Eddie Howe’s next Newcastle United puzzle, as the Magpies strive for footballing evolution
One win in seven games is not the start Newcastle United would have wanted this season, but progress is there for all to see.
Throughout the summer months, the club were keen to stress patience in the fan base with the message ‘evolution not revolution’ being implemented very early on.
In the transfer market, this message was used to subdue fan expectations about how much the club would spend on new recruits.
The summer window has now closed but the message very much remains the same and fans will have to stick by it, even if and when yet more disappointing results occur.
It seems a long time ago when Nottingham Forest came to Tyneside and were dispatched with minimal fuss by Howe’s side.
But even on that day, there were some signs that Newcastle may struggle to break down a team happy to sit in a low block and defend for their lives.
Fabian Schar’s wonder strike broke the deadlock that day at a time when Newcastle were looking a little bit lost for ideas in front of goal.
Similar problems befell them at Brighton and Wolves before their back-to-back home draws against Crystal Palace and Bournemouth.
There are valid reasons for their struggles though. Having the trio of Allan Saint-Maximin and Callum Wilson all injured at the same time was far from ideal, especially at the beginning of the campaign as they just got into their stride.
And of course, particularly in the case of Bournemouth on Saturday, teams are beginning to sit back at St James’ Park and be content with a point.
This wasn’t the case just 12 months ago and so, although they are yet to come up with the answers, Newcastle can hold their heads high that teams are afraid about coming to Tyneside.
So how do Newcastle combat this? Games against Manchester City and Liverpool showed that on the counter they can be an electrifying team, but that simply won’t work for the majority of home games this season.
The basic numbers show they need to be more clinical in front of goal - Newcastle are underperforming their expected goals across the campaign with just West Ham performing worse than the Magpies on that metric.
Wilson’s return will undoubtedly improve their fortunes in this department, but, as we all know, they need more than just relying on the former Cherries man.
Alexander Isak looked very good at Anfield but Newcastle have struggled to utilise his strengths at home. As a player that thrives in space, it is going to be difficult to utilise these skills against a packed defence.
Maybe the key to all this could be the return of Jonjo Shelvey? Shelvey’s inclusion would allow Guimaraes to play further up the field. But that solution, if it is one, won’t be available for a few weeks yet.
It’s not necessarily a bad problem for Howe and his coaching staff to have and is worlds away from the team he inherited from his predecessor - but it is one that needs to be solved if Newcastle are to step up their evolution.
It will take time for Newcastle to become the team fans hope they can and will become in the future - supporters, as always, just need to remain patient.