Newcastle get back to St James’ Park on Sunday after their trip to Manchester to play (and lose against) City and finally break out of the Mancunian Nightmare of the past two weeks in which the Magpies lost back-to-back games against the Sky Blues and the Reds.
As has always been the case, the Magpies will miss a key player in Joelinton, this time suspended after earning his 10th yellow card last weekend at Man City. Of course, that gets patched by the return to form of Joe Willock, a recovered Bruno, the available Gordon and Isak, and so on... although something must change and it should do quickly if Eddie Howe and his pupils want to really finish the season in the European places—let alone getting a UCL/UEL place by the end of it all.
Good for them, Wolves aren’t quite a world-beating team and the men led by Spaniard Julen Lopetegui, while better now than earlier this season, have just won a game (against the tanking Spurs) in their last four attempts spanning more than three weeks (two losses, one draw) and since their win over Southampton on Feb. 11 needing an 87th-minute goal to pull that off.
Howe took to the microphones and addressed the most pressing questions by the media on Friday, ahead of the matchup against Wolves at St James’ Park scheduled for Sunday, March 12th.
First things first, are we about to finally watch Newcastle win a game once and for all after they didn’t accomplish the feat for the last five games in a row?
“Through every season there are difficult moments and there are patches where you don’t win the games maybe you should.”
“That’s the time, I believe, you have to be really strong mentally and know it will change.”
Key games ahead against lesser opposition in Wolves and Nott Forest before the international break and the warm-weather training camp in Dubai, and that’s what Howe thinks entering the weekend.
“They’re two big games because of where they’re situated with the international break.”
“We want to go into that break in a really good moment. We’re determined to end this run of games in a confident way.”
While Newcastle lost their undefeated record in late August when they fell to Liverpool, only the Reds (twice) and Manchester City (once, last weekend) have been able to earn three points in a game against the Magpies this season. Howe discussed the stiff defense of Newcastle when asked about it.
“If you had said that to us at the start the season, you’d definitely have taken that. I mean, it’s a huge positive for us.”
“We’re still capable of doing anything we want to do from this point of the season. We have 14 games left.”
“We need to try and maximize every single one of those games and [the season] is still in our hands.”
So... is the Champions League arriving in Tyneside next season?
“I’ve never sat here and talked us up in terms of targets, [discussing a] top-four, but I have talked us up in terms of what I believe we can achieve and the quality we have in our group.”
“I’m not going to change now. Through every season there are difficult moments.”
One of the easy-to-spot problems of Newcastle these days is the complete lack of goalscoring, wherever those issues are coming from. Obviously, the main underperformed on that front has been post-WC Callum Wilson. How about it, Howe?
“Callum is a vastly experienced top player. He has a huge part to play in our season.”
“I think the fact that Callum’s taking full ownership of his performances, I think that is a very, very good thing as well. And I’d say the same to any player going through a good or bad moment.”
“I’m lucky in the respect that I know Callum so well. I can have conversations with him that are maybe a slightly different.”
Speaking of strikers and bagging goals, Howe also discussed Isak’s fitness and current form:
“I’d say Alex is in a good place (in terms of fitness). It is the most consistently he’s trained since he’s been with us. So I’m not 100% sure on how many weeks that is, but certainly that rhythm and that feeling is good.”
“There was a week when he trained very, very well; he was excellent in everything that he did, but I think he got concussion the week after, and that meant that again it delayed his return to training.”
“I think now he’s building up to those levels (of form and shape) that he was at.”
Will Alexander Isak ever get a full match of play under the gaffer, then?
“[We’ve talked about] building his confidence. Is he 100% ready to play 90 minutes on a consistent basis? Probably not. But he will get there. We will build him to that level.”
“He wants to play, like every player. I’ve not really had a huge long conversation with him about his game time at this moment; it simply has been about keeping him fit early on after his serious injury that he had.”
“I’ve been delighted with his attitude. We talked a lot about his performances, general things we’re looking to improve and develop in this game. And I think he’s in a good place.”
One of Newcastle’s most-used reserves and Howe’s trustees have been Jacob Murphy, so the coach talked about his substitute of choice:
“I think he’s done very well off the bench this year but that’s not to say that’s his sole role.”
“He’s done well when he’s come on in the last few games and that’s not lost on me.”
“He’s pushing to start and there’s no doubting his qualities.”
After Fabian Schar missed last weekend’s game after experiencing concussion symptoms, Howe clarified the situation ahead of the game against Wolves on Sunday, adding a touch on the rest of the squad’s availability, including a little update on Bruno’s ankle:
““We’ve had some minor knocks after the Manchester City game, we hope nothing too serious.”
“[Schar] trained well this week and we’re pleased to see him back.”
“[Bruno] is fine. He was sore initially against Manchester United but he was back training no problem.”
Jamaal Lascelles appeared in a game for the first time since the last day of January in the matchup against Man City last weekend, starting in place of the injured Schar. Howe spoke highly about the returning Magpies' captain.
“Lascelles is very important.”
“I had no doubt he’d come in and do well, because of what I’ve seen. And he performed to a really high level.”
“Jamaal has trained really well at a really high level. You don’t come into that type of game and play well unless you’re absolutely focused on your training day to day. He’s led by example on training ground.”
Nobody believes Bruno is leaving Newcastle anytime soon, but of course, Howe landed the question because these are the topics that grab all of the clicks and the attention from folks around the nation.
“Bruno is a very important piece (in our project). When you look at our team, I think he’s a unique player, you’re not going to find too many players like him. The way he receives the ball, his technical delivery under pressure, his eye for a creative pass.”
“Not to my knowledge [about Bruno’s new deal being close], I’ve been preparing for the game. I’m not sure on that one.”
Some folks have been asking about Harrison Ashby’s absences of late, and it turns out he’s been injured nursing a hammy. He hasn’t trained for weeks since signing with Newcastle at the end of January, so there’s that.
- Date: Sunday, March 12th
- Kick-off: 16:30 BST / 11:30 EST
- Location: St James’ Park, Newcastle (England)
- Broadcasts: fuboTV (CAN) — nbcsports.com, SiriusXM FC, USA Network, Telemundo, NBC Sports App, Telemundo Deportes En Vivo (USA) — BBC Radio 5 Live, Sky Ultra HD, SKY GO Extra, Sky Sports Main Event, Sky Sports Premier League (UK)
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