Newcastle need to save their season – here is how they do it

Eddie Howe - Newcastle need to save their season – here is how they do it
Eddie Howe's name was sung loudly by Newcastle fans before the international break - Alamy Live News/Andrew Yates

There was a clear message when Newcastle United landed in Dubai for a warm-weather training camp last week. With ten games left to play, this was the moment to reset, recharge and go again.

Eddie Howe has repeatedly stressed that there is much still to play for between now and the end of May and there is a collective determination to disperse any negativity. Newcastle are 10th in the Premier League – below the top-eight finish they were targeting back in August – are out of Europe, as well as both domestic cup competitions.

But, crucially, as Howe reinforced during team meetings in Dubai, Newcastle remain in the hunt for European qualification.

His team are just four points adrift of West Ham, who they entertain at St James’ Park this weekend, in seventh with a game in hand. All is not lost and an arduous and difficult campaign can still have a successful conclusion.

Stop feeling sorry for themselves

Newcastle squad - Eddie Howe's name was sung loudly by Newcastle fans before the international break
Liverpool will welcome back three key players after the international break - Reuters/Carl Recine

Newcastle players and staff were able to relax, as well as train hard towards the back end of their week in Dubai. It was time to switch off, bond as a team and put everything that has happened this season behind them.

Sources have told Telegraph Sport that most of the first few days were spent unwinding, with players encouraged to play tennis, golf and whatever other leisure pursuits would help them relax. There were also organised team bonding events before intensive training sessions on the last three days to ensure fitness was maintained.

The initial signs are said to be encouraging. Batteries (mental and physical) have been recharged. There is a renewed sense of unity and purpose. Players are smiling again.

Newcastle were in danger of being trapped in a negative spiral. The defeat to Manchester City in the quarter-final of the FA Cup was the end of their trophy hopes for another season and their season had begun to unravel in December when injury problems were at their more severe.

The fact that three of the injured players – Kieran Trippier, Harvey Barnes and Tino Livramento – are all in contention to return against West Ham has also lifted spirits, despite the loss of 17-year-old midfielder Lewis Miley to a back injury picked up playing for England’s development squad this week.

This season has eroded some of the feelgood factor generated by the Saudi takeover in October 2021. Newcastle, though, need a positive playing environment to be at their best and Howe wants everyone to approach the next game as the start of a new mini season rather than dwell on past failings.

Keep faith in Howe, for now

Eddie Howe - Newcastle need to save their season – here is how they do it
Supporters have not lost faith in their manager - EPA/Adam Vaughan

It has to be stressed – and this is a sentiment shared by all the main power brokers at St James’ Park on behalf of Saudi chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan – that Howe is not going to be sacked as manager this season.

It also needs to be highlighted that Howe was told when he was appointed in November 2021 and again the following summer when he signed a new contract, which is understood to run until 2027, that he is being asked to oversee a long-term project. That thinking has not changed.

However, a bad end to the season would put that faith under stress and there is always a risk that the Saudis, who are in control of every major decision, feel a change has been forced upon them if their club falls even further down the table and ends the campaign looking bedraggled and out of ideas.

The fact that Howe’s name was sung and chanted throughout the team’s 2-0 FA Cup quarter-final defeat to Manchester City before the international break was an emotional and very deliberate show of support for the manager from the match-going fans.

Nevertheless, Howe needs a strong finish to the campaign to prevent the dissenting voices growing louder and more widespread.

Perceptions matter. At the moment Newcastle are being described as a team and a club that has gone backwards since December. Even if he were not removed before May, a poor finish would mean Howe started next season under extreme pressure.

Protect the defence and goalkeeper

Newcastle keeper Martin Dubravka saves from Manchester City's Jeremy Doku
Dubravka is a downgrade on Pope, but probably requires more protection - Shutterstock/ADAM VAUGHAN

Newcastle have conceded 48 goals in the league this season, which is far more than at the same stage of the previous campaign. But it is since first choice goalkeeper, Nick Pope, dislocated his shoulder during a 3-0 win over Manchester United at the start of December that the defence has fallen apart.

Howe’s side have let in 38 goals in the 20 games, in all competitions, that Pope has been out injured. To make matters worse, centre back Sven Botman, who did not look right from the moment he returned from a knee injury in December, was ruled out for nine months at the start of the international break, as he now requires surgery to repair his anterior cruciate ligament.

Howe has, in the main, continued to play a front-foot, high energy pressing system, especially at home, but he needs to find a way to offer more protection to a defence that lacks mobility and a goalkeeper in Martin Dubravka who is not as good as Pope when coming off his line or saving shots.

He appeared to have found a method in the 3-0 win over Wolves at the start of March, which saw Newcastle shift to a deeper defensive block, happy to let the opposition have more possession.

This allowed them to attack with speed on the counter, while ensuring there were not the same gaps to exploit between defence and midfield. Newcastle simply do not have the players to play the way Howe ideally wants. Pragmatism is needed.

Persuade Joelinton to sign a new contract...

Joelinton - Newcastle need to save their season – here is how they do it
Joelinton will not be short of suitors - Reuters/Molly Darlington

Co-owner Amanda Staveley has made the negotiations with Joelinton one of her priorities. Persuading the 27-year-old to extend a deal that runs out in the summer of 2025 is a big moment. Newcastle need to show they can at least keep some of their best players and Howe has stressed how important he is to his team. Announcing a new contract for one of the most popular players at the club would be a huge psychological boost.

Crucial meetings are planned in the next few weeks with Newcastle pushing to get a definitive answer from the player and his representatives before the start of May. If he does not sign a new contract, the 27-year-old will be made available for transfer in the summer.

The international break has also allowed the club’s recruitment team to whittle down a longlist of potential summer transfer targets into something approaching a shortlist. But the pool of players Newcastle can look to improve their team in is described as “small and difficult” given the budget restraints imposed by profit and sustainability rules.

...and appoint a new sporting director

Newcastle will have to sell someone before any extravagant spending is permitted. This has made the appointment of a new sporting director a pressing concern. The plan is to bring someone in before the summer with a proven track record in recruitment, at academy as well as senior level.

It is also hoped that a compensation fee can be agreed with Manchester United that will allow former sporting director Dan Ashworth to start work at Old Trafford before the end of his gardening leave, which runs until the end of 2025. Darren Eales is in charge of these negotiations.