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Newcastle’s transfer business was a disaster – Eddie Howe cannot afford a repeat

Eddie Howe - Eddie Howe safe for now at Newcastle despite turbulent campaign
Eddie Howe's job is still safe despite the club's turbulent season - PA/Bradley Collyer

As Newcastle slipped to their 12th Premier League defeat of the season against a poor Chelsea side, the first real signs of discontent began to rumble.

Nobody is seriously calling for manager Eddie Howe to be replaced. There is far too much appreciation for the job he has done up to this point and sympathy for the crippling injury problems he has faced since the autumn, when his team were challenging for the Champions League again, for anyone sensible to be seeking a change in the dugout.

But there is criticism because Newcastle are not playing well and the defensive problems that have plagued them for months have not been solved. Howe’s side are too open and too easy to score against. They are entertaining to watch, but it is normally nervously, through your fingers, if you support them.

The team on the pitch at Chelsea looked like one coming to the end of its shelf life with a manager who has got as much as he can out of them. Some of them will know it too.

The core group of experienced players who formed the backbone of the team’s success last season – Kieran Trippier (33) Fabian Schar (32), Dan Burn (31) and the perpetually injury prone Callum Wilson (32) – look what they are – ageing players in the autumn of their careers, fighting against the dying of the light. They are going to be eased out or moved on in the summer and that is hard to deal with.

Callum Wilson (L) Kieran Trippier (R) - Eddie Howe safe for now at Newcastle despite turbulent campaign
Newcastle face big transfer decisions over Callum Wilson (left) and Kieran Trippier - Getty Images/Serena Taylor

Others know Newcastle want to progress and a major summer overhaul is coming. Sean Longstaff, Miguel Almiron and Jacob Murphy will feel vulnerable and worried they will be sold at the end of the season if Newcastle – which they have consistently failed to do for the last three or four years – can find a buyer. All are currently – if fit – being asked to play every week.

There were eight players on the pitch at the end of the game at Stamford Bridge who were at the club before Howe became manager. Plus 17-year-old Lewis Miley, who was playing youth team football this time last year and another youngster, Joe White, who was on loan at League Two Crewe for the first half of the campaign.

The old guard, including second choice goalkeeper Martin Dubravka (35), spent the years previous to Howe’s arrival battling against relegation. They were reminders of where Newcastle have come from and what they were when Mike Ashley was owner. Surviving in the Premier League was all they aspired to be.

Ever since the takeover by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund back in October 2021, Newcastle have soared on an undercurrent of positivity and togetherness.

Even the controversial nature of the takeover and the identity of their owners, the accusations of being complicit pawns in a wider geopolitical game of sportswashing, brought the fans together. It was a source of their power and Howe harnessed that superbly; first to save the team from relegation in his first season and then to finish fourth and reach the final of the Carabao Cup in his second.

This season was always going to be tougher, but it feels like there has been regression. Newcastle are a midtable team again and are playing like one. Howe is not overachieving with this group of players, as he had done previously. That is bound to increase pressure.

However, everyone at the club knew there would be a drop off – which is why Howe is far safer than people outside the club realise – but that does not mean there is happiness about the way this campaign has unravelled.

Profit and Sustainability Rules have made the wealth of their owners irrelevant. Newcastle could not strengthen in January unless they sold someone first and ended up doing nothing.

Yet they did recruit in the summer and with the benefit of hindsight it was a really poor window. Star summer signing Sandro Tonali, who cost almost £60million, was banned for 10 months in October after it emerged he had broken gambling rules multiple times while at AC Milan. Harvey Barnes, who cost £45 million and replaced the maverick winger Allan Saint-Maximin, has barely kicked a ball because of injury and is out again with a hamstring problem just weeks after returning to the first team.

Harvey Barnes - Newcastle's transfer business was a disaster – Eddie Howe can't afford a repeat
Harvey Barnes (left) picked up the injury during Newcastle's 3-0 win over Wolves - Reuters/Scott Heppell

The young left back, Lewis Hall, has started just two games and is nowhere near being regarded as first team ready. He signed on loan for this season but will cost Newcastle £28 million when it becomes a permanent deal in the summer. That is a hell of a lot of money to spend on a teenager who could not even get a game when there were no other specialist left backs fit in December.

Only Tino Livramento, who was the best player on the pitch against Chelsea, can be considered a success and he is a right back who has started most of his games for Newcastle at left back as Trippier remains first choice in his preferred position when he is fit.

This is what can happen to teams like Newcastle, who are trying to close the gap on the Big Six, when they have an unsuccessful window. They go backwards.

Joelinton vital cog in team

To make matters worse, their best player Bruno Guimaraes has a £100 million release clause in his contract and is attracting plenty of interest ahead of the summer window.

His compatriot Joelinton will have one year left on his deal in June and will be sold if he does not agree terms on a new one. Newcastle are trying desperately to agree a new contract but talks will have to be concluded soon or he will be gone. Newcastle have missed him terribly since he was forced to have surgery to fix a groin injury in January, so the thought of going into next season without him is a sobering one.

A major summer overhaul is coming. That is certain but Howe somehow needs to keep this group going until then and he has to find a way to make them harder to beat. He may have to start being more pragmatic in his approach, give more protection to the defence and sacrifice some attacking threat to do so.

All is not lost. Not yet. As frustrating as things have become, this group will be remembered fondly when it is broken up. They have one last chance to do something truly special in the FA Cup, to be immortalised by winning a trophy. As daunting as it is to face Manchester City away from home, Newcastle have already beaten them in the Carabao Cup this season and were very close to doing so in the league earlier this year too.

There is a chance. There is always a chance and if this is the team’s last stand, what a way to go out in style by getting to Wembley for the second year in a row.

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