Welcome to the elite, Newcastle United. The Magpies finished fourth last season, qualifying for the Champions League. Paris Saint-Germain, Borussia Dortmund and AC Milan await in that tournament. A classic ‘group of death’ scenario. But the Premier League hasn’t been much kinder in Newcastle’s opening four games this season.
Aston Villa were hammered 5-1 on the opening day, strengthening the buoyant feeling that has surrounded Eddie Howe’s side almost from the moment the Saudi Public Investment Fund began pumping them full of multi-millions. But the Magpies crashed to earth with a trio of defeats after the elation of the Villa win.
Manchester City, Liverpool and Brighton & Hove Albion have all beaten Newcastle so far this season. The reigning Premier League champions, perennial contenders and fast-rising recent European-qualifying Seagulls represented a very tricky triumvirate. Newcastle sat 14th in the table going into the international break. Howe’s men looked shell-shocked after a summer that promised so much.
What’s done is done and that rotten run of fixtures needs to be put behind them now. Newcastle have an eminently more winnable sequence of Premier League games ahead of them. Brentford at home is up next on Saturday evening. That match will be followed by meetings with two newly-promoted sides in Sheffield United and Burnley. After that, West Ham United will welcome Howe’s men before the commencement of the next international break.
They are four Premier League games that Newcastle could conceivably emerge from with a perfect 12 points. Burnley and Sheffield United currently have a single point between them and Newcastle must back themselves in those games. Brentford are tricky and well-organised but they have won just once in ten games at St James’ Park. West Ham are the reigning Europa Conference League champions and have started the season superbly. They arguably represent the biggest threat to Newcastle between now and mid-October.
This run of Premier League games is complicated with what one might call a nice problem to have. Newcastle’s achievements last season mean that they also have Champions League business to take care of. Milan are first up for the ambitious North East club followed by PSG. Add in a Carabao Cup clash with Manchester City and it’s going to be a busy month for the St James’ Park side.
This is the price of breathing the rarefied air of elite football. Any long-suffering member of the Geordie Nation would tell you that a stacked fixture list featuring some of the biggest clubs in the world is a nice problem to have. Particularly when their previous issues were much bleaker. The underfunded apathy of the Mike Ashley years feel like a long time ago now. This is a new Newcastle. One that is jostling for a seat at football’s top table.
But nobody gets three points for a rags-to-riches story alone. After a chastening start to the season, Newcastle need to start delivering on the pitch. That battle starts on Saturday against Brentford. Eddie Howe and his players won’t want this season’s Champions League campaign to be a one-season novelty. The next month could be crucial in securing a return visit next year.