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Will Newcastle’s January splurge be enough to keep them up?

The 7th of October 2021 was undoubtedly the biggest day in Newcastle Football Club’s recent history as a Saudi led consortium fronted by Amanda Staveley, bought the club from Mike Ashley for £300 million.

Just over a week into their ownership they sacked Steve Bruce and replaced him in early November with former Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe. The 44 year-old has picked up 6 points since he took the job winning the Magpies only game of the season against fellow relegation strugglers Burnley.

Howe’s biggest problem though, is the squad that he has inherited. It’s poor composition has been caused by a number of factors but mainly a lack of investment, bad transfers and the minimal production of youth players. Today we’ll take a closer look at some of those elements, how and where Newcastle can improve and if their huge amount of spending will be enough to keep them up.

Well to begin with, the Magpies recruitment has been very poor, there is no doubting that. The club’s record transfer, Joelinton, who was bought 2 and a half years ago for £40 million, has never really worked out. He was bought to be a striker who could lead the line, despite the fact he was a midfielder at Hoffenheim, and has only produced 7 goals and 5 assists since. Howe has moved him back into the midfield and he looks a much better player now but with over 80 appearances already under his belt you’d be hoping for a much quicker return for such a significant outlay.

On top of that, Joe Willock has failed to replicate the unbelievable form he showed during his loan spell last season and Newcastle shelled out £25 million to get hold of him. Miguel Almiron was also an outlay of over £20 million and has never produced the level of performances that his price tag demands.

The Geordies have also been guilty of selling some of their brightest prospects without giving them a real chance in the first team. The club let Kevin Mbabu leave for Young Boys in 2017, who has now become a legitimate top 5 league right back at VFL Wolfsburg, playing in the Champions League this season. It’s a position they’ve now filled with the top signing of Kieran Trippier but clearly it wouldn’t have been needed if they had kept Mbabu.

There’s a similar story with the Magpies only other confirmed signing in the January window, Chris Wood. It’s a very good signing, weakening another relegation rival and giving them a top flight goalscorer in the absence of Callum Wilson. However, the club let go Adam Armstrong and Ivan Toney in the same summer window of 2018, both of whom now play in the Premier League, for a combined fee of just over £2 million. The Toney sale looks worse in hindsight but the Armstrong deal was and still is very confusing, considering his strong loan spells in League One and the Championship.

The transfer dealings on Tyneside haven’t helped the situation with many fans believing the squad has lacked investment and whilst that is partly true its not entirely the problem. Of the current 20 teams in the Premier League, Newcastle rank 11th out of 20 for net spend in the last five seasons. The Magpies have a net spend of £166 million on transfers in that time and the last season they made a profit on transfers was the 2016/17 season when they were in the Championship. In fact Liverpool, have a lower net spend then Newcastle in the last five seasons.

On the other hand, in the last ten seasons the Magpies have made a club profit in eight of them, with one of the two seasons they made a loss coming during the Covid-19 pandemic. The failure of some high profile, expensive transfers has caused some to think there has been a lack of investment whereas it’s actually a very unsuccessful attempt to rejuvenate an ageing squad. It should be noted though, that whilst the club is under performing in the league based on their net spend, they could be spending far more, based on the fact you’re allowed to make a loss under the rules of financial fair play.

That brings us on to our next point, the investment in the club. Although the recruitment hasn’t been completely neglected other areas of the club certainly have been. Newcastle’s training ground, Darsley Park, is in a really bad state of disrepair, considering that it was already a repurposed sports facility. The new owners are hoping to invest heavily in the training facilities and another area that was neglected by the previous owner, the youth academy. The youth team have been showed the same level of the neglect as the training facilities and have failed to produce any truly notable names despite the talent in the area. Some notable players from that area in the past include Alan Shearer and Peter Beardsley but recently only the Longstaff brothers have made their way through the ranks.

The facilities and squad will obviously gradually improve over time but now the biggest problem facing Eddie Howe, is how to keep this team in the division based on their current circumstances. They find themselves just two points off Watford outside the bottom three and Howe’s tactics are beginning to work. He started off by playing a 4-4-2 but has changed to more of a 4-1-4-1 in the last few games. That’s partly because of the lack of strikers but also because the midfield shields the back four more now than before and gives the wingers more license to get forward and be the creators.

That’s definitely helpful considering Allan Saint-Maximin is their most creative player and is in the 99th percentile for dribbles completed amongst wingers per 90 across the top five European leagues with 4.57 per 90 mins. He’s also in the 84th percentile for progressive carries with 8.24 and the 71st percentile for shot creating actions with 3.71. His numbers for expected assists and non penalty expected goals are not particularly high but they might improve with Chris Wood to aim at up front.

Wood could be an excellent signing as well because he allows Newcastle to progress up the pitch even quicker because of his aerial prowess. He’s won more aerial duels than anyone else in the Premier League this season with 113 and has the most aerial duels won per 90 with 7.43. With the set piece prowess of Kieran Trippier and the crosses provided from the flanks, the New Zealand international could be the perfect short-term solution at St James’ Park.

It might not be an easy back half of the season for Magpies fans but we believe if their signings gel quick enough and they add one or two players at the back they might just have what it takes to stay in the top tier with three teams being worse then them. So long as they don’t lose touch with the teams outside the relegation zone they have every chance.

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