Ahead of another brand-new season, some of the NE1's Game team gave their thoughts on the upcoming campaign.
Here we are again. After the relative high of the Euro's, we're back down to earth with a band, realising Newcastle are yet to sign a player and are why behind the rest of the league.
I'm not sure if I've ever felt as disillusioned with this football club as I do now. We are all just waiting for something, anything positive to come... We're still waiting. This is Mike Ashley's biggest gamble to date, not only to stick with Steve Bruce, but to stick with him and not back him at all in the transfer window.
Player to watch:
Ryan Fraser - He has so much to prove this season, after such a disruptive campaign last time out. He can be the difference maker in this side, and can take the pressure off the likes of Allan Saint-Maximin and Callum Wilson. There is no doubting his ability, and he will be eager to show Newcastle supporters just what he can do.
If he can stay injury free this season, it will be a huge benefit to Newcastle.
If we don't sign anyone, or only add Joe Willock. I think it'll be a very long season ahead, and we'll be battling for that 17th spot (Livin' the dream, eh?!). If we add three or four players to this squad, then we should have a decent chance of finishing close to the top half of the table. Which one happens? Your guess is as good as mine, but I am inclined to go with the former.
Under Ashley we have had some depressing pre-seasons, but this one has to top the lot...
Zero signings (as I write this) and if there are to be any, we seem to be shopping in the bargain-basement. Not to mention the ongoing takeover saga, which has been put to bed (for now) and sees Mike Ashley here for at least another season. It makes it even harder to take when you see the deals being done elsewhere this summer. The teams we should be competing with are all strengthening, and doing it well.
Either Ashley thinks we finished 12th last season with this squad (somehow) minus Willock so we should survive, or he has simply checked out & is clinging all his hopes to a takeover, which at the moment seems dead in the water.
I don't have a lot of hope going into this season, and I think how we perform will very much depend on keeping everyone fit. Any injury to Wilson, which we are ill prepared for, will have a damaging effect on us. It's inevitable Wilson will have a spell on the sidelines at some point, so unless Gayle finds out where the goal is, it could be very bleak. Our starting XI all fit and firing should be enough to see us safe, and I think that's the highest we can aim at this point.
Player to watch: Joelinton.
I really want Big Joe to do well. In pre-season he has showed glimpses of what he can be, but that also could be because he has been against lower league opposition. I think given a run in the team in a settled position and in an XI where we have all our key players available, this could be the season where he pushes on. That being said, with Ryan Fraser back to fitness, it remains to be seen if there is a place for Joelinton. Although Fraser has been playing in the Willock role in pre-season, which could mean Joelinton's place out wide is his going into the West Ham game. My bold prediction is that Joelinton gets at least 8 league goals...
As previously mentioned, where we end up will rely heavily on keeping everyone fit. Without any major long term injuries this season, I think we will be okay. I don't see there being a side like Sheff Utd last season being cut adrift, but I do think come May there will be three or four teams worse than us. I think we will finish 16th, which is safe, but still very uninspiring.
Sam: Well, lads and lasses! Here we are again, ready to jump face-first into a new season – EPL 21/22
At the time of writing, we are 12 days from our Super Sunday KO against West Ham (yuk) – I am waiting with bated breath to see if both sets of fans are going to protest their respective owners. The life of a West Ham fan with their borrowed stadium is their plight. Poor investment instead of NONE. I digress…
How am I feeling about the season in front of us? I would say underwhelmed at this point. The squad is light and short of quality – did I mention we KO in 12 days? That being said, the most important thing that I believe all the Steve’s (and Graeme) need to do is settle on a way to play – if it’s a back 5 with the WB’s pushing up, so be it. We need to be a well drilled, hard-working team at a minimum – if we are set our expectations according to Mike then Burnley is our model minus the physicality and strikers. We may not like it, but that’s where we are and it's up to our coaching team to make this work.
It’s not all doom and gloom for me, there are some positives and it's important we talk about these!
Freddie Woodman – I am DELIGHTED he is probably going to start between the sticks. We need to see what he is made of as NUFC first choice, it’s what he wants! No point in arguing about Darlow or Dubravka – this is where we see what Freddie is made of and I have a lot of faith in him to deliver – he was the Championship's top keeper last season!
Jacob Murphy – This is the season for Jacob if we stick with WB’s. He was a shining light last season and proved doubters including myself wrong with his new role. If the coaching team drill his defensive positioning and decision-making, then that right foot can do the rest!
Sean Longstaff – The last 2 years for Sean haven’t been good enough, but he has worked hard to get back into favour, and that can't have been easy. If he wants a new contract, then he needs to cement his place in a MF really short of quality.
Our no9 – We are blessed with a top striker who now has the no9 on his back, he has committed to holding ASM and others accountable, so let's hope we can keep him on the pitch. PS, give him the armband!
Where do I think we can finish next season? Well, I predicted 12th last season and 45points (end of season prediction table) – there is evidence in case you don’t believe me! I am conflicted whether we can do the same again without fresh faces pretty quickly, but I really do have faith in Graeme Jones IF our players stay fit.
I think by now you all know I do not have any faith in Bruce and think he is stealing a living – I would also replace all the Steve’s because they look like they have the motivational skills of a napkin.
Player to watch:
This is like drawing straws, to be honest. The most consistent player for me over the last 2 seasons is Fernandez, but I want to aim big! I am sticking my head on the block and staying, Wilson will get his 20 goals this season and drive our team forward (with or without ASM).
I can't help but get excited about a new season, I love my football club and I hope we can all continue to be realistic about the management challenges from the top down and get behind the team.
Josh: General thoughts going into the season:
Since GJ come in, I feel more confident about Newcastle finding a way to avoid the drop. The clear improvements we’ve shown when we go forward is exciting to watch, Almiron was finally playing in the 10 role and Joelinton up top with Wilson is a partnership that looks to be growing. Willock provided balance in the central midfield, something that Newcastle were lacking when playing a 3-5-2. I have I’ve been impressed with Ryan Fraser during pre-season and he is starting to show glimpses of qualities that we saw at Bournemouth.
I worry about Newcastle defensively, Federico Fernandez was our best centre back last season but it feels like with the current options, there is no option to move out of the low block due to the lack of pace and agility within the pack.
Player to watch:
Newcastle do possess players that can stretch opposition and attack space effectively, Jacob Murphy, a player who has transformed his fortunes from when he first joined, is especially effective out-wide. The wing-back was in and out of the team last season, but he hit good form towards the end of the season, ending as Newcastle’s most active wing-back, providing width with boundless energy, bursting runs in behind and a packing a good cross. “He’s been a big plus this season, after spending a couple of years on loan. He’s played a big part in the season,” Bruce said. “He’s had – for him – a really good season where he knows now he can convince himself that he belongs in the Premier League”.
Murphy has spoken about his affection and what it means to play for Newcastle, which may translate in him being a key figure in the dressing room during difficult parts of the season.
Bruce has a squad that is 2-3 key signings away from becoming a team that can aim for better finishes than what we’ve had previously. After four seasons back in the top flight, the squad has saw some big additions, but the strategy will always be to reach 40 points and work from there.
Last season the additions of Callum Wilson for £20.3m and Joe Willock on a half season loan turned out to be priceless signings as they scored 45% of Newcastle’s total league goals, with 6 goals shared between Joelinton, Gayle and Carroll totalling 13.6% of goals scored, a worrying statistic from a list of strikers who all have a variety of useful attributes but couldn’t step up to the mark.
Our starting XI is robust and knows how to get the job done, but problems come when a key man is missing, there are one or two liable options on the bench, but these are few and far between. Bruce will be hoping that Charnley will get the Willock signing over the line, and possibly add a loan signing or two. Equally important for Bruce will be to keep the integral components of his side fit and morale in the camp high for the inevitable difficult times of the season.