How Newcastle United could benefit from their extended FIFA World Cup break
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With no game until Wednesday, December 21 when they host Bournemouth in the Carabao Cup, the Magpies won’t play a competitive game for over a month as the FIFA World Cup takes place. Their next Premier League game comes five days after this cup tie when they make the trip to the King Power Stadium on Boxing Day.
The general consensus is that, after five wins on the spin, this break has come at the wrong time for Eddie Howe’s side. However, the Magpies may actually benefit a lot more from the time off than many are anticipating.
Of course, momentum is everything in football. Their win over Chelsea was a deserved one and highlighted just what a threat this side, particularly at home, can be.
The team look buoyant at the minute and are dominating games by sheer intensity and workrate. This momentum will be lost during the break, however, as we saw in the summer when the end of the season ended impressive back-to-back wins over Arsenal and Burnley, this team knows how to quickly wrestle back momentum.
The summer break didn’t seem to affect the side too much as they were able to score a solid opening day win over Nottingham Forest as well as creditable points away at Brighton and at home to Manchester City.
And whilst there will undoubtedly be some rustiness to shake off when domestic football resumes next month, Newcastle’s World Cup representatives may actually be in solid condition when they return to Tyneside. Switzerland aren’t fancied in Qatar and with Brazil, Serbia and Cameroon in their group, an early exit for Fabian Schar’s side could be on the cards.
Brazil’s star-studded squad makes them one of the favourites for the trophy, however, this also means Bruno Guimaraes might have to settle for limited opportunities throughout the tournament. The same can be said for Nick Pope and Callum Wilson with England.
Kieran Trippier seems to be the only United player that will likely start most of the games for their country, save for Schar with Switzerland. If the World Cup pans out this way, then there’s no reason why, even if England and Brazil reach the latter stages, that these players wouldn’t be fit enough to start on Boxing Day.
Elsewhere, the players not featuring in Qatar now have a fortnight’s rest to recuperate from what has been a brutal and compact fixture list. Star players like Joelinton, Sven Botman and Miguel Almiron now have two weeks to recover ahead of another demanding ‘mini pre-season’ under Howe.
Other than their five international representatives, Howe now has a month to work with pretty much his full squad to prepare them not only for their cup and Boxing Day outings, but for important games against Leeds United and Arsenal after that. We’ve all seen the transformation Howe has implemented over the 12 months he has been in charge, yet more time on the training pitch with his squad can only be a major benefit.
Although it has been a pretty flawless start to the season, Howe and his staff will believe there is more to come from his team and, as his appearance on the ‘High Performance Podcast’ shows, he is determined to get the very best out of every player in his squad. Although key players will be missing, the squad will also benefit from a trip to Saudi Arabia - much like they did in January.
That trip has been labelled as transformative by many at the club who highlight the togetherness forged during the time away as a major factor for their stunning second-half of the season. If this can be replicated this winter, then that could be a huge boost for the Magpies going into January.
A friendly game against Al-Hilal in Saudi Arabia is planned before a clash with Real Vallecano at St James’s Park on December 17. These games will get minutes into the legs and get the players back playing high-intensity football.
They also offer the perfect opportunity for players like Alexander Isak and Allan Saint-Maximin to fully overcome their injury worries. One of the more remarkable things about the start to the season Newcastle have enjoyed is that they have done it largely without the brilliance of Saint-Maximin or their club-record purchase Isak - both of whom have missed large chunks of the campaign through injury.
Seeing what a combination of Saint-Maximin, Wilson, Almiron and Isak can do when on the pitch at the same time is a mouth-watering one - and one that supporters may finally get to see following the World Cup break. On an individual level though, this break also gives Isak an opportunity to learn Howe’s system and get a feel for what his new manager demands of him.
The Swedish international was thrown in at the deep-end following Wilson’s injury and impressed during his three appearances, all whilst being asked to be the main man in his absence. Now though, Isak has time to bed himself into the team and when he does make his eventual return, will almost be like a new signing.
This all leads us to the fast approaching January transfer window that, despite it being only November, will be upon us in just three games time. Caution over spending in January has been advised, however, with the team likely to enter the window in a Champions League spot, it could be a month that sees Newcastle really go for it in the market.
If signed early enough, a new signing could have up to 21 games to make their impression in the side - an amount of matches that isn’t afforded in a traditional football calendar. For Newcastle United, even without playing any competitive games, this next month could truly be a transformative time for their ambitions.