Have Newcastle United 'bought' Premier League survival if they stay up?
Eddie Howe’s side have climbed out of the bottom three and up to 14th in the table with four wins from their last five matches.
Before the January window opened, The Magpies were cut adrift two points from safety having played two games more.
Even in mid January – having spent a combined £37million on Kieran Trippier and Chris Wood – they were still two points adrift of Watford, eight behind Leeds and Everton and 12 behind Brentford.
Now, as we enter March, The Magpies are above them all in the table following a remarkable turnaround in form.
But what has it been down to?
It’s true that Newcastle spent more than any other club in the January transfer window – upwards of £90million is comparable to the 14 January transfer windows combined under the previous owner.
We’ve seen mocking comments go from ‘Bruno will be good in the Championship,’ to Newcastle have ‘bought’ survival in just a few short weeks as The Magpies have turned their form around.
But the notion that United have ‘bought’ their way out of trouble, while not completely untrue, seems well wide of the mark.
First and foremost, Newcastle are still only four points off the bottom four and face a tough run of matches towards the end of the season. They are by no means out of the woods.
But if Newcastle were to stay up – as is looking increasingly likely – they will be the first side in Premier League history to do so having failed to win their opening 14 Premier League matches.
Back in December, it was thought a ‘great escape' would be required for Howe’s side to survive. In reality, that ‘great escape’ has been somewhat underwhelming so far given the speed in which Newcastle have climbed up the table.
You can almost guarantee, if United do stay up, that the vitriolic comments spouted by various pundits and opposition fans will centre around the club ‘buying’ its way to safety.
It will be interesting to see if Everton get tarnished with that same brush should they stay up having spent up to £69million in January, providing they end up paying £40million for Dele Alli.
It’s a lazy summary that discredits the immense hard work done by Howe and his players over the past couple of months.
While Newcastle spent in January, their most expensive signing Bruno Guimaraes has barely managed to get on the pitch, let alone impact matches. He got over 30 minutes at Brentford, but by that point United already had the points secured.
Kieran Trippier’s impact has been there for all to see – but now he’s out injured until the latter stages of the season.
Newcastle overpaid for Chris Wood to trigger his £25million release clause at Burnley as they were without Callum Wilson for the foreseeable future. That transfer was papering over the cracks rather than significantly bolstering the squad.
Wood has failed to score in six appearances for Newcastle since his arrival, so can you really say the January business is the main reason behind Newcastle’s turnaround?
Two of The Magpies’ shrewdest signings in the January window, Dan Burn and Matt Targett, have proven to be two of the most effective as they’ve helped solidify Newcastle at the back.
Howe’s side have kept three clean sheets in their last five matches and have conceded fewer goals than any other Premier League side since the turn of the year.
But Burn was a £13million transfer and Targett was a loan signing. If they arrived under Mike Ashley’s ownership, few would have given them a second thought.
Some of the most effective players at Newcastle in recent months have been the ones already in the building.
Joelinton and Ryan Fraser have been revelations under Howe, like new signings in their own right. Joelinton playing as a midfielder may have happened by chance, but he’s quickly emerged as one of the top enforcers in the Premier League while Fraser is getting back to the type of form that made him one of the top flight’s most creative wingers while with Howe at Bournemouth.
Fabian Schar, Jonjo Shelvey and Joe Willock have also shown a marked improvement under Howe.
While people will point to the money spent by Newcastle, they have been able to continue their fine run of form without three of their key players in their top two scorers Callum Wilson and Allan Saint-Maximin, as well as Kieran Trippier.
Prior to Howe’s arrival, Newcastle’s top five most-started players this season were Saint-Maximin, Matt Ritchie, Isaac Hayden, Ciaran Clark, Jamaal Lascelles, Sean Longstaff and Miguel Almiron – none of whom started at Brentford on Saturday.
The faith put in Joelinton, Shelvey, Fraser, Willock and Schar has helped transform Newcastle back into a side that club's don't want to face anymore as they know they’ll be in for a tough game. Earlier this season, that simply wasn’t the case as United had no identity, were weak and far too passive.
Prior to Wilson’s injury, only he and Saint-Maximin had scored more than once for Newcastle this season. Now, Joelinton, Shelvey, Willock and Trippier have two goals to their name while Fraser has also got off the mark. The squad have shown it’s a team game and they don’t need to rely on their number 9.
If Newcastle do stay up, it’s unlikely to go down in Premier League history as a ‘great escape’ or an impressive feat in the eyes of a wider audience. But those Newcastle fans who have experienced it first hand will know just how impressive the turnaround has been.
But getting overlooked and discredited is something Newcastle United are used to, and that will only grow with the more success they have under new ownership.