The revealing Newcastle United assessment from Eddie Howe – and his Liverpool and Manchester United conundrum
They’ve covered a lot of hard yards since the August 31 fixture at Anfield, where Eddie Howe’s side were booed off the pitch by home fans following a series of stoppages.
That night, the club was beaten by a 98th-minute goal from Fabio Carvalho. Howe and his players felt that the final whistle should have come before the strike.
Newcastle, 11th after that loss, haven’t been beaten in the Premier League since then – and the club is fourth in the table ahead of Saturday evening’s return fixture.
“It was a very painful experience with a minute to go, or seconds, when we conceded the second goal,” said Howe.
Revealingly, Howe added: “Maybe, in some way, it did ignite our fires, and do something to us to make us more resolute, and respond in a really positive way.”
United have since gone 17 games without defeat, exceeding the club’s all-time record of 14 top-flight fixtures without loss, which was set in 1950.
The core group of players who have had the most minutes on the pitch have put in a phenomenal effort. Howe hasn’t changed his team much in recent months, and a run of five draws from six top-flight games has led some fans to believe there’s some physical and mental fatigue in the dressing room.
United’s head coach was asked if there was any tiredness in his ranks after the club’s last home game, a 1-1 draw against West Ham United earlier this month.
Howe had played down suggestions of fatigue after last month’s goalless draw against Crystal Palace, but he conceded that there were some “tired bodies” in the dressing room after the game.
“It’s a difficult thing to judge,” said Howe. “I didn’t necessarily see fatigue in our performance. Naturally, there’s some tired bodies, we’ve just had two games in a short period of time.
“Mental fatigue is a difficult one to judge. It’s probably more a feeling than something you can measure.”
Howe – who admitted that he was “light in a couple of areas” after the transfer window closed last month – has relied heavily on a core group of players.
That’s understandable. They’ve performed week in, week out on the pitch, and the club’s squad is shallow in places.
The challenge for Howe, with the Carabao Cup final against Manchester United on the horizon, is to ensure that his starting XI is as fresh as possible while keeping the continuity which has been one of the hallmarks of the team’s success so far this season.
Howe has Anthony Gordon, Jacob Murphy and Elliot Anderson – who all came off the bench in last weekend’s 1-1 draw against Bournemouth – pushing for starts, while Callum Wilson could be back in the squad after missing the game against his former club through injury. Joe Willock could miss out after being forced off at the Vitality Stadium with a hamstring problem.
Next week, Howe will have the influential Bruno Guimaraes back from a three-game suspension.
The return of Guimaraes will be particularly timely as the hardest yards are yet to come for the team which fans hope can make history at Wembley next weekend.