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First Team

Hot Off The Press: Newcastle United

Chris Waugh of The Athletic on The Magpies

19 November 2021

There is only one place to start, really. It has been just over a month since Newcastle became the richest club in the Premier League when a Saudi-led consortium completed a takeover and took over from Mike Ashley. What’s the mood like on Tyneside?

It is overwhelmingly positive in many ways, certainly compared to how it was just six weeks ago when it was bleak. Newcastle lost 2-1 at Wolves and, at that point, it really felt like there was no hope going forward. Steve Bruce was under massive pressure, former owner Mike Ashley was still there and fans wanted rid of him but it didn’t look as though it was going to happen any time soon. By the Thursday, Ashley was gone, there was a takeover and with that came immense positivity and, mainly, relief that he had gone after 14 years. It has been strange in that sense and they rode on the wave of that positivity while also having a serious dose of realism over the course of the last few weeks because they are still winless and are in serious relegation trouble. There is a weird dichotomy at the club at the moment where there is immense hope and positivity for the future, which there hasn’t been for such a long time, but there’s also an understanding and comprehension that they are in serious trouble this season.

As you say, things have not gone to plan on the pitch as yet, with the Magpies in the relegation zone and still looking for their first win of the season. What have you made of what you have seen, in that respect?

They have been very inconsistent and the problem is that they don’t really have an identity and they haven’t had one for quite a while. They had been playing with a five-man defence because it worked towards the end of last season when they went on a really good run and saved their season, so Steve Bruce stuck with a 5-3-2 formation, but really, he stuck with it just because it worked; it was expected that, as soon as things went wrong, he would just change it again and he did throughout his time at Newcastle. Then they changed to a four at the back, make more offensive and tried to push higher up the pitch. They were catching teams off-guard, in a defensive sense, but they just conceded far too many goals and that was their main problem. They have been averaging more than two per game and that is where the issues are stemming from because if you concede two, you have got to score three to win a match and they are just not capable of doing that at the minute.

There will be a new man at the helm for this game, with Eddie Howe having replaced Steve Bruce earlier this month. What has the reaction been like to his appointment?

There has been a lot of positivity around Eddie Howe (main picture). If you had asked Newcastle fans, when they takeover first happened, if he had been the person they would have wanted, I think at least a fair portion wouldn’t have selected him but, equally, he has come in, spoken positively and in detail about what he is going to try and do and what he wants to do with realism but also optimism. He seems fresh, young and different to what they have had before so, for that reason, he has been welcomed, particularly as – yes, he was relegated with Bournemouth – he was a very successful manager for them and Newcastle fans are hoping he’s going to be the club builder they need as well. He needs positive results on the pitch but, unfortunately, he doesn’t have the opportunity of a honeymoon period because of Newcastle’s position.

Which player should Brentford fans be keeping an eye on this weekend?

I would say Allan Saint-Maximin because, with Howe coming in, it will be interesting to see how he reacts and how he performs because, in recent weeks, he has been a shadow of himself. He hasn’t been the central focus for Newcastle or going on those mazy runs and creating opportunities whereas he started the season in really good form, even though Newcastle struggled. He is the spark who can really get them going but the player who is most important to the team is Callum Wilson – when he is fit, he is the person who can score the goals and he has been doing so even when they have struggled.

Has Howe given any indication of how he is likely to set up his side at St James’ Park?

What he said at his unveiling was that he was keen not to give any secrets away or ideas of exactly what he wants to do, but what he has said is that he has a philosophy and that is front-foot football, trying to have more of the ball and to be attacking. That’s the insight he has given about what he is trying to do but what will be interesting is how quickly he can instil those ideas and how much it is revolution or evolution because, for Newcastle, that would mark quite a change if they start trying to dominate the ball a bit more than previously. For the whole time they have been back in the Premier League, they have, more often than not, had more possession that the opposition. It will be interesting to see if Howe tries to build on that counter-attacking or immediately tries to change.

The teams met in last season’s Carabao Cup, with Brentford winning 1-0 back in December. What’s your score prediction for this one?

My head says 2-2, given the fact that Newcastle can’t buy a win at the moment, but I’m going to go with my heart and go for a 3-1 win, with the crowd and the buzz of Howe taking charge giving them that new manager bounce.

Saturday's game is not being broadcast live in the UK so the only way for domestic fans to follow all the action is to listen on BeesPlayerJoining Mark Burridge will be former Bees favourite Isaiah Rankin.

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