In their first cup final appearance in 24 years, Newcastle United failed to deliver. The weekend was full of hype and promise as a huge contingent of Geordies made their way down to the capital. Yet on the famous Wembley pitch, there was a clear difference in quality between eventual winner Manchester United and the Magpies.
It was to be expected. The Red Devils spent north of £200m this summer and have invested heavily over the past few years, with little reward. What it has now given them, under the right manager, is a squad talented enough to compete with the very best in the country.
Newcastle meanwhile, are only on the start of their journey back to the top. They’ve now had three transfer windows in total since PIF took over the club, and the turnaround so far has seen them transferred from relegation candidates, to Champions League contenders. But what we saw at Wembley was the difference in levels.
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Eddie Howe has inherited several players left from the Steve Bruce era, and although he has improved them drastically, they aren’t what Newcastle need to reach that next level and compete for the European places. It was the same for Manchester City when they were taken over. Elano, Stephen Ireland and Craig Bellamy were iconic in the transition period, but when it actually came down to winning things, they were moved on.
There’s simply no room for sentimentality in football.
The good news for Newcastle is that their recruitment so far under the new owners has been pretty much perfect. Nick Pope has been exceptional, Sven Botman and Dan Burn excellent, Kieran Trippier superb and Bruno Guimaraes has proven himself to be one of the Premier League’s finest. Alexander Isak and Anthony Gordon still need time to prove themselves but the signs are promising that they can help the Magpies reach that next level.
Unfortunately for Newcastle, as we have seen in recent weeks, their squad depth simply isn’t quite there when it comes to competing for the top four. They may boast the tightest defence in the country, having conceded just 15 league goals this term, but bringing in another centre-back to compete with Fabian Schar and Botman would be wise.
Our time will come. 👊
Including the goalkeeper however, four of their back five have been signed under the new regime, and you can tell that is their area of strength. Moving up the pitch however, improvements are desperately needed. Guimaraes has set the bar for Newcastle. That is the level of player they should be signing and if they can keep hold of him, he should be the midfielder they build around.
For all of Joelinton’s physical ability and his rebirth since moving into midfield, the £40m former striker needs some competition in those spots. Sean Longstaff has shown some decent attacking qualities this season but the local lad can’t be a regular starter for a top four team. When you look at targets such as James Maddison, you realise the levels Newcastle could reach as the investment continues.
The attacking areas need addressing the most though. At Wembley, three players from the pre-Saudi era started up front, and all three were not up to scratch. Allan Saint-Maximin was so exciting on the ball, as he always is, but his end product still isn’t good enough and he was unable to cause United serious issues. Meanwhile, Miguel Almiron, he has been utterly spectacular this term in black and white, was anonymous on the right wing - while the less said about Callum Wilson’s performance the better.
The injury-hit striker is now 31 and has hit seven Premier League goals this term, but with Isak waiting in the wings and impressing off the bench, it looks as if his time as first choice striker could be over. What Eddie Howe has managed to do to his huge credit this term, is dramatically improve the players that were signed before he arrived.
The new arrivals have dragged them up by their collars and lifted the expectation and performance level. But what we have seen in the last month, as results have tailed off, is perhaps a revert to the norm for several of these players. Wilson is never going to fire a team into the Champions League spots, Longstaff isn’t an elite level midfielder and Almiron cannot possibly maintain his sparkling form.
They can play a role in the squad over the next year for sure, but when it comes to winning things and breaking into the top four, they’ll have to be moved aside. This summer is a chance for Newcastle to build on what they have achieved this season, no matter where they end up. One central defender, two midfielders in the mould of Maddison, and a wide player could elevate them to the next level. From there, anything is possible.
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