A long summer of no football is finally over as Newcastle open their campaign at St.James’ Park on Sunday when Tottenham Hotspur make the trip up north. It feels like an apt first game as the 5-1 victory of the same opposition, when we were already relegated, was the stage where fans swayed Rafa Benitez to take on the challenge at Newcastle full time.
The reality is the Premiership is relatively open excluding the top 7, however West Ham have made some shrewd signings (how we would have loved Hernandez) so they appear to be heading upwards, as do Leicester and Bournemouth who are two of many to break their transfer record this summer.
Our realistic competitors are those below that top 10 bracket. Six points separated a large group of sides last year so the margins could be small, making it even more essential to keep Rafa and back him with some much needed signings. As usual with Newcastle this is not a given and any off the pitch turmoil could see us sucked into the dogfight, with the likes of Brighton, Burnley, Huddersfield, Watford and Swansea all clubs (including ourselves) that could face a real fight next season.
Challenges we face
As covered above, the biggest challenge with Newcastle is always not shooting ourselves in the foot. Ashley needs to back Rafa with more funds to keep up with current inflation in the transfer market. Even Watford are heading for a £50m net spend, so that is what we are up against.
We also of course face a huge step up in quality from the Championship last year. Though, perhaps being the underdog and having a defensive shape we can counter from against better sides might suit Rafa’s style. We need to avoid getting sucked into the media frenzy, as much as they predict us to struggle, if we actually do, they will be the first to report it and put pressure on us. Other sides competing with us in the bottom half won’t have the same level of pressure as us. We all must stick with Rafa and hopefully create a fortress at SJP.
Where we may finish
Pundits have already weighed in, with a range of opinions. BBC have us down at 11th, the ever enthusiastic Paul Merson at 17th and former Everton midfielder Leon Osman told BT he expects us to go down with Brighton and Huddersfield.
Anywhere from 10th-20th is possible reality; though I think a 13th place finish would represent a solid and successful season, with the likes of West Ham, Leicester and Bournemouth looking out of reach and well set for top 10 finishes after completing some great business this summer.
It would be nice to not have take part in ‘Survival Sunday’ again and do enough to keep Rafa here for the long term. Where would you be happy with?
Key to success
A good start is really important; Spurs is a tough first game but after that, the fixtures have been very kind. If we can get some early momentum and steal a march on the bottom half it will get some confidence going for the players. We have quite a young and unproven squad and like any newly promoted side, the sooner the first win comes, the better.
Unless a proven goalscorer arrives, it will also looks essential that we become compact and hard to beat, and Rafa Benitez could be a big contributing factor to those too much needed traits. Unlike previous seasons, we have an honest, committed and hard working team and the addition of Florian Lejeune could add some much needed calmness and class to the back four.
Like any season, there will be frustrating spells, some defeats and some tense moments. But until it changes, we finally have a world class manager, a full stadium to welcome the season in and a bunch of players who may lack quality in areas, but you get the sense are ready for the fight. Let’s hope we can get off to a flyer with some points on the board come Sunday.
Howay the lads!