Newcastle United fans must be pinching themselves right now. It was not much more than a year ago that Mike Ashley finally agreed to sell the club, ushering in a new era for the Magpies, and they now find themselves enjoying the giddy heights of third place in the Premier League table, and well fancied in the football odds.
Yes, there was controversy surrounding their takeover, and the seemingly limitless funds that are now at Newcastle’s disposal, but going by the team’s performances on the pitch, it’s difficult to fault their rise to prominence in such a short space of time.
The key to their success has been manager Eddie Howe. After over a year out of the game following his departure from Bournemouth in 2020, Howe replaced Steve Bruce at St. James’ Park with fresh motivation and fresh ideas, and Newcastle’s squad have been invigorated by his presence.
Many players who had been performing at a below-par level under Bruce have sprung into life under Howe, delivering performances that reflect the energy and confidence of their young coach. Miguel Almiron, for example, has been a player transformed this season, adding goals to his game and looking like a completely different player.
Of course, there have been some important signings as well. Kieran Trippier has brought real quality at right-back, and Bruno Guimaraes has had a transformative addition, providing the kind of flair in attacking areas that Newcastle had sorely lacked. While there are plenty of funds to back Howe up, his recruitment has been spot-on, identifying the right players for his brand of football.
Newcastle’s form this season has been mightily impressive. They have lost just once in 22 Premier League matches at the time of writing — that single defeat a last-gasp winner for Liverpool at Anfield — proof that alongside the attacking flair Howe has instilled there is a defensive resolve and resilience to back it up, with the club keeping the most clean sheets in the league.
The question is, can they maintain their form for the rest of the season and enter the promised land that is the Champions League?
In many ways, their case has been helped by the inconsistent form of Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Liverpool, who have lost 20 games between them so far this season. However, you’d expect those teams to click sooner or later, and Howe will need to ensure his team are ready to fight for the spoils when push comes to shove at the end of the season.
A 1-1 draw against AFC Bournemouth in the last outing was proof that there are cracks in this Newcastle team that can be exploited. Indeed, eleven draws so far this season is the most of any side in the league, and if the Magpies are going to sustain their charge for Champions League football, they’ll need to start converting some of those draws into victory.
It’s worth remembering that Newcastle qualifying for the Champions League would certainly be ahead of schedule as far as their ambitions are concerned. It would be interesting to see if they’d be able to cope with the demands of top-level European football as well as the Premier League. In some ways, they’d be better off finding their feet in the Europa League or Europa Conference League first.
That won’t stop Newcastle’s fans from dreaming that, next season, their beloved Magpies will be stepping out on a big European night with the Champions League anthem blaring loudly through St. James’ Park.