Everton have continued to lose tough matches this season, and even with new boss Frank Lampard at the helm, nothing has come easy for this team this season. After the campaign that the team nearly had under Carlo Ancelotti, things just haven’t been quite right this season since the first weeks of the new campaign; the Toffees need three points from this match to distance themselves from relegation, which is something that Newcastle know all about as well.
Yet the Toon have turned the season around since the team began the campaign so dreadfully. While the Magpies were in relegation territory for a large part of this season, the combination of new ownership, a new boss, loads of money and a big winter transfer window has done the trick and Eddie Howe’s team appears safe in the Premier League going forward.
The Toffees, in order to keep their own Premier League survival realistic, will have to knock Newcastle back down to size, so to speak; while it will be no easy contest, the Blues must show resolve and find some desperately needed offensive cohesion, imagination and interplay.
RBM: First off, it feels as though we spoke just the other day; Newcastle have made remarkable strides since last we spoke and are no longer in relegation territory at all; what is the feeling like around supporters and the club in general right now?
CHN: The mood at Newcastle is a giant sigh of relief. We knew that it was going to take a special run, in combination with the January signings, to stay up and it looks like we got that run. Going nine games unbeaten from the end of last year through March is an easy way to climb up the table and now it seems as if the team is just a few good results from securing safety. There is a lot of optimism for next season already, but right now Newcastle fans are living in the moment. We’re just enjoying watching a team that is actually fun to watch. Safety seems secured and we are just chilling for now.
RBM: While the loss of Kieran Trippier has been tough, it has not seemed to interfere with the innovations that other names have brought to the club since they’ve arrived; what can be said about the January transfers of Newcastle thus far?
CHN: The loss of Trippier was tough given his two goals and overall stellar play since being brought in. But, I must say, everyone has stepped up when a player goes down.
During Newcastle’s run they have been without Callum Wilson the entire time, Allan Saint-Maximin, Jamal Lascelles, Kieran Trippier, Javi Manquillo, Joelinton and Joe Willock. Each time a player goes down, another steps up. From the January signings the two that have stuck out the most have been Matt Targett and Dan Burn. Both have started nearly every available match and have been rock solid. Ultimately, players like that are what keep teams up. Experienced players that understand the league, can absorb tactics, and carry themselves in a way that is needed in a relegation scrap.
The big money signing Bruno Guimarães has barely featured so far (in fairness he had one of the best debut goals in Newcastle history), and Kieran of course has been injured for the last few weeks. Targett and Burn along with Chris Wood have really held down the fort for the team. They understand why they were brought in, and are exceeding all the expectations fans had for them.
RBM: With the current fallout surrounding Chelsea and Roman Abramovich vis-a-vis the latter's connection to Vladimir Putin and the Russian state and their engagements and activities, are there any rumblings about the new ownership of Newcastle, the optics and potential for future backlash or criticism?
CHN: Honestly there is not much concern from the ownership of Newcastle. You can argue that they are actually creating even worse PR for themselves. Amanda Staveley publicly declared that she felt sorry for Roman Abramovich losing his club. The Saudi Arabian government announced a mass execution of 81 individuals the day Newcastle played Chelsea. Additionally, one of the interested parties in the sale of Chelsea has ties to members of the Saudi PIF.
Long story short, they don’t care, likely because sanctions against the team are very far away. In fact the UK is set to announce new investment from Saudi Arabia in the coming days. So unless Saudi Arabia attacks one of their own allies, they won’t face the same scrutiny that Chelsea has.
RBM: While the players and money are of course so useful and helpful in building a solid and positive outfit, what can be said for the job that Eddie Howe has done since he replaced Steve Bruce as boss of Newcastle? What does he continue to change regarding the club and what has been most obvious to observers and supporters alike?
CHN: He’s completely transformed the team. For starters there is structure within the team, every player knows their role, and there is a clear tactical plan. Something we have not had since the Rafa days. Outside of the basic idea of tactics, there are two things you can noticeably point out with Howe as the obvious changes he has brought to the team.
The first is fitness. Callum Wilson, Joe Willock, and Amanda Staveley have all pointed out that the team is in much better physical shape than they were in the past. This is not a surprise given Howe’s track record, but it is a noticeable difference from Steve Bruce’s era at Newcastle. Bruce often had multiple days off after matches, training sessions were light, and players were asked to improve their fitness on their own. This resulted in Bruce teams falling apart after the 70th minute in most matches. If Newcastle had a lead or were tied, you were worried that they would concede a goal due to tired legs or a mental mistake.
That is no longer the case under Howe. Howe’s first training session with the team saw him perform the pacer test, or “bleep test” as folks in the UK call it, which is every athlete’s worst nightmare. It set the tone that the team was going to be well drilled and in really good shape. That has been the case thus far, as the team doesn’t look tired in the closing stages of a match, often pressing or trying to get another goal in the later stages of a match.
The second obvious change under Howe is literally how he has transformed players. When we last spoke we discussed the emergence of Joelinton and Jonjo Shelvey, but since then Ryan Fraser, Joe Willock, Sean Longstaff, and Fabian Schär have all vastly improved under Howe. Even Jamal Lascelles is making slight improvements with his ability on the ball. It truly is remarkable.
RBM: How do you expect Newcastle to set up on Thursday, and which of Newcastle’s players do you think can cause Everton the most problems in the game?
CHN: We will know more probably by the time this article comes out, but Newcastle are looking a little thin right now. An illness has swept the clubhouse and it is unclear whether or not Jonjo Shelvey, Joe Willock and Joelinton will be available for the Everton match.
Allan Saint-Maximin is still regaining match fitness, and Ryan Fraser just missed the last match with a slight knock. We could see Newcastle roll out with a back five as they did against Chelsea, employing a midfield pair alongside wide players who tend to operate a bit more centrally behind Chris Wood while the fullbacks make some overlapping runs and provide the width for the team.
Newcastle Starting XI (5-4-1): Dubravka; Manquillo, Lascelles, Schär, Burn, Targett; Almirón, Longstaff, Guimarães, Murphy; Wood
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Thursday’s match?
CHN: I think Newcastle wins 2-1. The back five did not result in a ton of quality chance creation for Newcastle, but they were facing a solid Chelsea back line that is understandably better than Everton’s back line. Newcastle look really good right now, while Everton look... well not very good. So, I think ultimately Newcastle comes out on top
Our thanks to Elijah for his time.