Newcastle United will return to Premier League competition this weekend after a two-week hiatus in which the Magpies contended for—and failed to win—the Carabao Cup losing 0-2 to Manchester United at Wembley.
The defeat to the Red Devils was a disappointing but promising one considering the super-quick turnaround the club has experienced since the takeover in Oct. 2021 by the Saudi Arabia-backed board.
Now, less than a week after facing the red side of Manchester, the Magpies will be taking on the blue part of it to take on the Citizens for the second time this season after both teams played to a 3-3 draw all the way back in August at St James’ Park.
That was a monster game by the lads, even getting to lead 3-1 in the second half only for Man-Machine Haaland to deny them the three points. That was just the third game of the season, but Arsenal were already leading the way with Man City sitting in second and Newcastle in sixth place. In other words: not much has changed.
Howe took to the microphones and addressed the most pressing questions by the media on Friday, ahead of the matchup at Manchester City on the road scheduled for Saturday, March 4th.
It’s been a rough week. Nobody can deny that. Yes, the feelings are dark and Newcastle are still proud of their Carabao Cup run through the final, their first in decades. Even then, though, a loss is a loss.
Howe praised the folks arriving in London down from Tyneside, though, and their invasion of Trafalgar Square:
“The passion the fans showed will stay with me and we want to return that. It was just an incredible act of celebration, really.”
“A couple of staff members had seen family members so they were there and saw people tidying away the rubbish and the drinks and everything.”
“That spoke volumes for the people.”
Getting back to what actually happened on the pitch of Wembley—a 0-2 defeat to Manchester United—Howe was asked about the need for Newcastle and their new board to keep investing heavily in the club:
“It’s a difficult one for me to say that ‘yes, categorically, it’s only money [that can make NUFC successful].’”
“That’d take away one of my core beliefs; the players.”
“For me to say, ‘yeah, it’s only down to money,’ I might as well not invest the time and energy that I do with my players now.”
Howe kept on going, though, acknowledging the need is very present if Newcastle want to start competing head-to-head with the behemoths of world football:
“But I think there is an element of truth in that. You need investments to really compete at the elite levels”
“We’re talking, you know, to disturb the top group of teams [is] very difficult without that investment. So I do feel we’ve got to get further there (with investing).”
Anyway, Howe’s Howe and Howe ain’t gon change:
“I do also believe in the coaching process.”
“I believe we can get more out of our players that we currently are (at NUFC) and I’ll always have that belief no matter how well we’re doing.”
Facing Manchester City on Saturday will be a tall task. At the end of the day, City is sitting second in the EPL table and still in very strong contention to repeat as champions. Does that mean Howe is going to park the bus tomorrow on the road?
“There’s many ways to approach the game.”
“I wouldn’t criticise anyone who [park the bus] because that might be their best way of getting a result (against Man City).”
“I’m not sure it’s ours.”
So, what’s the plan? According to Howe, the same as it’s always been:
“I don’t think our principles ever change.”
“We’re going to need to be very good defensively, and very good with the ball.”
“We’re going to need to pose a threat in the game—I believe we can do that.”
“Certainly, we’ll need to get our foundations strong.”
How are the lads feeling having lost to Man Utd just a few days ago and now facing another strong opponent in City?
“We were bruised, but very quickly it turned to (focusing on) Manchester City.”
“I didn’t think the passion and the motivation within me could increase but I think it has (after the defeat).”
When asked about the availability and fitness of key player Bruno, Howe had some great news to share, confirming his presence at the Etihad tomorrow:
“Bruno is fine. Short-term pain but nothing that has impacted his training.”
Another positive is Alexander Isak’s steady development since arriving in Newcastle last summer:
“Isak is improving with more training sessions and more understanding of what we want from him.”
“He’s still probably not at his optimum but he’s getting close.”
“He’s got so much to give us and he adds a different dimension to our team.”
And what about Anthony Gordon!?
“Anthony’s got a big part to play (going forward).”
“I’m really excited about what he can do in the rest of the season.”
“He’s been working hard in the background because when he came to us he was a little bit short of high-end fitness, so we’ve done that work with him.”
On a less bright tone, dealing with Ryan Fraser’s situation—the Scotland winger has been sent down to train with the U21 squad—Howe was savage and it seems the gaffer doesn’t count with Fraser, who should have a foot-and-three-quarters out of NUFC, anymore:
“I made the decision to concentrate on the players that are committed to Newcastle.”
“For the benefit of the group, I made that call.”
“At the moment, [Fraser] doesn’t have a future at Newcastle.”
“I think it’s a difficult answer for me to give, because I’ve never put a firm decision on that—life can change quickly.”
Obviously and pretty much as everybody expected, it didn’t take a lot of time for the media to ask Howe about the breaking news linking the PIF with the Saudi government, putting Newcastle’s owners in peril of getting thrown away from the club by the Premier League and their members:
“I’ve not seen any assurances. To be honest, I’ve not given it too much time.”
“I’m aware of the headlines, seen headlines but haven’t really invested in in the details behind it.”
“[We] got Manchester City’s prepared for and that genuinely has taken my focus.”
Before the PIF-related news broke on Thursday evening, Amanda Staveley told Talksport a few encouraging things—the ongoing filming of a documentary, the possibility of reaching Champions League qualification this season—that Howe discussed in his presser:
“I love Amanda’s positivity. I love her outlook. I’ve got no no issue with it.”
“With the [UCL qualification] statements, all I’d say is, from my perspective, there’s no time limit on that. I think if we set targets that are maybe too short term, that can have a negative effects and that can build external pressure.”
“The players need a place to play freely, and not really think too much about the consequences.”
“In order to do that, it’s my job to take the pressure off them. So that’s what I found [and I am doing].”
It can’t be said that the second half of Newcastle’s season starts this weekend... but that might very well be how the squad and the coaching staff approach it.
There will be no midweek games involving cup matchups and the Magpies will benefit from a pure Premier League-laden schedule while rivals up and down the table will have to still play continental and cup games.
Newcastle have played only 23 games to date, the fewest among all teams into the top 7, so they can still make up ground with those ahead of them while putting distance between them and the chasing pack.
There is a 15-game sprint from Saturday to May 28th and it starts tomorrow at the Etihad. Nobody loses twice in a row against teams based in Manchester, am I right?
- Date: Saturday, March 4th
- Kick-off: 12:30 BST / 7:30 EST
- Location: Etihad Stadium, Manchester (England)
- Broadcasts: fuboTV (CAN) — nbcsports.com, SiriusXM FC, NBC Sports App, UNIVERSO NOW, Telemundo Deportes En Vivo, USA Network, UNIVERSO (USA) — BT Sport Ultimate, BT Sport App, TalkSport Radio UK, BT Sport 1, BTSport.com (UK)
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