Newcastle United could not have started the season with a better matchup—against freshly promoted Nottingham Forest—and ultimately a better result: a clean and easy victory by a two-goal difference over the still-lost men they call the Tricky Trees. Here are some quick thoughts that came to my mind while watching the game.
Let’s get it poppin’.
Three Quick Thoughts
1. Can we please do something on the pitch?
Didn’t watching this game feel like a chore at times? Was I the only one, really? Brighton brought some fire later and as the game advanced, but for the most part I would level this affair as a rather boring one if you ask me. I know there are tactical battles, and I know not every game has to finish with each time banging five goals past the opposition, but still. As much as I love some action and/or some heavy tactical brainstorming depending on the moment, this game definitely didn’t have it at least for me.
That said, the main point to make here is a fairly simple one that—if I remember correctly—I highlighted at least once during the last couple of months of the 2021/22 campaign: Eddie Howe knows this team operates more on a busy workload than waiting for things to happen and come to them. Seriously. He knows that’s what makes this squad. This current operation works much better and produces results when it goes all-in instead of guessing and contemplating what’s popping as minutes go by. It’s what happens when you have a forward trio featuring the likes of ASM, Almirón, and Wilson. You need activity, long balls, runs, and quick actions. I hope we don’t get to watch another muddy game plan like this one anytime soon. Manchester City is next, so let them bore the hell out of the crowd with a thousand passes while we hit them on the counter. Bring some noise. Go grab some fireworks. Excite me.
2. God save the Pope
Not a lot to discuss here, because you have already watched it, read about it, or heard about it at the very least. Pope was the man of the match for a reason yesterday and the truth is that I am yet watching the footage on a loop and trying to come up with different explanations as to what he was able to pull off under the goalposts and those whereabouts.
Looking at SofaScore ratings, Pope was the best player among all of those to feature in Saturday’s game by a distance of 0.5-grade points with an 8.2 score. He was given four saves inside the box (can surely confirm) while completing successfully the two run-outs of the area he made and getting five saves total over the full 90 minutes of play. There really wasn’t a stop he did that wasn’t crucial and vital for Newcastle to stay alive and survive a more threatening-by-the-minute Brighton. The more time elapsed, the bigger Pope grew. It took the new no. 1 GK two games to legitimately assert himself as the clear go-to option when it comes to goalies. It’s hard and sad for Dubby because he’s been so good for so long, but there’s just no point in arguing against Howe’s decision to 1) sign Pope and 2) start him weekly.
3. Pure striker, false nine, or attacking midfielder? Which profile will Howe chase in the two weeks ahead?
On the opposite side of the grading spectrum (read above Nick Pope above) fans could witness Callum Wilson getting completely disconnected from yesterday’s game. Yes, he scored a goal that was disallowed in a play in which the ref could have applied some pause instead of blowing the whistle in a millisecond. Yes, he still was moving and trying to stay active looking for the ball. Only, you know, he never truly got to do a single thing. Wilson got the worst grade (6.4) among outfield players with more than 15 minutes played on Saturday.
Wilson touched the ball 10 times inside the final third in the first half. He completed four-of-eight passes over his 87 minutes on the pitch. He was successful in just one of his two attempted dribbles—not that he had those many chances, which is the main point here. On matches like yesterday’s against settled and composed opponents on defense, in which there is the potential scenario of Newcastle not finding a connection with Wilson, one has to wonder: does this team want a pure striker, a true no. 9 strictly focusing on putting the ball inside the net? Wouldn’t it be reasonable to seriously consider the addition of more of an all-around player that can play some sort of hybrid Attacking MF/False Nine/Shadow Striker? Someone a la Joao Felix, Memphis Depay, Bernardo Silva, or Eden Hazard? Not saying those are all attainable or even options to dream about, but you get the idea.
With just two weeks to go before the market closes for good until the winter window comes next January, it’d be very interesting if Newcastle can finally find additions. They know the drill by now: try to make an offer for someone, get the bid rejected, refuse to pay the (oft-overboard) quoted price, look elsewhere, rinse, repeat. It’s the world Saudi-backed Newcastle lives in these days, so don’t take anything for granted when it comes to money and future signings. Whether it’s just one, two, three, or whatever the number neds is, additions are very needed in Tyneside. We’ll see how those get handled and which roles they can play going forward. Quite the conundrum for Howe to solve.
Game Recap already available. Top-3 Players and Quotes coming tomorrow.
Howay the Lads!