 season had seen Mike Ashley have to take the embarrassing step of handing out over 10,000 free half season tickets because of the massive number of empty seats devaluing his SD adverts. The start of last season showed that despite the pandemic and coming out of it the general pubic desperate to start enjoying life again…so many Newcastle fans were still refusing to turn up and help keep Mike Ashley at the club. An official crowd (looked far less) of 44,017 for the second Premier League home match of the season, saw Newcastle get a fortunate 2-2 draw against Southampton with more than eight thousand empty seats on display.

Fast forward to June 2022 and the only concern now for so many Newcastle United fans, is whether or not they are going to get inside St James Park this season. Demand already massively outstripping supply and NUFC haven’t even really done anything yet. Apart from giving us a little bit of hope.

One the the seriously notable AND very impressive changes, was of course down to Eddie Howe. After the shambles that had preceded him, the new head coach had to get straight down to work and get the Newcastle United squad fully fit for the challenges of the Premier League.

The dedication and hours spent on the training pitch producing a remarkable turn around. Plenty of players commenting on how tough it was getting used to the workload Eddie Howe was demanding, compared to what they had experienced under Steve Bruce, BUT universal acceptance that this had been essential if Newcastle were going to get out of the dire position Ashley and Bruce had left behind.

Over the course of six or seven months, Eddie Howe improved pretty much every single Newcastle United player. The January signings helped BUT without that improvement in the existing squad, it would have been pointless.

However, I think Newcastle United fans need to be honest with this – Keep it real when it comes to the Newcastle United players who, to greater or lesser extents, eventually got the job done last season.

When reading and listening to what so many Newcastle United fans have to say, you might think that St James Park was now home to a team / squad of absolute superstars. So much talk of this and that player having been a ‘revelation’, or ‘like a new signing’, you understand the enthusiasm and renewed hope…but we need to keep it real.

Joelinton was the stand out change, Eddie Howe getting him fully fit and then finding an ideal position in the team AND a way for that team to operate, that got the best out of the Brazilian striker turned midfielder. Joelinton WAS a revelation because he showed a level of form over the course of six months, that the previous 27 months hadn’t remotely even hinted at.

What about the other Newcastle United players?

Well, no doubt that Eddie Howe got them all generally playing better as individuals, as well as part of a team, but is talk of ‘revelation’ after ‘revelation’ not taking it just a ‘little’ bit too far?

Fabian Schar

Steve Bruce had made clear that he didn’t rate him, preferring his central defenders launching the ball up the pitch rather than playing football form the back. As fans though, we had already seen what Schar was capable of when playing under Rafa Benitez. A very good all round football player, maybe not the greatest defender, but the overall package he delivered meant he could be a real asset.

Which is what we have seen delivered under Eddie Howe. Fabian Schar part of a defence that in 18 of the final 20 PL games of the season, only conceded 12 goals in the 18 games, if ignoring the other two out of the twenty against Spurs and Man City.

Fabian Schar hasn’t been a ‘revelation’, he has been the very decent player we had already seen under Rafa Benitez. Schar part of a defence that in 2018/19 had the seventh best defensive record in the Premier League.

Martin Dubravka

A very similar story to Schar.

Steve Bruce had turned Newcastle’s defending into such a joke, it made it very difficult / impossible for any keeper to prosper when playing behind that defence.

No surprise that Dubravka has now found something close to his best form, as Howe has overall got the defence sorted in front of him. With six clean sheets and only those 12 goals conceded in the 18 games (of the final 20, ignoring Spurs and Man City away), the keeper is looking a real asset again.

Once again, like Fabian Schar, not a ‘revelation’, just back to something like what we had seen before.

Ryan Fraser

You could argue Fraser has been a ‘revelation’ but you would only be correct if referring to his experience under Steve Bruce.

Eddie Howe knew all about Ryan Fraser and he simply got him back to something approaching what he’d shown he was capable of at Bournemouth, the winger ending the season with five direct goal involvements (two goals and three assists), despite only 18 Premier League starts in the season just ended.

Emil Krafth

Another player looking so much better under Eddie Howe and indeed in this case, the word ‘revelation’ is potentially fitting, because we saw him produce form that was a complete level above what we’d seen under Steve Bruce from the Swedish international.

However, feet on the ground time. The new improved Emil Krafth has shown he may well be worth keeping BUT only on the basis of being a squad player, back up for Kieran Trippier. He isn’t a Joelinton ‘revelation’ level and automatic first team choice.

Jonjo Shelvey and Joe Willock

I couldn’t believe it when I saw some fans and media talking about Shelvey as one of the candidates for NUFC player of the season! Yes he played better and looked a lot fitter(!!!) but he was a real stand out in only a few games under Eddie Howe. Mostly, he was better, but not really playing at a level generally where you thought he needs to be first choice next season.

Same with Joe Willock, yes playing generally better but certainly not ‘revelation’ level. He ended the season with two goals and no assist, Shelvey ended up with two goals and one assist. This sums up how they played better under Eddie Howe BUT not massively better.

As for the rest…

Sean Longstaff ended the season with a couple of good performances.

Miguel Almiron did ok and produced maybe one or two performances that were reminders of his early impact under Rafa at the end of the 2018/19 season. Still though not consistent enough under Eddie Howe to make a case for being first choice next season.

Jamaal Lascelles did ok as well, giving his all when getting the odd start, but limited, especially on the ball.

Javier Manquillo a similar story and the same with others, when getting time on the pitch, generally doing ok.

Allan Saint-Maximin was…Allan Saint-Maximin. Out for almost two months with injury / illness, then gradually towards the end of the season seeing his performances eventually return to something resembling what he is capable of.

We all know Eddie Howe will be ruthless when deciding on the future of existing players, he has already shown his ruthless side in team selections. He will do what is best, not what gives him an easy life when handling the current Newcastle United players.

I think reality is that we now have Kieran Trippier and Bruno G as the kind of level we are aspiring to in the future, the dream being we can bring in more and more players of their level.

Then you have maybe Joelinton on a next level, all of his own. If keeping his form up from the second half of last season AND if improving his goal threat, then just maybe this season he can be an even bigger revelation and climb up to Trippier and Bruno level.

You then have proper Premier League players in Dubravka, Burn, Schar, Targett (surely has to be a permanent signing), ASM, Fraser and Wilson, if any / all of these were first choice next season, I wouldn’t be losing any sleep over it. Though as is always the case if looking to progress, always the chance that Eddie Howe brings in even better players over the top of one or more of these.

I’m not writing off all the rest of the existing NUFC squad BUT reality is that I think they are all below the levels of those above, on all known evidence, if it comes to consideration as a potential first choice next season. With maybe Joe Willock the biggest exception, still young and open to further improvement and consistency.

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