Can Newcastle avoid relegation under Eddie Howe?

Newcastle United, after 12 games, are yet to register a win in the Premier League this season, and face the very real prospect of relegation to the Championship. But after securing new billionaire ownership at the start of October, the club is doing everything it can to avoid the drop. With hundreds of millions of dollars being pumped into the club, the Magpies now have a considerable war chest to bolster their squad during the upcoming January Transfer Window. But as January draws closer, Eddie Howe’s team continue to sit rock bottom in the table, dangerously close to making their situation unrecoverable.

EDDIE HOWE’S MAMMOTH TASK

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Shortly after the takeover, Steve Bruce’s inevitable sacking came quickly to fruition, inspiring a hunt for a new manager. The likes of Unai Emery and Paulo Fonseca were floated out as potential replacements, but it was former Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe who eventually earned the nod.

His task is not an enviable one. Newcastle sit rock bottom of the Premier League table, with just six points from the twelve fixtures they’ve played so far. That leaves them five points off the drop, now with a massive task ahead of them as the second half of the season draws closer. Under Howe, the first match was particularly promising. The brand of football was more attractive, Joelinton looked as though he had been charmed under a spell, and the team’s 3-4-3 formation looked fluid and flexible. However, Howe’s second match in charge against Arsenal exposed the deeper-lying issues Newcastle still have to solve. The team were toothless going forward, and could not get a grip of Arsenal’s wide overloads in attack. While the team have star players like Allan Saint-Maximin and Callum Wilson to lead their attack, defensive reinforcements are needed if the club are truly to survive relegation.

Further, their task is perhaps all the more difficult given how long it took to appoint Eddie Howe in the first place. From the span of time that they sacked Bruce to the appointment of Howe, the Magpies suffered a heavy defeat to Chelsea, and failed to beat both Palace and Brighton. While a draw against two sides currently in the top half of the Prem doesn’t hurt, it also doesn’t do the Magpies any favours in their quest for survival. The team have not won a game all season, and were knocked out in their first EFL Cup match at home to Burnley. The current crop of players Eddie Howe has at his disposal are simply not strong enough, and the billionaire’s club could be headed for relegation if new reinforcements are not added into the equation.

In fact, as things stand, the latest Premier League odds do not give Newcastle much of a chance of staying in the English topflight. In fact, at the time of writing Newcastle were one of the top favourites at a range of UK Premier League sportsbooks to be relegated this football season.

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Encouragingly for Newcastle supporters, fighting relegation is something Howe is firmly familiar with. When he first joined Bournemouth, they were a struggling League Two side floundering under the threat of liquidation. Howe not only kept them up – despite a 17-point penalty for financial mismanagement – but eventually took them all the way to the Premier League, where they spent five years. He helped them earn two 11th place finishes in that time, and his time only came to an end after a final season relegation brought Bournemouth back to life in the Championship. Nevertheless, his track record for surviving relegation in the Premier League sits at 4/5, which is a very good omen for the Magpies.

But without a full pre-season under his belt to get the Magpies up and running, the 43-year-old will need to make his mark at St James’ Park quickly. Before the January window even opens, Newcastle have seven matches to play. In that time, Howe will need to establish his principles of play and formation, and somehow get Newcastle to play a more possession-based, attack-minded style of football. His gung-ho style of football could be just what Newcastle need, but given their abysmal defensive record in his final season at Bournemouth, it could also backfire. Howe created a Bournemouth team that scored plenty of goals in the Premier League, even outscoring United in the 2016/17 season. But they also conceded 65 goals in his final season, the third worst in the division.

The problem for Newcastle’s quest for survival then becomes more complex. They’ve already conceded five goals in his two matches in charge, bringing their tally up to 29 for the season, the worst in the division. With that, reinforcements in January are evidently needed.

what needs to change in the january window

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With Newcastle’s defense conceding at a rate of 2.25 goals per game, Howe needs to stop the rot before things get worse. This could come from a change in tactics, or from the acquisition of new players. Newcastle director Amanda Staveley has already said Howe will have a large transfer budget to work with, which could prove vital in the upcoming January transfer window.

It may be drastic to say, but the January window could make or break Newcastle’s chances of staying up this season. Howe will need to ensure the balance of the team stays intact, while negotiating deals for new players that could potentially inspire greater results. All through this time period, Newcastle will be competing with a condensed fixture list, and the need to scrap their way to that elusive first win of the season. While defensive reinforcements across the back-line should be top of the list, greater support for Allan Saint-Maximin and Callum Wilson in midfield areas will also be essential. Willock and Shelvey are both fine players, but not necessarily capable of helping the Magpies avoid the drop on their own. It’s also obvious that when either Wilson or Saint-Maximin are absent from the side, the team struggle to perform. So attacking options should not be the top priority, but Howe would do well to diversify his side’s attacking options.

Upcoming fixtures

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As already mentioned, Newcastle’s mammoth task starts with a seven fixture run leading up to January. The month begins with a winnable home game against Burnley; however the Magpies will then have to face Leicester City, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and then Everton back-to-back.

Howe may well fancy his chances in some of those games, but the focus will likely to be to salvage as many points as possible without shipping too much damage in the way of goals conceded. They will need to play counter-attacking football in most of those matches, and Howe will need to accommodate his attack-minded approach with the current abilities of his players.

Looking at that schedule, coupled with the lackluster form Newcastle have been in, it would be hard to make a case for the team staying in the Premier League this season. However, Howe has proven himself in the past to be capable of survival, and Newcastle are now one of the richest clubs in the world thanks to their recent takeover.

The club’s full rebuild is a long-term venture, but it will be fascinating to see if Howe can work his magic over the next few months and keep Newcastle in the topflight. If he can, they’ll have a foundation to build upon with their new wealth of resources.


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