Guardian writers’ predicted position: 7. (NB: this is not necessarily Louise Taylor’s prediction, but the average of our writers’ tips)
Last season’s position: 11
Odds to win the league (via Oddschecker): 100-1
Pretty good. Under Eddie Howe’s intelligent management, Newcastle were a team transformed during the second half of last season and there is no reason why they should not continue on that upward trajectory.
Although last year’s Saudi-led takeover has on paper made them the world’s richest club, the owners are determined to spend wisely and remain acutely aware of the need to stay within financial fair play rules. In other words, Howe’s rebuilding effort is expected to be much more a case of evolution than revolution.
While signings on the pitch seem suitably sensible, the installation of former FA and Brighton technical director Dan Ashworth as director of football and Darren Eales as chief executive looks prudent. Eales, a Cambridge law graduate with previous experience at West Brom and Tottenham, joins from MLS club Atlanta where he was widely admired. Their appointments will give co-owner and director Amanda Staveley, who ran the club superbly last season, more time to concentrate on bigger projects.
So far, Howe appears to have bought well this summer, with sought-after and, crucially, left-footed centre-back Sven Botman arriving from Lille, England goalkeeper Nick Pope signed from Burnley and Matt Targett, quietly impressive at left-back last time out. season, making his move from Aston Villa permanent. Howe is still in the market for another striker and a new midfielder, but already has plenty of talent and an outstanding leader in right-back Kieran Trippier.
Hopes are high that Brazil’s Bruno Guimarães, a January signing from Lyon, will continue to shine in midfield, but his manager must work out whether Botman should be partnered with Dan Burn, Fabian Schär or Jamaal Lascelles. Howe also needs to coax the gifted but sometimes frustrating Allan Saint-Maximin into increased consistency, while he hopes his injury-prone centre-forward Callum Wilson stays fit and Joe Willock begins to fulfill his potential.
Howe has been such a success at St James’ Park that Newcastle fans probably believe he is capable of walking on the River Tyne. Club bosses shudder a little when they remember that Unai Emery was their original first choice to replace Steve Bruce and the former Bournemouth manager just a back-stop option.
Believed to be the first obsessive A-ha fan – “I want others to hear what I hear” – at the Newcastle helm, Howe is evangelical about a band he has followed since the 1980s. Tactically astute and emotionally intelligent, he has impressed hugely, transforming former underachievers such as Schär and the seemingly reborn Joelinton. The 44-year-old describes himself as “a bit shy and introverted” and spent part of his sabbatical after Bournemouth “digitalizing my training sessions”. Howe took a fortnight off this summer to drive down the west coast of the United States with his wife and three sons, and has devoted his spare time to helping to move his family into a new home on Tyneside.
Botman. Technically accomplished and physically impressive, the left-footed 22-year-old centre-back’s £35million arrival on Tyneside from Lille is seen as a significant coup, particularly as Serie A champions Milan, among others, were desperate for Botman’s signature. After starting his career in Ajax’s academy, Botman has joined the Dutch senior squad for training camps and is seen as on the verge of winning his first cap.
Trippier is very much hoping to be part of Gareth Southgate’s squad and, assuming he stays fit, it would be a surprise if Howe’s first signing was left out. Wilson has a case for inclusion in England’s attacking line-up, but the centre-forward must stay out of the treatment room. Meanwhile, Guimarães should be on the plane to Doha with Brazil. Ditto Schär and Switzerland.
Alternative attractions during the WC
Try a night out at the infamous Bigg Market and the adjacent Quayside, but be warned, no one wears a coat and you’ll have zero street cred if you turn up in anything remotely woolly. Admire Anthony Gormley’s famous Angel of the North sculpture and try to spot a likeness of former Newcastle striker Andy Carroll. Start surfing from the nearby North Sea beaches at Tynemouth and Whitley Bay.
Leads shirt sales
Bruno Guimarães, the £35m idolized Brazilian midfielder who was signed from Lyon last January, has pushed Saint-Maximin off the top of the pecking order thanks to some top displays in midfield. Thousands of hearts and minds were captured as ‘Bruno’ marked his full Southampton debut by scoring the winner with a sublime backheel volley. How Arsenal, who had been tracking Guimarães for a while, must be kicking themselves for not signing him when they had the chance. Now a 24-year-old who favors the No.8 position but can also impress when deployed at No.6 is determined to help Howe’s side into the Champions League.
Saint-Maximin: The self-proclaimed “King of Twitter” is always entertaining. Posting plenty of lavish videos full of defense discombobulating dribbles, increasingly inventive hairstyles and gorgeous Mediterranean panoramas around the French winger’s holiday home in Nice. Also good at using social media to help favorite charities and good causes.
If Netflix did a Newcastle documentary…
Planet Toon would be fronted by Sir David Attenborough and detail life on a particularly peculiar parallel universe. The soundtrack would feature music by the manager’s favorite band, A-ha, and Saint-Maximin and Guimarães would compete for the most airtime. A particularly extended episode could revolve around the squad’s mid-winter break to Jeddah and refusing to ignore Jonjo Shelvey’s deportation after an unfortunate breach of etiquette while in the company of various Saudi royals.