Skip to content

Newcastle reporter notebook: Club's hierarchy still believe in 'gem' Eddie Howe despite pressure on Toon boss

Newcastle failed to progress from their Champions League group and are currently 10th in the Premier League; injuries to key players, including Nick Pope, Sven Botman and Joelinton, have taken their toll on Eddie Howe's side

Returning from the international break, Newcastle sit in a lowly 10th spot in the Premier League, 16 points beneath the Champions League places, and are out of every cup competition.

But their fall from grace cannot be pinpointed to one reason. A number of factors have combined to explain why they find themselves flirting with the bottom half of the table.

The three main reasons? The schedule, an unprecedented injury list and poor recruitment last summer.

The schedule and the injury list go hand in hand. Newcastle sit top of the table when it comes to the amount of games players have missed through injury this season, and the club will no doubt be looking into why so many players have faced setbacks having appeared to recover from fitness issues.

This season has seen Joe Willock, Alexander Isak, Harvey Barnes and Jacob Murphy face such setbacks, and the news last week that Sven Botman now faces up to nine months out with ACL surgery was the final straw for some. Fingers are being pointed at the medical department.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Jamie Carragher and Ian Wright discussed Newcastle's drop in form this season on Monday Night Football earlier this month

But there is no doubt the increase in injuries has been linked to the additional load. Newcastle have had six energy-sapping Champions League matches to face in addition to their domestic fixture list.

Playing so many big midweek fixtures has taken its toll, especially during November and December, when the injury list rose to well over double figures.

Also See:

At one stage towards the end of the year, Eddie Howe picked the same starting XI for five matches in a row in a two-week period. It's unheard of in the current world of squad rotation and, without doubt, the additional load on certain players has come back to haunt them as the campaign has dragged on.

There has also been a suggestion that Howe's high-energy, high-press, run-until-you-drop style has caught up with certain players, and it is interesting to note that Liverpool, who play a similar style under Jurgen Klopp, also have a lengthy injury list to contend with.

But on the flip side, they have also had a great deal of bad luck when it comes to injuries - with two dislocated shoulders (Nick Pope and Murphy), a toe ligament injury (Barnes) and an awkward back injury (Dan Burn) having nothing to do with the workload placed upon the players.

And this week, the club suffered more unfortunate luck as midfielder Lewis Miley injured his back while on England U21 duty, with the teenager now awaiting scan results before the length of his absence is determined.

Any team would miss big players like Joelinton, Isak and Botman for extended spells.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

The Daily Mail's Craig Hope talks about the story that Newcastle’s co-owner Amanda Staveley has been told to pay £3.4m to a Greek shipping magnate

But recruitment has been arguably the biggest issue. The club's £55m statement signing Sandro Tonali has missed almost the entire season due to his gambling suspension. Newcastle had been planning to build their team around him.

Barnes has hardly kicked a ball due to the toe injury he picked up in September, while Tino Livramento and Lewis Hall have been bought for the future - to the tune of a combined £60m.

The four new signings have started just 17 Premier League games between them - when Newcastle were crying out for new players to come straight into the starting line-up last summer.

What is left for them this season?

Newcastle can still qualify for Europe and that would give them something tangible at the end of a bruising campaign, but the end of the season all feels very flat in comparison to last, when Howe's charges fought successfully for a place in the Champions League for the first time in more than two decades.

A top-four berth looks all but impossible now, but a spot in either the Europa League or the Europa Conference League would be a welcome consolation given what they have put in - and gone through - this year.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Sky Sports' Keith Downie gave his verdict on Manchester City's routine 2-0 win over Newcastle in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup - Eddie Howe's side's most recent outing

Having seen what West Ham did last season and Aston Villa are doing this year, Newcastle would have a shot at going all the way in either of those competitions, should they avoid the injuries they picked up this season and manage to recruit better in the transfer window.

They face stiff competition from the likes of West Ham, Chelsea, Brighton and Wolves, who are all battling for a top-eight finish themselves. But Newcastle have favourable fixtures and, should their returning players hit their straps, you would fancy their chances.

Perhaps a spot in either of Europe's two lesser competitions reflects better where Newcastle are right now. Last season, they overachieved while on the crest of a wave, and in many ways were punished for that this campaign.

Yes, they have spent £400m since the takeover in 2021, but six of the starting side that took to the field against Manchester City in their last game were at the club before that momentous day in the club's history.

Despite all that, anything less than a European spot and the season will be deemed a failure.

What does the future hold for Howe at Newcastle?

The Englishman has the backing of the British-based owners and they believe Saudi Arabia's Pubic Investment Fund are aligned with their thinking. Until now, there has been no reason to doubt that.

There has always been the question of how quick to act the Saudi owners would be if things started to wane but it feels as though they trust the judgement of the British-based owners.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

A look back at some of Newcastle's greatest goals in the Premier League, including strikes from Alan Shearer, Gary Speed and Hatem Ben Arfa

There is a family feel behind the scenes at Newcastle, despite the imminent departure of sporting director Dan Ashworth to rivals Manchester United.

The belief is that Newcastle were always of the impression that things were likely to hit a speed bump this season having reached the Champions League ahead of schedule last summer.

Howe, a very impressive character and single-handedly the biggest reason for Newcastle's rise from relegation fodder to Champions League competitors, will be given the summer and beyond to rebuild his injury-ravaged squad.

The only concern would be if Christmas is reached and things are still regressing. But surely Newcastle can't have as bad a window as they did last summer, and the schedule won't be quite as taxing without Champions League football to contend with.

There is also a feeling from within the British-based owners they have a gem in Howe and it would be a mistake to let him go mid-project.

It is Howe's man-management and tactical brilliance that is to be thanked for their shot at glory over the past 18 months.

How is the summer shaping up for Newcastle?

The biggest criticism of Howe from the Geordie faithful has been his insistence on playing certain players despite being out of form. In Howe's defence, he has had little option at times as he worked with a threadbare squad. But the questions remain - and some of them have a point.

The return of Tonali in August will feel like a new signing. Howe may be advised to ask him to anchor the Newcastle midfield and plug a gap that has resulted in a huge swing in the number of goals conceded compared to last.

Newcastle's Sandro Tonali could face Wolves
Image: Sandro Tonali has been suspended for most of the season

Only lowly Sheffield United have conceded more away from home this season and the lack of a quality holding midfielder is part of the problem.

There will be money to spend this summer but Howe has already said there won't be a huge outlay due to the Premier League's Profitability and Sustainability Rules (PSR).

Newcastle's latest financial figures showed a turnover of £250m, which is less than half of Manchester United and just over a third of Manchester City's. Until they manage to compete commercially, they will always be at a big disadvantage, making that the area they need to work hardest on.

There is also the fear among the fanbase that a big name could be sold this summer to help rebuild the squad. While neither Howe nor the club owners want that, it is a possibility. In today's PSR market, every player has his price.

In terms of summer transfer targets, Newcastle will be looking to add a left-back, a right-winger and a striker. They have been left very short at times this season and the lack of a third centre-forward has been costly.

Last week's news that Botman will be missing for up to nine months will mean they undoubtedly require at least one centre-back, too.

Can Newcastle make the top four again next season?

Certainly they will have a much better chance without Champions League football. But the irony is that competing in Europe's premier competition is exactly what they want to do year on year.

Pep Guardiola made a good point in his press conference last week following his team's FA Cup win over Newcastle, pointing to the fact that playing every three days takes a while to master and that it was hard for his City side to start with.

Eddie Howe reacts as Newcastle lost to AC Milan to exit the Champions League
Image: Eddie Howe is seen as key to Newcastle's project by sections of the ownership

It is new to Newcastle, their manager and most of their players. With the right recruitment this summer, they would be in a better position to deal with the demands of European football should they qualify next season.

There is a theory that missing out on Europe altogether would be advantageous for Newcastle in their quest to break back into the top four next season. But try telling that to Howe, who is desperate to be the man to end Newcastle's trophy drought, whether that be domestic or European.

It's also not an idea that will ring true to the majority of the club's fans, who loved every minute of being back on European soil this season and feel they have a chance of going deep in the either the Europa League or the Europa Conference League.

To get back among England's elite, they will also need a fair chunk of good fortune - something that has deserted them throughout this season.

Win £1,000,000 with Super 6!
Win £1,000,000 with Super 6!

The Super 6 Rollover hits a whopping £1,000,000! Play for free, entries by 3pm Saturday March 30.

Win £1,000,000 with Super 6!
Win £1,000,000 with Super 6!

The Super 6 Rollover hits a whopping £1,000,000! Play for free, entries by 3pm Saturday March 30.

Around Sky