With two games already played and every Premier League side having participated in two outings with the exception of Liverpool and Crystal Palace, Newcastle is still sitting fifth and into continental football qualification places only behind two behemoths (Manchester City and Arsenal) with six points and five more tied at four points with the Magpies.
Here are your Top-3 players of Match Day 2, along with some quotes from the very own protagonists of the weekend.
Not a lot to say here. This game became “Pope’s Game” the minute it was over if not even before the final whistle was blown by the ref. Pope kept Newcastle alive for the whole game and although he “only” had to save five shots on goal pretty much all of those were glorious interventions from Eddie Howe’s new no. 1 goalie. Each and every one of the moments Pope appeared on the screen he can clearly call they’re his to claim.
Pope was signed after Howe very clearly and specifically targeted him and tasked the front office with completing the transfer. A deal was reached with Burnley, some whispers hit the airwaves about how this could turn into a controversial signing by Newcastle as Martin Dubravka was already in place and doing his thing, but at the end of the day—and it’s just been two games and barely a week of competitive play—everyone has to agree with this move being the absolute right one.
I know it’s a little unfair to pick a picture like the one above to highlight Burn’s performance on Saturday, but it fits my thoughts and what I’d like to express. The Brighton player depicted in it is right wing-back Tariq Lamptey, who measures 165 cm. The glaring difference in the frame and bodybuild between Burn and Lamptey is notable, and if I asked you about who played which position completely out of context, I’m convinced you’d make a reasonable—yet wrong—guess.
Burn had to step up and cover for Matt Target’s absence by playing the left-back position. The current game developments call for wing-backs that are tiny, explosive, quick, and most often quite skillful. You’d never think about Dan Burn when thinking about that type of player, let alone if you never watched him play before and just look at his appearance. The truth is, Burn has a past at that role—coincidentally manning that position while at Brighton—and he did more than well playing it on Saturday against his former club. Burn completed two successful tackles, intercepted a couple of passes, cleared six balls, and most impressively never got dribbled past (compared to three times in which Trippier was outpaced and left in the dust). I don’t like Burn as a weekly play on the left, but for a one-off outing, he couldn’t have done much better all things considered.
I struggled to pick a third-best player because, honestly, the team sucked and nothing seemed to be worked in any proper way on Saturday. That said, and after Joelinton and Bruno committed a few mistakes that led to very threatening chances by Brighton, I’m siding with odd-man-out Joe Willock for this little blurb. Joe completed 21 of 25 passes (84%) while also accurately crossing a ball and completing two long balls to the space. Nothing gaudy, I know, but also nothing bad for the team as a whole.
Willock kept things simple, didn’t make any hurtful errors, and just played another sound and solid game completing the tasks he was called upon to do without trouble. Longstaff entered the game with 76 minutes on the clock already to give Willock some resting time, but it’s not that he improved on what Joe Will had done already. Longstaff might find his way to the turf sooner rather than later if Howe wants to test something different or looks for changes, but that would probably have nothing to do with any sort of bad performance by Willock. Great start to the season by the young lad.
In Their Own Words
Pulling some quotes dropped after the game, the first one away from the comfy confines of SJP as the Magpies went all the way down the country to visit the south shores and face Brighton.
Let Howe start by claiming the Geordie Faithful with encouraging words about Matt Target’s absence and current physical woes:
“[Targett] got a dead leg last week to his hamstring”
“We felt it was just a knock, but we had a scan and it showed very, very subtle damage to the muscle”
“We’re treating it like a very small muscle strain, but we’re hoping he will be back soon.”
So, a little bit more than nothing but nothing more than a little issue, I guess. That’s also the case with Ryan Fraser, who should be back as soon as the next game arrives this weekend:
“[Fraser] had a slight back spasm on Thursday and Friday”
“He was close to making the game, but not fit”
On to more pressing concerns, Howe tackled—for the nth time—questions about new trips and adventures into the transfer market in order to bulk the squad up a bit, mostly on the front and forward line:
“As I’ve said many times, we’re looking. We are aware that there are certain parts of the squad that we’d love to strengthen and give us more options.”
“That’s no reflection of anybody we currently have in our squad because I think we’ve shown that we love everybody within the group.
“There’s a very good feeling internally, within the dynamic of the team, so we desperately don’t want to harm that either.”
I think everybody agrees Newcastle needs at least something and someone to arrive in Tyneside during the next few days because of how thin the squad is, but at the same time, there is this feeling of acceptance and good vibes when it comes to how this short-buck-tight-close bunch of men are in total sync and comprising a rather cohesive and strong unit. Win-win situation, right?
Just ask Coach Howe:
“I think there’s always that part of you that, as much as you’re frustrated that you can’t sign any more players when they window has closed, there’s actually a nice relief when the window shuts and you can say, ‘Right, that’s the group that we have – and that’s the group we’re going to go forward with’.”
“Nothing can change that then. My focus is always on the players we have inside the building, not externally. That’s always been my first instinct, to try to develop them, even when the window is open.”
Howe also commented on the difficulties Newcastle might find and is already having in order to negotiate and potentially land new players that can contribute to the team and help it reach higher heights without unbalancing the current wellness of the squad:
“A lot of your time is taken up with the window because it’s such an important process as you try to get the right players in.”
“It’s an ever-changing thing, so if you’re not careful, you can waste a lot of time watching players that maybe aren’t attainable, or for lots of different reasons that you can’t get. That’s part of the job though, and it goes with it hand in hand.”
Speaking about the game against Brighton and the result, Howe had some thoughts to share with the media and the Geordie fans:
”You are always disappointed not to win but very pleased with a point in the end, especially in the second half. I thought it was a difficult second half for us.”
No shortage of words about the clear Player of the Match, God Pope:
“Very pleased. It was a totally different afternoon for him this week compared to last week, where we were looking at distribution and commanding his box.”
“Today it was about saves and he made a number of great saves for us – and that’s the quality of Nick Pope.”
“The save from Lallana was top class.”
“He’s a very relaxed figure, very popular in the dressing room and has a real calmness about him.”
That said, Howe made it clear that it was a team effort to keep Brighton at bay and ultimately ended with the nil-nil draw and one point in the bag:
“You’re only as solid as your defence, I think we’ve changed personnel, added strength and added depth and now we’ve got some very good characters in that unit.”
“And I think you saw that today, because we were under the cosh but we stayed calm and we battled through it.”
Putting on a more comprehensive breakdown explainer:
“First half we were good on the counter and competitive. Second half they took control of the game and we hung in there and defended well.”
“You are always disappointed not to win but very pleased with a point in the end, especially in the second half. I thought it was a difficult second half for us.”
“We showed great team spirit and unity to stay in that game and get a valuable point.”
Howe also gave his two cents about the new left wing-back star in town, Dan Burn:
“He hadn’t played left-back for a long time, but I thought he did very well.”
“Overall very pleased with his performance and his attitude to a different position.”
On to host Manchester City back at home in St James Park next Sunday in the very prime slot of 17:30 BST when attention is at its highest peak.
Howay the Lads!