Last weekend was one filled with strange results in the Premier League all across England.
The pressure cloud of the Carabao cup finally dissipated and the Magpies were able to dodge a few bullets to get things back on course.
Much of the noise this weekend centered around VAR calls (or lack thereof). At Old Trafford, Manchester United dropped points against struggling Southampton after Casemiro was given a straight red in the 34th minute after a VAR review.
It was his second red card of the season, which means the Brazil international will be out for four matches after Man Utd decided not to appeal the decision. This impacts the future of Newcastle, considering he will not be on the field against the Magpies and fellow Brazilian Bruno Guimaraes on April 2nd at St James’ Park.
While Man Utd fans instantly flooded social media to complain, it seemed clear that although Casemiro’s foot bounced off the top of the ball, the action was more dangerous than widely accepted—the starting point of the spikes-up tackle was way too high, to begin with.
On Newcastle’s end, there was another moment of apparent indecision involving Nick Pope and pressure from an opposing striker that led to a collision. A VAR review was waived off by referee Andy Madley with the play deemed incidental contact. Right after that, Alexander Isak quickly gave Newcastle a 1-0 lead vs Wolverhampton.
Again, social media and sports punditry were incensed. The majority of sports outlets like SkySports and TalkSPORT appeared baffled by the decision. Unfortunately, this is indicative of another issue, one in which there is growing criticism among the media for Dan Burn, Nick Pope, and Kieran Trippier for their “methods.”
When Wolverhampton equalized off an apparent miscommunication clearance between Trippier and Pope in the second half, both were roundly criticized until Miguel Almiron was able to get back on the scoring sheet and put the game away.
Earlier this season, it’s important to remember that Newcastle had a lot of lucky breaks that helped build the stellar reputation of the defense. From the bizarre double-touch move that disallowed Alexander Mitrovic’s penalty kick, to numerous shots that bounced off the woodwork last fall, we all celebrated a resilient backline that performed above expectations but lacked depth.
Now the season has reached its home stretch, and it’s no surprise that the defensive unit has some scars and wear on the tires. Dan Burn has performed admirably playing out of position, Trippier and Pope lead the squad in minutes, and both took the trip to Qatar.
I was as loud of a critic as anyone when there weren’t more reinforcements transferred in January, but that window is long gone.
I hope Eddie Howe is sharing the headlines from the pundits who root for “Big Six” clubs as they tear apart Nick Pope for having the yips and Trippier for being too old. It should help to re-energize a team with a real chance at defying all odds. While the Callum Wilsons, Allan Saint-Maximins and now Anthony Gordons take matches off here and there due to knocks, the Newcastle back unit has been a machine since September and needs to hold it together a few more months.
In a perfect world, the offense finds a rhythm early against Nottingham this Friday and we see some appearances from Harrison Ashby (he has seemingly returned to training sessions with the group earlier this week) and Matt Targett later in the match.
The club is clearly in flux, and if Newcastle have one thing this season it’s consistency in the lineup. Here’s hoping Howe builds on that comradery and the Magpies face up against Man United with a head of steam upon returning from the international break—and the warm-weather training camp—in a pivotal clash for two squads out of the running for the league, but very much in the fight for a top-four finish.