De La Soul sang and rapped that three is the magic number, but for Premier League managers in the thick of a relegation battle, there’s only one set of digits in mind: 37.
That’s how many points it takes to avoid demotion to the Championship – at least, it has been in 18 of the last 25 Premier League seasons.
For Eddie Howe, the numbers only serve to accentuate the size of the task he is facing in keeping Newcastle United – the newly minted richest club in the world – in the top flight. Those who want to bet on Premier League football may already have noted that the Magpies are priced at 10/11 to face the dreaded drop, which means that Norwich City, Burnley and Watford have a greater chance of being relegated according to the bookmakers.
For that to come to pass, Newcastle would need to win 26 more points to reach the golden figure of 37 from their remaining 19 games – a point-per-game rate of around 1.37. At the time of writing, they are operating at the 0.58 mark.
Anyone who simply assumes that untold wealth will keep the Magpies in the division are sorely mistaken if Howe’s men continue to throw points down the drain during the second half of the campaign.
So what can Newcastle United do to attain Premier League survival?
Weaken Their Rivals
It was rather telling that the club were willing to fork out £25 million on a very specific type of player.
Chris Wood won’t be winning the Ballon d’Or any time soon, but the Kiwi striker offers a considerable physical presence in attack and gives Howe a plan B when things aren’t going well – pumping long balls to the head of the 6ft 3in target man and getting bodies around him.
BREAKING: #NUFC have confirmed the signing of Chris Wood ⚫⚪
— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) January 13, 2022
While not prolific by any means, Wood is the most likely goal-getter for the Clarets and contributed some 36% of their Premier League haul during the 2020/21 campaign. In acquiring his services, Newcastle have not only strengthened their own cause but they have also weakened a significant rival too – not a bad way to divide and conquer.
It’s not impossible that they will deploy the same tactic again, targeting the likes of Norwich’s Todd Cantwell, Burnley’s James Tarkowski and Watford’s Emmanuel Dennis to put a huge dent in their main competitors’ survival hopes.
If the Magpies are to stay up this term, they need to make St James’s Park a place that other teams hate going to – and fast.
At the time of going to press, the North East outfit had won just one of their ten home league outings – considering a mind-boggling 22 goals in the process.
For context, Burnley – who finished seventeenth last term on 39 points – avoided defeat in 10 of their 19 home games, which is the same ratio as Leicester City in fifth place.
By whatever means, Howe needs to make St James’s Park home sweet home… and pronto.
A Route to Goal
It goes without saying that to avoid relegation, you need to win football matches. And to win football matches, you need to score goals.
As the dust settled on the 2020/21 season, it was notable that the teams that finished in the bottom four of the Premier League were also the lowest-scoring quartet in the division – not an anomaly by any means.
As things stand, Newcastle rank 17/20 as far as goals scored is concerned this term, and one of the teams they have been more prolific than – Wolves – have only conceded 14 and sit a comfy eighth in the standings.
💫 Allan Saint-Maximin has been voted the North East Football Writers’ Association player of the year for 2021.
Congrats, @asaintmaximin! 🙌
— Newcastle United FC (@NUFC) January 13, 2022
Howe has to find a regular route to goal, and to be sustainable that has to come in open play. He has the weapons – Wood joining an array of attacking options that includes the dangerous Allan Saint-Maximin, Callum Wilson and Miguel Almiron.
If he can, and Newcastle improve at home while weakening their rivals in the transfer window, they may just be singing ‘37 is the magic number’ come the end of the season.