The Champions League is returning to Tyneside
As soon as the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia bought Newcastle in October 2021, it was clear to all that the club would be challenging at the top of the table eventually.
Very few however predicted that it would happen this quickly, given that the Magpies were in the Premier League’s relegation zone as recently as January last year.
After surging up to 11th under Eddie Howe last season, the Toon Army carried that momentum into this campaign, with August’s 3-3 draw against Man City an early sign that they could compete with the best.
In-between a pair of defeats to Liverpool on 31 August and 18 February, Newcastle enjoyed a 17-game unbeaten streak, winning six successive matches either-side of the World Cup.
In January, the Toon Army also saw their team reach a first major cup final for 24 years, celebrating home Carabao Cup wins over Bournemouth, Leicester and Southampton in quick-succession.
At Wembley, the Magpies learnt that their trajectory to success will not be linear, beaten 2-0 by Manchester United, as their 68-year wait for domestic silverware goes on.
At this time, Howe’s side experienced a little wobble, losing back-to-back Premier League matches for the first time in ten months.
Nevertheless, after that, they won five on the spin, and eight of their next nine overall, beating Man United 2-0, West Ham 4-1, Everton 5-1 and Tottenham 6-1, racing into a 5-0 lead after just 19 minutes against Spurs.
So, a goalless draw with Leicester in their final home match of the campaign was enough to rubber stamp a top four finish, ending the club’s 20-year exile from the Champions League.
Given that Newcastle will be in pot 4 when the group phase draw is made on 31 August, it’s guaranteed that two, possibly even three, European juggernauts will be making the pilgrimage to Tyneside later this year.
Of course, Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses can never, and should never, be set aside, but, even with an exponentially increased budget, Eddie Howe has done an excellent job in his 18 months in charge.
Will Eddie Howe significantly strengthen his squad in the summer?
Under the new regime, Newcastle do have the highest net spends of any club in the world, spending around £262 million across three transfer windows since PIF’s takeover, recouping less than £5 million.
That said, their transfer business has been largely sensible, so don’t expect to see Neymar, Lionel Messi, or Cristiano Ronaldo rocking up on Tyneside any time soon, not in the home dressing room anway.
Having said that, high-profile editions will be made, probably following the Bruno Guimarães and Alexander Isak model of buying outstanding younger players from European clubs the size of Lyon and Real Sociedad.
With club captain Jamaal Lascelles likely to depart, greater depth at centre-back will be required, while another left-back, to provide competition for Dan Burn, is also on the agenda.
Forgotten men from the austerity era, such as Jamal Lewis, Ciaran Clark, Javier Manquillo, Isaac Hayden, Jeff Hendrick, Ryan Fraser and Matt Ritchie will all be moved on, in an attempt to somewhat balance the books.