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Lay out a very early prediction that Newcastle United will challenge for the Premier League title next season

Lay out a very early prediction that Newcastle United will challenge for the Premier League title next season

And so a magnificent Newcastle United season drifts away, as an agonising series of waits kicks in.

Fixtures for next season? 15 June mate, sit there and wait for a fortnight. Actual transfer window opening? Day before the fixtures are out.

Then we’re talking weekend of Saturday 12th August until the season actually restarts, and if you’re super keen to find out who we get in the Champions League, you’ll have to wait until the end of that month.

So, there’s a bit of a gap to fill and, as usual, that will largely be filled with speculation.

As part of that, the editor of The Mag asked me for a few advance predictions for the season ahead, which is nigh on impossible at this stage given the amount of variables over the coming months.

I had a go at it, but was at pains to point out that at a similar point last year, I predicted us to break the top six, which I doubled down on at the World Cup break, rationalising that Newcastle would retain the Champions League place we occupied. This was based on the evidence of the previous months, coupled with estimates of the positive direction the club is heading in. So, using a similar strategy, I’m going to lay out a very early prediction that Newcastle United will challenge for the Premier League title next season, and lay out for you why that is.

First of all, there are unknown factors to deal with elsewhere. Liverpool need to rebuild their midfield and may return as a force next year, or it could be that the gradual decline of the Klopp era continues.

Chelsea FansChelsea surely will look to sort themselves out under Pochettino and there is the question of whether Arsenal can repeat the efforts of the last campaign. However, all of this is external, let’s suffice to say there’s potential for all these clubs to be transitional and just focus on how well equipped Newcastle might be to take advantage of this.

First off, let’s deal in the facts that United have displayed consistent top four form since the beginning of 2022. The key players in delivering all of this will still be at the club and, if anything, the squad will gain strength from the removal of some weaker / disruptive elements. However, I think we all know that with the added challenge of the Champions League, considerable reinforcements are needed.

Fundamentally, I’d say we need one more top drawer player in each third of the pitch as a minimum. The added appeal and FFP wiggle room that CL qualification has offered, should mean that a signing of the Bruno / Botman / Isak calibre can be added to each of the defence, midfield and attack. This would most likely be a right sided CB, a deep lying midfielder to release Bruno and either an outside forward or out-and-out striker, depending on where you see Isak playing.

The confidence we can have here is that the committee for identifying and acquiring targets is staffed with very competent people who have excelled at what they do, both here and in previous roles. The fact that this group is working together so well, makes you feel it’s highly likely that these players will already be identified and scouted, and negotiations are ahead. I would hope at least two of these targets can be secured in time to link up with day one of pre-season, for Eddie to work his magic on them.

In addition to this, we also need another 3-4 players to beef the squad up. These may well be younger prospects like Harrison Ashby, or reliable PL performers in the Dan Burn  /Matt Targett mould. The end quantity of incomings might depend on outgoings, but I would be surprised if less than five come in.

So, assuming these reinforcements add an extra dimension to the team, where and how is it feasible to improve on last season. Man City won the league this year with 89 points, 18 ahead of us. That’s probably a fair average to look at a required improvement of 15-20 points. Here’s a table of how Newcastle achieved points in the season that’s just ended:

At the top end, there are some full houses against mid table sides and some at the bottom, with respectable returns of  four against Man Utd and Brighton.

At the bottom, there’s room for improvement on two points from 18 against Man City, Arsenal and Liverpool. This is where I’d say the new signings come in, as those aforementioned top drawer additions can make us more competitive across the pitch in these games. Just another six or seven points would be a feasible return and a difference maker.

The key areas though, are the ones I’ve highlighted in red, basically where the excess draws have hit, 18 points dropped against six bottom half teams, some of which came in games we’ve been a bit flat, or missing key options through injury. A stronger bench will help break these sides down but I can’t help but wonder if a more consistent threat from corners could be the ace in the hole for these matches. If we had a second set piece deliverer to mix it up with Trippier and if the height and power we have was translated into more effective headed efforts, this could present the route one solution to breaking down the likes of Bournemouth and Palace. I wonder if a coach specifically to focus on set plays is in anyone’s mind, because they’d be more than worth the outlay.

I realise this is fanciful at this stage, as to interrogate the results that narrowly got away, ignores the tight games we came out on top in.

Kieran Trippier Callum WilsonHowever, NUFC have lost only 10 of the last 58 PL games, with a constantly improving team set for its biggest upgrade yet. Other clubs may do great things this summer, but I dispute that any of them can have the confidence in the ability to grow that we can.

This is why I say challenge for the title.

This is not a prediction we will win the thing, or even come second. Man City seem light years ahead, although the potential loss of Gundogan would leave a gap, and any injury to Haaland or De Bruyne could see them vulnerable. Chances are, they win it again, but I am putting it out there that Newcastle United will step up and give them a bloody good fright. The variables may prove decisive, e.g. if we have bad luck with key injuries, if cup runs transpire and become a distraction, or even the outcome of the next two and a half months.

However, if I turn out to be wrong I won’t be ashamed about saying it.

For too long we were called deluded Geordies with ridiculous expectations and I think that has led us to a point where some Newcastle United fans are scared to express any optimism or confidence due to years of this kind of venom.

I am saying I have belief in this side to grow again, have confidence in Eddie Howe to get them pointed in the right direction and fear no one as an unassailable threat to the ambitions the club now openly has.

Let’s all grow that confidence and the next time there’s a cup final the team will surely take it onto the pitch.

You can follow the author on Twitter @Mr_Dolf

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