Home dominance, January business and trophy hopes - what will be on Eddie Howe’s Christmas list this year?
Domestic football is just making its return after a unique mid-season break for the World Cup. And when the Premier League does make its triumphant return on Boxing Day, it will begin with Newcastle sitting in third place.
This isn’t a new fact of course, but it is something that should be repeated at every opportunity while it lasts. A win over Leicester City on Boxing Day would remarkably move Eddie Howe’s side into 2nd place, albeit temporarily.
The difference between the present day and where Newcastle found themselves last Christmas couldn’t be more stark. So what will Howe and co have on their Christmas list this year?
Continuing St James’s Park dominance
The first thing Howe will want to see Newcastle continue into the next year is to keep St James’s Park as a fortress. Only Cambridge United and Liverpool have defeated Newcastle at home in 2022 with Manchester City, Arsenal and most recently, Chelsea, all seeing what can happen if you’re not at the very top of your game when you make the trip to Tyneside.
With Leeds United to come on New Year’s Eve, there is a real chance of Newcastle ending the calendar year with just two home defeats - a record that has laid the foundations for their remarkable form throughout the year. And if they are to make a serious tilt at qualifying for Europe this season, then they will need to continue this into next year.
Few teams will want to come to the north east to play their football and Newcastle will want to keep this feeling going for as long as possible.
January success… within reason
Last year’s winter window saw Newcastle spend big. Kieran Trippier, Chris Wood, Dan Burn, Matt Targett, albeit on loan, and Bruno Guimaraes were all brought to the club.
However, these signings were made out of necessity as their perilous Premier League position demanded swift movement in the transfer market. Ultimately, all five would turn out to be very successful signings and when they were added to by Nick Pope, Sven Botman and Alexander Isak in the summer, the Magpies became a real force to be reckoned with.
However, this all came at a cost and with Financial Fair Play restrictions limiting an upwardly mobile and ambitious club from breaking into Europe’s established elite. Newcastle will have to be very clever about how they approach this January window.
Marquee signings like James Maddison or Cody Gakpo that could take Newcastle to the next level have been mooted - but it’s a big short-term risk. The club have warned about a quieter window this time around, although Howe has maintained the need for Newcastle to be ‘flexible’ in the market.
We’ve seen with the signing of Garang Kuol that Newcastle are unafraid to search the globe for the best young talent and this could be an avenue they explore next month. Of course, Howe will want to see his first-team squad strengthened, but after a whirlwind couple of windows, January may be the time to take stock and really plan for the future.
Keeping Bruno in the middle
Not just for the chant, although it is a good one, Howe will want to ensure the Brazilian is playing his football at Newcastle for the considerable future. There was no surprise when teams like Real Madrid began to be linked with a move for Guimaraes - although it did raise the panic levels to mild in the fan base.
Guimaraes makes the team tick and will undoubtedly be a major player in any success Newcastle have not just this season, but in years to come. If there was one player Howe would be asking for some intervention from Santa Claus to keep on Tyneside, it is surely Bruno.
Newcastle have had few better opportunities to get to a major final than they do right now. Whether that’s in the Carabao Cup or the FA Cup - Wembley beckons for the first time in over 20 years. Their current placing in the pyramid and in the form books demand that Newcastle have to be made one of the favourites for these competitions and are a side, as mentioned before, that no one will want to be paired against.
Howe’s team selection for the Bournemouth game on Tuesday showed just how seriously he is taking this opportunity of silverware and with two cup games in a week coming up in January, it could be a defining few days for the club. I’m almost certain Howe won’t be the only person in the north east writing to Santa for a cup win this season, but it is something that, whisper it very, very quietly, could actually happen.
A 2023 that mirrors 2022
If 2023 can be as successful for Newcastle as the year just gone, then we are in for a special few months. As mentioned, Newcastle have been beaten just twice at home, whilst also maintaining a very respectable record on the road as well.
Few teams have taken as many points this calendar year as the Magpies - a repeat of that next year could result in something pretty special. However, it isn’t just the on pitch results that Newcastle will want to try and replicate next year.
Their off field development with key backroom appointments and commercial progress means this is now a club built for the future. Howe’s Christmas list may be full this year, but unlike 12 months ago, it is one built on hopes and dreams, rather than being borne out of necessity and survival.