After the lovely home victory for Everton against Brentford which began the Frank Lampard era in his first match at Goodison Park, the Toffees must turn their attention away from the FA Cup and towards the Premier League. With the Blues in 16th position on the Premier League table currently, three points is very much needed to keep the momentum from the last match going forward.
Yet Newcastle is in 19th position on the league table, and wishes desperately to get out of relegation territory; their winter transfer window proved as much. Three points for the Magpies would put them in a good position to just that at the start of February, but Everton are looking to distance themselves from the bottom three too.
RBM: Firstly, with all of the impressive transfer window movement that Newcastle undertook this winter, and despite the current table position for Eddie Howe and his squad, what is the feeling around this team and its supporters currently?
CHN: I think everyone is pleased and fairly confident exiting the transfer window. Newcastle heavily addressed the biggest issue with the team: Defense by bolstering the back line with a much needed CB, and Premier League experienced fullbacks.
The defense has been a massive issue for Newcastle all season, but has been increasingly frustrating in the Eddie Howe era, as the team has conceded mostly due to individual errors from defenders. While every other part of the pitch improved with just the introduction of tactics, that part of the team continued to be lackluster. Bringing in Dan Burn, who has been brilliant for Brighton, was massive for a team that has not had a new center back in 4 seasons.
Bolstering the defense with the acquisition of outside backs Matt Targett, a target of Rafa Benitez during his time at Newcastle, and the England international Kieran Trippier, were good bits of business by Newcastle. Both are solid defenders that also offer something in attack. The rest of Newcastle’s outside backs usually offer one or the other, defense or attack, never both.
Chris Wood may have been expensive, but is worth it for a team that has relied on the health of Callum Wilson for goals since he arrived on Tyneside. Wood provides another Premier League striker that can get the job done when Wilson is not available or coming off the bench. Wood brings to Newcastle four straight seasons of double-digit goal scoring and will start at the number 9 spot for Newcastle at least until mid-March while Callum nurses yet another injury.
The big surprise for Newcastle was addressing the midfield with the signing of Bruno Guimarães, a Brazilian international who has been tearing apart Ligue 1. Bruno provides the three things Newcastle need most in the midfield: someone who can protect the back line, someone who can retain possession, and someone who can progress the ball effectively. Bruno has the potential to be the most impactful signing of this window for any team if he develops the way that many believe he will.
RBM: The recent transfer window activity is, clearly, the surest evidence of the influence of the new ownership on Newcastle and the Premier League yet; what can be said about the new ownership and of their dedication to keeping this team in the Premier League next season and beyond?
CHN: Ownership has said repeatedly that they want to compete for trophies, and this window was a good first step. The types of players they were going after were incredibly ambitious even if they did not end up signing for the club. Zapata, Diego Carlos, Sven Botman, Hugo Ekitike, Jesse Lingard are all in a tier of players we have not seen Newcastle linked to in years.
The fact that they fought tooth and nail for these players and had legit interest from the player side with nearly all of those targets speaks to how ambitious this ownership group was given the fact they spent the majority of the window negotiating with teams and players while sitting in 19th.
Chris Waugh of the Athletic even mentioned that Newcastle went after a larger list of elite level players that did not sign with the club simply due to where they were with the table. If Newcastle stay up, I think we could see another somewhat ambitious summer with 2-3 big money signings. The new group means business and have demonstrated that thus far.
RBM: Who are supporters really excited about from the lot of talent that was acquired during January?
CHN: The most exciting player is probably Bruno Guimarães for all of the reasons mentioned before. He is just on paper miles better than any midfielder we have had since Yohan Cabaye. He looks like a great player and already has won over the hearts of Newcastle fans with his cheeky announcement video.
I mean he also is just, again, on paper. Really f***ing good.
When compared to the Premier League’s ‘elite’ midfielders, Bruno Guimarães is only beaten on progressive passes by Thiago, and only beaten on shot-creating actions by Kevin De Bruyne.@jakerslane:https://t.co/0KK45j6Awj pic.twitter.com/WO06FBL6Of— Breaking The Lines (@BTLvid) February 3, 2022
Outside of Bruno, Trippier is the one the fans are most excited by. He was the first signing to mark this new era and brought a level of quality to the team that was clearly lacking. He also is who many fans would choose to be the captain of the club, and seemingly has slotted into a leadership role with the team already.
RBM: Are the supporters more firmly behind Eddie Howe than they were behind Steve Bruce before his departure? Are they backing the Saudi led-consortium more than Mike Ashley?
CHN: I mean this is a softball. The answers to both of those questions is a resounding yes. Bruce’s time at Newcastle had its moments, but overall was defined by the team’s lack of structure, identity, and Bruce’s terrible relationship with the media/fans. Howe so far has been a more effective manager this season with a clear identity he is trying to establish, players improving underneath him, and the team picking up results all while he has had a good relationship with the fans.
I think it is easy to say the new ownership is liked more than Mike Ashley due to this window alone, but honestly, if you take January out of the window the group was already well liked. Amanda Staveley, her partner Mehrdad Ghodoussi, and Jamie Reuben have served as the faces of the new ownership group and have killed it. All of them are consistently present at all Newcastle matches, home or away, a welcome change from Mike Ashley who may have attended a few matches a season and rarely showed his face at SJP.
Ashley famously did not talk to the media or fans, while Jamie and Mehrdad are very active on Twitter, even engaging with fans regularly. Mehrdad jokes around alot on social media, and sounds like if an average Joe somehow ended up with a football club. Amanda has released multiple club statements, seems to have good rapport with the press, and is willing to step in front of a camera for statements or interviews.
Additionally the owners have rekindled relationships with former players, reached out to supporters groups, supported the NUFC foundation, and have fostered partnerships with the NUFC Food Bank. The club recently announced their intent to become a Living Wage Employer through the Living Wage Foundation, another great PR move following the removal of the Sports Direct signage as well as them cleaning St James Park for the first time in years.
This new ownership does have its faults however, obviously the biggest one being the Saudi PIF owning a large portion of the club. There is nothing fans can do about the club being owned or associated with the Saudi regime. So far, the Saudis have not prevented the club, media, or fans from speaking out against the horrible things going on in Saudi Arabia.
The Club has reiterated their support for the members of the LGBTQ+ community, journalists have been critical of the Saudi State with no punishments, and fans of course have not been punished for anything they want to say or do in protest. The regime being involved is an unfortunate part of supporting the club, and is definitely something fans did not have to worry about with Mike Ashley.
The only other knock on the ownership group right now is that they failed to bring in a Director of Football before the January window, which led to some inexperience this window. They were off base with some of their evaluations, wasted time on certain targets, and were used as pawns in some negotiations. Other than that, the group has been well received. It is important to note that it is entirely possible they will be hated in ten years time.
Right now, they are doing everything right because they HAVE to. Mike Ashley was well received when he first came to the club, and then within a few seasons he completely stopped trying to be likable and his true intentions began to show. I hope that is not the case with this group, but it is still a legit concern to keep in mind.
RBM: Where has this team struggled and suffered this season, regardless of the man in charge? Furthermore, what characteristics or innovations are fans hoping the new additions, as well as further time with the new manager, will endow this team with?
CHN: Newcastle’s biggest area of concern is defense. They currently have the second most goals scored against with 43, narrowly trailing Norwich by two goals. In theory the new signings should help that as in many cases they are flat out better defenders than the defenders Newcastle have played with thus far.
Bruno Guimarães coming in the midfield should also help as the midfield has been outmatched in nearly every match thus far. As much as Jonjo has improved this year, he simply is not meant to protect a back line. This has left the back line exposed many times leading to goals.
Additionally, the midfield has struggled with ball retention all year, and repeatedly turned the ball over in the middle of the pitch leading to quality chances on the other end. Defending in the Howe era has improved. Newcastle look organized, but still have been subject to individual errors in defense.
I think the area of the pitch that might transform completely under Howe as the season goes along is the midfield. The insertion of Joelinton in the midfield has added much needed creativity, and this will now be bolstered by the defensive acumen of Bruno Guimarães. Howe has already improved the play of Joelinton and Jonjoe Shelvey, two scapegoats of the past couple of seasons, and even has improved the play of forgotten man Sean Longstaff.
In Newcastle’s match against Leeds Joe Willock put in an excellent shift for the first time this season which of course was promising. These are the players that have improved the most under Howe while the rest of the team has remained largely the same.
RBM: How do you expect Newcastle to set up on Tuesday, and which of Newcastle’s players do you think can cause Everton the most problems in the match?
CHN: I honestly would not be surprised if Howe throws in all of the new signings. Both Wood and Trippier started the first match they were available. Something like this is definitely unconventional, but needed if these players are going to save Newcastle from the threat of relegation. There is simply no reason to keep rolling with a midfield with a clear hole in it and a subpar back line. Newcastle will likely stick to the 4-3-3/4-4-1-1 formation they have been running under Howe.
This is likely a hot take, but I think Chris Wood is going to be the player Everton are going to be the most concerned with simply because I think he’s due to score. He had a good game against Leeds, and it feels as if the team now has a better understanding of how to play with him.
Trippier and Fraser down the right hand side are going to likely be swinging in tons of crosses to the big man and he’s bound to score at least once (hopefully). I also don’t have a ton of faith that Bruno Guimarães is going to be effective in his first few matches for the club. He is adjusting to a new league, and is the player with the least amount of time training with the team. He likely would be the only player in my predicted starting XI that might not start.
Newcastle Predicted XI: Dubravka, Targett, Burn, Lascelles, Trippier, Shelvey, Guimarães, Joelinton, Fraser, Saint-Maximin, Wood
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Tuesday’s game?
CHN: In a crucial (now) six-pointer I think it ends up being an exciting 2-2 draw between two teams that are going to want to be somewhat relentless in attack.
Our thanks to Elijah for his time.