A Recent History
Benitez couldn’t save Newcastle despite a six game unbeaten run at the end of the season in 2015-16. Seven of the teams they beat that season are still in the division, including Spurs, over whom they did the double. The league is largely unchanged but the Magpies are a different animal this time around.
High profile players such as Sissoko, Townsend, Wijnaldum, Cisse and Janmaat have moved on with hugely varying outcomes. In came Matt Ritchie, Dwight Gayle and Ciaran Clark. A core of hungry 26-year-old homegrown players. They joined Darlow, Dummett, Lascelles, Colback and Hayden in making 30+ appearances. This new look team were ready for a fight in the Championship and had the perfect manager to lead them straight back into the Premier League.
Newcastle kept 8 clean sheets in their last Premiership campaign. Darlow kept 13 himself in the league alone this season, complimented by other 6 between Selz and Elliot.
Colback, Ritchie and Shelvey got 10 yellow cards each and it’s a midfield that’s not only combative but also creative, with the latter two providing 16 and 5 goals respectively.
They never left the top two positions after their 2-0 away win over Barnsley on 18th October. A ten game stretch at the atop the league was ended by Sheffield Wednesday come Boxing Day but they looked assured of promotion despite six draws in the second half of the season. An easy win over that same Barnsley brought home the title.
So far they’ve brought in two midfielders, who mainly play wide, and two defenders to compliment the squad. Atsu and Manquillo will already be acclimatised to the North East due to spells at St. James’ and The Stadium of Light respectively. I wouldn’t expect them to do too much more and Benitez won’t want to unsettle a title winning team.
Importantly they look like keeping key players, which has been a problem for them in the past. Fringe players have left for reasonable amounts of money, keeping the squad trim but competitive.
They’re likely to keep things very much the same as last season considering it worked. A couple of changes could be made, with Hayden and Diame interchangeable, much like Atsu and Perez. In some games Benitez may opt for a 4-4-2, bringing in Mitrovic as more of a target man and Gayle working off him. Shelvey is the main man in midfield, keeping things ticking over.
*Subject to change with upcoming transfers
I expect them to lose their first game of the season, with Spurs wanting revenge for their last game. They do however have a great chance to be in the top half by the time December comes around. That will however be a difficult period, with games against Chelsea, Everton, Arsenal and Man City. Come May they’ll be safe and probably sitting around 13th, which would be a perfectly good finish for a newly promoted side.