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Time to panic at Newcastle? Maybe, maybe not

The upcoming three-game stretch will set the tone for the remainder of the campaign

Newcastle United v Fulham FC - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Is anyone else getting close to hitting the panic button? I’m well aware that it’s been a theme of the last twelve months to be radiantly positive about every result—win, lose, or draw.

Yes, we’re still in a Champions League qualifying spot on the table. And yes, we aren’t technically losing games. Yet, on Saturday, Newcastle struggled again against another squad bound for relegation in a listless 1-1 draw at Bournemouth. A Bournemouth who had a goal record of 3 scored and 11 allowed in their last five matches.

The defense is starting to bend and the offense has become anemic. It’s time to start asking some tough questions.

Newcastle United v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Premier League Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images

First of all, can someone explain why we let Jonjo Shelvey leave?

Players request transfers all the time. Look at Moises Caicedo trying to force a move to London this January. Or Bernardo Silva looking for a move to Barcelona every transfer period.

I can understand Eddie Howe and the management team perhaps trying to build a player-friendly image for prospective transfers in the future, but hadn’t we already reluctantly let Chris Wood walk? Surely, shedding £70k in weekly wages isn’t what opened the door for Anthony Gordon.

The center of the midfield was already too reliant on the heroics of Bruno Guimaraes, who is both excellent on defense, a creative passer, and the lives at the heartbeat of the squad. While the offense was not as prolific as prior to the World Cup break after the return from that month-long hiatus, his recent suspension has left a crater right in the middle of the field. Sean Longstaff was not prepared to cover for the role and lost the ball on numerous occasions with inaccurate short passes throughout the first half on Saturday.

Now, Joe Willock looks to have an injured hamstring and that will create more havoc in the midfield.

Looking back, why couldn’t management see that we did not have the depth to allow Shelvey to go? After all, his contract was going to expire on June 30th. Simply put, it was a terribly short-sighted decision that’s going to have real ramifications in the future.

AFC Bournemouth v Newcastle United - Premier League Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Up front, Callum Wilson missed another match with a fresh injury, in what is another frustrating chapter of his season. Obviously, the potential for magic between Allan Saint-Maximin and Alexander Isak is palpable, but if we negate Wilson’s goals, this is an offense that is built on a lot of crosses and corner kicks.

Newcastle have taken more corners than any other team this year, tabulating 153 to Manchester City’s 145. Watch five minutes of any match, and you’ll see the familiar overlap between Kieran Trippier and Miguel Almiron dominating the right side and ending up with a cross inside. With no Wilson on top and Joelinton hanging back to cover the holes in the midfield, the current front line is not putting enough of these chances away.

Through the recent goal drought—five goals scored in the last six Premier League games—there has been a tendency to shrug our shoulders and keep smiling when the Magpies faced a setback this season.

FA Cup loss to Sheffield? Who cares, more rest for our starters. Five draws in our last six EPL matches? Hey, at least they weren’t losses!

And why not keep pinching ourselves? This squad has created more happy memories in the last year than all of Mike Ashley’s tenure combined. But at some point, reality will set in. Erik ten Hag at Manchester United looks like the real deal, and you are crazy if you think Chelsea and Liverpool will sit still this summer.

Liverpool FC v Newcastle United - Premier League Photo by Dave Howarth - CameraSport via Getty Images

Speaking of Liverpool, they head to St James’ Park on Saturday. This is the same Liverpool that has been a thorn in the Newcastle side for years building a 3-0-2 record in our last five matches against them—including a last-second defeat in our most recent Premier League affair with the Reds.

The fact that Bruno, Wilson, and Willock may all be unavailable makes this fixture particularly ominous. SJP will surely be rocking, and it’s hard to be critical of a season that has seen such a remarkable turnaround from years past.

But after Liverpool, it’s a final against Man United at Wembley followed by a visit to Man City. What’s the morale going to be should our offense continue to falter over a pivotal 270 minutes these next few weeks?

I can think of a few players I don’t want to see near the starting lineup and some who should be getting more minutes.

What do you think Howe should change? Or are you one of those who think he should ride the current core as long as it holds up?