Newcastle United will try to wrap up their dreamy 2022 calendar year with victory at St James’ Park this Saturday when they host Leeds United.
I wrote “dreamy” because even after the October takeover nobody could have ever dreamed of a year in which NUFC played 35 games (36 tomorrow) racking up 71 Premier League points, tied for the fifth-most before the last weekend of play.
A win on Saturday and a loss by Arsenal this upcoming matchday will leave both teams tied at 74 points in the third position only behind Man City and Liverpool. Let that marinate for a minute.
It’s been more wins in a row than I can keep count of these days, including last Monday’s stomping of the Foxes away at Leicester. As is always the case on Friday mornings, Eddie Howe addressed a bunch of different topics ahead of New Year’s Eve clash against the Whites.
First things first, Howe offered his views and thoughts about the game against Leeds taking place tomorrow at SJP:
“We anticipate a very fast-paced game between two very good teams.”
“I’ve watched a lot of Leeds and I’ve been very impressed by them, including against Manchester City.”
“From a physical perspective, it will be two teams that give their all.”
“It’ll be very physical and I think it’ll be a good game, a tough test.”
With the game being played in Newcastle, Howe talked once more about the vibes around and inside St James’ Park:
“The atmosphere, the energy the crowd gives us is extreme.”
“When you get that force with you, you want to embrace it. So hopefully our style is (helping the fans) doing that!”
Talking about the Premier League position Newcastle will close the year at (sitting either 2nd or 3rd, depending on the weekend’s results)
“We have to be very focused & concentrated on the delivery of our training sessions.”
“I have been at the top of other leagues so I’m used to pressures & challenges.”
“It’s certainly better than the other end, I can tell you that! It’s different.”
Asked about injured players and absentees of the past few games and those coming soon:
“We’re without Jonjo, Emil Krafth, and there’s a couple of other niggles within the squad from Leicester.”
“Hopefully we get the majority of the players training today.”
Speaking about Jonjo Shelvey in particular, who not only was removed from the starting XI earlier this season but is now also expected to miss around eight weeks with a calf injury:
“He’s disappointed. He’s a passionate guy and he lives for football and that feeling of playing.”
“That’s a big driver in his life and not being able to do that is a big thing taken away from him.”
“We’re supporting him and he’s focusing on his rehab.”
Of course, the news of Jonjo’s injury generated some transfer buzz throughout the week, which Howe also addressed when asked about a potential change of the club’s plans ahead of the January window:
“That’s something we’re analysing on a daily basis. We’ll have a look at it.”
“With an unlimited budget it’s maybe possible to improve the team, but with FFP looming it’s almost impossible.”
“But can we improve the squad, that’s the question?”
“What we don’t want is to handcuff ourselves for future windows.”
About Callum Wilson’s conditioning after missing last Monday’s game away at Leicester:
“Callum has improved.”
“Wilson trained with us yesterday so he’s in a better place.”
And discussing Wilson’s replacement, Chris Wood:
“The last few games have probably been his best for us.”
“The Rayo Vallecano game I thought he was outstanding. Tactically and physically (he was) very good and he carried that on into Leicester.”
“He’s a really dependable character & player. I think he’s been excellent.”
And about the anticipated return of Alexander Isak next month:
“Isak is very close to full training.”
“We are hopeful he will feature in January.”
Discussing the passing of the otherworldly Brazilian legend Pele (RIP):
“In my era, you grew up knowing of Pele and thinking of him as the best player the world has ever seen.”
“It’s very sad, whenever an icon passes away it’s a very sad moment for football.”
“Pele is certainly well remembered around the world.”
The Premier League wraps up 2022 with a couple of evening games on Friday and a whole lot of football on Saturday leaving just two matches for New Year on Sunday.
It’s non-stop football from Friday till next Thursday, though, with at least one EPL game scheduled every day from now until then, which will be followed by a week-long hiatus until Premier League footy returns on Jan. 12th.
A win by Newcastle and a loss by Man City (vs. Everton) would see the Magpies close the year in second place only behind the Gooners. A loss would not hurt NUFC even if the Spurs earn three points as the former defeated the latter in their first meeting of the season a few weeks ago.
Leeds tomorrow. Arsenal next Tuesday. Put together a couple of Ws, have the Londoners dropping a couple of games, and all of a sudden Newcastle would be kicking 2023 off just one point shy of the lead.
Let’s keep dreaming.
- Date: Saturday, December 31st
- Kick-off: 15:00 BST / 10:00 EST / 8:00 PST
- Location: St James’ Park, Newcastle (England)
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