Well here we are again. The eve of a new season.
Like every summer under Ashley’s tenure, on the whole it’s been a bemusing, frustrating, and downright unpleasant experience. The last week or so has brought a little bit of that thing that kills us, hope. Three weeks ago there was no Rafa, no hope, no new players, the frankly terrifying thought of Steve Bruce’s arrival. Now after five good, albeit risky signings, a couple of decent pre season results and performances, a couple of scripted interviews from Bruce and several important players waxing lyrical about the new regime, we all head into Sunday with cautious optimism. I say cautious, maybe I mean stupid.
Of course the threat of a boycott still looms large, and something I personally support, but the momentum and venom of it seems to have subsided slightly.
Some pundits, as well as a large portion of our own supporters are backing us for relegation this year. The similarities to the ill fated 2015/16 season are there for all to see. An underwhelming managerial appointment from the championship, big money spent on undoubtedly talented but young, and inexperienced players chosen by people who aren’t fit to run a football club, and a promise of attacking, swashbuckling, liquid football after years of pragmatism. It’s eerily similar. However, I personally don’t believe we’ll be anywhere near relegation this year.
So here’s my stupidly optimistic opinion, I actually think we will have a decent season this year, as this squad has quality and character, and is fundamentally different to McClaren’s disastrously assembled, hapless halfwits of 2015/16. That said, all you eternal pessimists out there, don’t worry, by the end of this article, normal service will be resumed regarding the long term future of our beloved club.
Let’s start with the positives though shall we, and the reasons why this squad is different….
1) Our current defence and goalkeeper is a class above that 2016 team
Last time it was a shambles, Elliot isn’t a good keeper, our best defender was an already past it 33 year Coloccini, and the only signing was a 21 year old Mbemba. This current defensive line up we have is honestly as good as I’ve seen in my time as a Newcastle fan. Dubravka is a good as anything outside the top 6, while Lejeune and Schar wouldn’t look out of place in any team. Not only that, this group will have learned a thing or two from Rafa!
2) This squad has heart, fight and leadership in abundance
That’s because it was assembled by a world class manager who knows it takes more than just talent to create a TEAM. I think Lascelles is a fantastic captain, yet Dubravka, Ritchie, Hayden and Schar are all worthy of having the armband in their own right. The 2015/16 squad was full of mercenaries and bad characters. Bruce is taking over a completely different dressing room this time – and that bodes will in what could be another relegation fight. There’s no Mitrovic’s, Thauvin’s, Sissoko’s and Janmaat’s in this dressing room.
3) Steve Bruce – For all his limitations, he’s no Steve McClaren
Steve Bruce…..hold on. Yes you read that right. I think he’s a average to poor manager and a poor appointment long term. However he usually starts well, he makes a good first impression and I believe the positive noises coming from the players about him are genuine. You can see why. He is a likeable fella. Just not very good. However this season I expect him to have his usual decent first year. McClaren lost the dressing room, he was weak. For all Bruce’s faults, players like him and he is a strong character who won’t crumble like McClaren did.
4) Our attack is dynamic and balanced – a far cry from the 2016 front line
Our attack. While the concern about lack of premier league experience and end product is genuine for this season, I think this current team has pace and creativity in abundance. Compared to Mitrovic and Perez we are so much stronger now. Mitrovic couldn’t run, and still is genuinely one of the laziest and most unintelligent forwards for movement I’ve ever seen in black and white shirt (personal opinion) and due to the fact McClaren wouldn’t play Thauvin we had no one who could cross a ball. That 2016 squad was horribly misbalanced. Our fastest player (until Townsend arrived) was Sissoko. I’m genuinely excited about Joelinton, Saint Maximin and Almiron in the same team. They are quick, technically good and both work hard. Joelinton to get between 10-15 goals this season (told you I was stupidly optimistic).
Looking at this current team there are four players, the aforementioned front three and Longstaff, who when they get on the ball, I genuinely believe something can happen. Haven’t had that feeling for a while. Gayle and Carroll are useful players off the bench. The eternal question with them is can they stay fit.