Newcastle at a glance:
Premier League (and old First Division) titles: 2 (last: 1959/60)
FA Cups: 5 (last: 1954/55)
League Cups: 0 (best finish: runners-up 1974/75)
FA Community Shield: 1 (1909/10, runners-up 5 times)
[ STREAM: Watch every PL match live ]
Newcastle’s biggest enemy is itself, and this year might just be the year it brings them down for real.
Soccer’s Jerry Jones has taken flak for years as the Magpies slowly consume themselves from the inside out, yet Mike Ashley continues to trudge on stuck in his ways. No Premier League team would produce a bigger inferno upon relegation than Newcastle. Championship title winners just two years ago, Rafa Benitez has milked everything he can out of a paper-thin squad for the last two years, but if relegation becomes unavoidable, Newcastle’s biggest asset would most certainly walk, and the doom and gloom would spread like wildfire.
It’s somewhat surprpsing that relegation talk swirls after a 10th placed finish last year, but that’s the Benitez effect. The team continues to punch above its weight on paper, all thanks to their all-star manager. Yet the summer transfer window has been another one of frustration, and thus the fan unrest continues.
Can Benitez push the Magpies away from the bottom-tier maelstrom or will Newcastle be pulled into the unescapable cyclone?
Newcastle will finish away from the drop because…everything good Newcastle has stumbled upon the last two years has been attributable to Benitez. With the Spaniard around, most anything is possible. The defense is thin but talented, and the attack has promise. If Newcastle can avoid the injury bug, they can go places.
Newcastle will be relegated because…the squad is razor thin. Florian Lejeune is already out with an ACL tear, and if an injury leaves either Jamaal Lascelles or Martin Dubravka on the sidelines as well, the back line becomes swiss cheese. At the other end there’s a little more depth, but much of the creativity falls to Ayoze Perez, and an injury to the wrong place in that department could bring the team down as well. Mike Ashley hasn’t done enough this summer to instill confidence in fans.
Best possible XI:
Transfers In: Yoshinori Muto ($12.4 million, FSV Mainz), Fabian Schar ($4.6 million, Deportivo La Coruna), Martin Dubravka ($4.6 million, Sparta Prague), Ki Sung-Yueng (Free, Swansea City), Kenedy (Loan, Chelsea).
Transfers Out: Aleksandar Mitrovic ($23.3 million, Fulham), Mikel Merino ($12 million, Real Sociedad), Chance Mbemba ($9.2 million, Porto), Matz Sels ($4.6 million, RC Strasbourg), Massadio Haidara (Free, Lens), Stuart Findlay (Free, Kilmarnock), Jack Colback (Loan, Nottingham Forest).
Ranking their offseason: C
Newcastle received nearly $25 million for Aleksandar Mitrovic from Fulham – a total that was basically a foregone conclusion for weeks, pending Newcastle securing his replacement in Muto – and promptly sat on it. While useful players have been brought in with Schar replacing the injured Lejeune and Dubravka likely to start in net, the team wasn’t necessarily improved in the transfer market, and the squad still has plenty of holes. If they go down, this transfer window will be largely viewed as a big reason why.
Star player: While Ayoze Perez is the lifeblood of the Newcastle attack, nobody is more important to this squad than Jamaal Lascelles. Newcastle resisted heavy interest for his services this summer, and they will be far better off for it. The 24-year-old has developed into one of the best central defenders in the Premier League, and was heavily considered for a spot in the England World Cup squad this summer. If anything happens to him, this squad will come crumbling to pieces, and he would likely leave if they are relegated.
Coach’s Corner: While Lascelles is the most valuable player, nobody is more important to this team than Rafa Benitez. Mike Ashley’s greatest accomplishment was convincing the Spaniard to commit to the club through the one season in the Championship, and it has paid off since. Still, Ashely does little to back his manager, and Benitez has not held back. After a 4-0 defeat to Braga in preseason, Benitez said, “The fans have to be concerned, we are concerned. I’m really worried.” Should the club misstep at all this season, Benitez would surely depart for a bigger club. He’s certainly earned the right.
PST Predicts: While much of this preview has been quite doom and gloom, Newcastle has enough prized possessions to stay up this season. The most concerning part of this offseason has to be the newly promoted clubs spending vast quantities of money to improve, but there should be enough teams worse than Newcastle to prevent the Magpies from suffering heartbreak. Just enough. They should finish around 15th in the table after quite the scare.