Why phase three of Eddie Howe’s Newcastle tenure will be the toughest yet

Why phase three of Eddie Howe’s Newcastle tenure will be the toughest yet – PA/Mike Egerton

Eddie Howe has done a magnificent job at Newcastle United, but there is a lot of work to be done as he seeks to maintain the Premier League form which has seen his side become a real threat to the ‘Big Six’.

Newcastle had the element of surprise doing a lot of heavy lifting. On the contrary, despite excellent form to avoid the danger of relegation at the end of last season, they have been seriously underestimated this season.

Now everyone can see them for what they are and know what they bring, which will create a series of new challenges and different obstacles to overcome.

Realistic European hopes add pressure

At the start of the season there was a deliberate refusal to publicly state what the target was, but privately the club hierarchy discussed a top 10 finish and long runs in domestic cups.

Howe more than delivered that. Newcastle are third in the table, 11 points clear of 10th-placed Brentford. They also qualified for the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup. It’s a brilliant start.

However, the concern now is that if Newcastle did not secure at least a Europa League or Europa Conference League spot, it would be considered a failure.

It has been repeatedly pointed out Sports Telegraph that there is no pressure to qualify for the Champions League this season.

In all the different encounters that took place during the World Cup break, there was a sense of perspective. The club are ahead of what they were supposed to be, but don’t let that cloud the judgments.

Howe is under no additional internal pressure, but managing external expectations is a huge challenge.

The opposition know how they play

Newcastle were set up to absorb pressure, contain and counter. This is how they played under Rafael Benitez and Steve Bruce, but also under Howe last season.

Over the summer, he successfully implemented a more forward-footed, high-energy, high-pressure style that transformed the team. But now everyone has seen them play and is going to find out how to undo them.

Newcastle struggled in games as teams gave up and squeezed space for them to play in the opposing half.

Howe has worked hard to break up teams that will sit deep and counter. He knows that his players will have to adapt and avoid repeating the same game patterns.

“I like to think we’re prepared for what’s ahead and what’s ahead of us,” Howe said. “I feel the players are ready to play differently if we need to. I really believe it will be tougher [in the second half of the season] and it will be healthier for players to think so.

Transfer window dilemma

There is a bit of a divide behind the scenes regarding the January transfer window as some, led by Howe and Ashworth, are very keen to add more quality to the squad.

But with over £200million already spent on players since January last year and budgets exceeded in the previous two windows, there are others, led by chief executive Darren Eales, who is in charge to balance the books, which are more conservative.

With no major new sponsorship deals announced, revenue streams are only marginally higher than they were in Ashley’s time and there are concerns about financial fair play rules.

There will certainly be no repeat of the heavy spending of 12 months ago, but it seems unlikely that Newcastle will not bring in at least one of their goals in order to help maintain the forward momentum. .

“I don’t know if we can get the right player,” Howe said. “I don’t know what the transfer window will look like. Improving our starting XI is very difficult, without spending huge sums of money that we don’t have. Improving the squad is maybe another thing, but want do we improve the team or do we want to improve the team?

“We would like another like this [Bruno] – it was transformational for the team and the group. They are hard to find players, but it is up to us to find them.

Bruno Guimaraes has been a key addition for Newcastle - PA/Owen Humphreys

Bruno Guimaraes has been a key addition for Newcastle – PA/Owen Humphreys

Free Isak

The fact that Newcastle are third in the table and have beaten some of their rivals to break into the top six, without his club-record signing, only makes this achievement all the more impressive.

The Sweden international was superb on his debut against Liverpool but struggled afterwards and he hasn’t played since September 17 with a recurring thigh injury.

Howe no longer expects him to return before the New Year, which shows how difficult it has been to get him back to full fitness.

Nevertheless, he will be back in the next few weeks and that could be a huge boost. This will heighten the competition for places in attack and hopefully keep Newcastle’s most mercurial and exciting player, Allan Saint-Maximin, on his toes.

Isak cost £60million and there have been enough flashes of quality in his few appearances to suggest Newcastle are about to unleash a new threat that will make them an even bigger force to be reckoned with.

“Isak was frustrated,” Howe said. “He wanted to make an impact at a new club, but there can also be benefits [to being out for so long].

“Sometimes when you’re away from the spotlight you can get to know your teammates and the club. You can start to feel at home, so when you step back on the pitch you’re more comfortable in your surroundings. We We have to look at the positives and hope he comes back and has a real impact for us.”

Alexander Isak is expected to return in the coming weeks - Reuters/Scott Hepell

Alexander Isak is expected to return in the coming weeks – Reuters/Scott Hepell

Play their strongest team in the Carabao Cup

Newcastle have not won a major domestic trophy since 1955 and that first piece of silverware will be hugely important to the new owners, just as it was to Manchester City when they beat Stoke in the FA Cup final in 2011.

As a result, the League Cup is arguably more important than their high league position.

Howe is well aware of this and will face his strongest team in the quarter-finals at home to Leicester City. For the supporters, cups have always mattered and now they have a manager and a regime that shares that view.

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