Five reasons why Newcastle United will finish in top-four this season

The Hard Tackle gives five reasons why high-flyers Newcastle United can finish in the coveted top-four spots and secure Champions League football for next season.

With the Premier League season reaching its business end, the race for the top four has intensified. This is because four teams are fighting for one spot in the top four. And Newcastle United might be in contention to finish in the coveted positions.

Title contenders Arsenal and Manchester City are almost certain to finish inside the top four, but competition for the remaining two places in Europe’s premier competition is expected to be fierce.

Unless there is an extraordinary collapse, Erik ten Hag’s Manchester United looks set to qualify for the Champions League and remain in third. The EFL Cup winners are three points ahead of a resurgent Newcastle United in fifth and have two games in hand on Tottenham in fourth.

The main concern for Manchester United fans is their commitment to other competitions. They have advanced to the Europa League quarter-finals, where they will face Sevilla in a two-leg encounter, and to the FA Cup semi-final, where they will face Brighton. Still, their run-in isn’t too frightening, having already played Arsenal, Manchester City, and Liverpool twice, and they remain the third favourites to clinch a Champions League spot.

This leaves Liverpool, Newcastle United, Tottenham, and Brighton all battling it out for a single berth in next season’s Champions League.

Back-to-back victories over relegation candidates Wolves and Nottingham Forest have placed Eddie Howe’s Newcastle back in contention after a difficult period that coincided with their Carabao Cup final defeat, but it’s fair to say the Magpies have severely loosened their grip on a spot in the top four since the turn of the year.

Football is a simple game made complicated by advanced stats these days, and the reasoning for Newcastle’s downfall is straightforward: they haven’t scored enough goals and have surrendered too many.

While they are still creating well enough, their finishing quality at the top end has frequently let them down. They have scored the second-fewest goals of any side in the league since the start of 2023—seven goals in nine games—which has played a significant role in their downturn in form.

On the other hand, a team that conceded a miserly 13 goals in the first 22 games of the league campaign has leaked six in the last four games since and started to look uncharacteristically sloppy at the back and vulnerable from set-pieces.

To put a further dent in their top-four aspirations, top scorer Miguel Almiron, who has scored 11 goals of their total of 39 in the league this season, is set to be out for the next six weeks after suffering a thigh injury in training.

Based on the above facts and figures, we suggest that Newcastle United have the best chance to secure a place in the Premier League’s top four. This may seem absurd at first, but The Hard Tackle are about to change your point of view on the chase for Champions League spots. Five reasons as to why we believe so are as follows:

Nothing to lose

As the only club without preseason expectations of a top-four finish, Newcastle United really have nothing to lose in the upcoming run of games, which could really work in their favour. It’s a free hit.

Following on from the takeover last year, the Toon have invested heavily in their playing squad, making up for years of underinvestment under the previous regime. Even if stranger things have happened in football, the Toon Army knows they’re unlikely to be sitting at towering heights by the conclusion of the season.

The owners have stressed the importance of patience and a steady restoration if they are to operate within Financial Fair Play constraints and compete for the Premier League crown in the long run. Qualification for a European tournament would help in that pursuit, as would more prize money.

Newcastle remain so ludicrously ahead of even the most optimistic schedule for their post-takeover journey that any criticism at all still feels undeserving. A Europa League finish and their first major cup final appearance in over 22 years would still be deemed major progress in such a short span of time.

From player redemptions to the local Geordie boys firing the side into their first final since 1999, the Toon supporters have been experiencing a magical season for the most part.

They were in the relegation zone when Eddie Howe took over the reins. After guiding the club to an 11th-place finish last season, Howe was backed with a new deal in the summer and with fresh reinforcements to continue what he had started. His team has exceeded expectations to become a genuine top-four contender.

This was meant to be a transition season for Newcastle, and, it’s easy to forget, they only picked up after a slow start. Hopes have been raised after their exceptional unbeaten run prior to the World Cup, that is what it could be.

Howe is a young, talented manager with a strong core of players at his disposal, and he is creating something exciting for Newcastle supporters. However, if he takes the club back to Europe for the first time in more than a decade, that would be the icing on the cake in what has been a remarkable season.

Vast Determination & Unbelievable team spirit

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While Newcastle United’s head coach refuses to talk about qualifying for Europe or add pressure by saying what his goals are this season, Howe is making sure his players don’t enjoy United’s current position too much and remain voracious to achieve the top four.

Howe admitted that Newcastle’s Carabao Cup final defeat left his players with an air of disappointment. They looked to have taken their eyes off the ball on the back of a winless run in the league up to the final.

Manchester City away just days after losing at Wembley wasn’t the best place to get back to winning ways. They did lose to the Sky Blues 2-0, but it felt different as they didn’t fold straightaway, albeit the mainstream media had them ruled out for the top four by then.

They performed admirably and were certainly the superior team throughout the game, creating more chances, but wasting opportunities cost them the game.

Then arrived a must-win game against Wolves. The performance was uneven and nervy. Pope has been considered lucky not to be sent off, and the mix-up between Trippier and Pope gifted the opposition an equaliser.

Not so long ago, Steve Bruce’s formerly fragile side would have capitulated and failed to get the result over the line. But they refused to lay down the weapons and grind out the three points. It felt like the black-and-white discussion became more optimistic, as without a win they might have started feeling the heat and looking over our shoulders at how well Brighton and Brentford are performing this season and closing in on them.

However, all optimism went out of the window when Forest took the lead in the very next fixture, despite Newcastle dominating most parts of the game. On paper, Forest on the road posed a tough challenge. Cooper’s team is strong at home, and the City Ground can be hostile for visitors. They hadn’t lost at home in the last eight games since early in the season, and they’re in a relegation battle, so there’s that fire in the belly to stay afloat.

There is a special quality about Howe’s team, though. Whilst they had been disappointed too many times, they could’ve easily slunk, but the spirit in the side meant they kept going right up until the whistle, and as a consequence, they got the equaliser from Isak just at the stroke of half-time. That gave everyone a fantastic lift and the belief that we could go on to win the game.

They took another blow as Geordie wonderkid Elliot Anderson’s wonderful-headed goal was ruled out due to the ridiculous nature of VAR and the referee. That was only one of the myriad instances of bad officiating Howe’s men have seen going against them this season.

The evident unfairness of the decision would have had a severe influence on less emotionally rugged sides than this one, who would have gone hiding into their protective cocoons and blamed poor refereeing for the result, feeling sorry for themselves. But not this one. They once again bounced back with Isak snatching the late winner from the spot, which followed a sigh of relief amongst the fanbase.

The result was a major statement that Newcastle aren’t going anywhere from this top-four scrap. See, Howe took a mere ticking-over squad under the previous ownership, spurning ambition, and turned it into a force to be reckoned with. His players are raising expectations and living up to them, accelerating that process by themselves.

Howe has done it through coaching, commitment, and emotional intelligence. Joelinton and Fabian Schar are players unrecognisable from before; Miguel Almiron has been revitalised, as have Sean Longstaff and Joe Willock. The likes of Anderson and Jacob Murphy have seen tremendous progress in their game.

In the process, he has assembled a band of brothers with incredible chemistry, a selfless attitude to fight for one another, and celebrating a warrior-like winning mindset, which will prove key in achieving their aims come the end of the season.

The dressing room team photos after wins resemble their unrelenting unity and commitment to the mission of bringing joy and smiles back on the faces of Geordie supporters that have been neglected and ignored for far too long.

It is no accident that the relationship between the players and supporters is at its best. And, as the phrase goes, “the one who wants more gets it,” and we feel that will be the case with this squad.

When they get going, Newcastle United are unstoppable

Head coach Howe has a well-documented desire to play on the front foot and aggressive football, full of industry and positive intent. The brand of football is fuelled by a breathless pressing game coupled with a lightning-quick counter-attacking threat. Their style paid off handsomely in the first half of the season.

However, that approach is energy-sapping, and tired legs and fatigued brains, combined with unfortunate injuries and suspensions, have hampered the necessary chemistry between the attacking and midfield units in recent weeks.

Newcastle United in their pomp Howe-ball are exciting, relentless, unstoppable, and tend to go on long, unbeaten runs. More so when they are fresh and recharged from warm weather training camps in the middle east.

They usually do well when they get back from their Middle East trips. Just a year ago, Howe’s troops returned from the Middle East and registered six wins out of nine in the top flight. Prior to that, they used the trip to Jeddah last season as a launchpad for Premier League survival.

And, looking at the response from Newcastle following their Christmas stay in Riyadh this season, the findings were once again obvious. Newcastle won against Leicester to go into second place before going on a seven-game undefeated streak in the Premier League and reaching the cup final.

This time around, Howe’s side knows that a similarly strong end to the season could push them to a Champions League berth. Newcastle fans, players, and staff alike will all be hopeful that the squad can return from the international break in top condition to generate some positive momentum in the final run-in of this season.

The ‘cartel’ crisis and the St. James’ Park Theory

It’s fair to say Eddie Howe’s men are already proving to be a thorn in the side of the English top flight’s traditional big six and are beginning to look like a shoo-in for one of those lucrative top four places in the coming years.

The most terrifying thing for the Premier League big six is that the financial powerhouse that is now behind Newcastle United hasn’t even really begun to ramp up. And yet, the Tynesiders are competing with them and have been in the top six for most of the current season.

Even when you boast all the right tools in your ranks that enable you to go all the way in the top-four race, your mission becomes significantly easier when your opponents aren’t enjoying their best periods or transitional phases. This season, some of the traditional ‘cartel’ superpowers have thus far failed to display the types of performances befitting their status.

Tottenham and Chelsea are lost in a sea of troubles, despite the former currently occupying fourth place, while Liverpool, who almost achieved a quadruple last season, have dropped more points than expected and rarely look convincing, even when collecting routine wins.

Antonio Conte’s strange, full-frontal attack on Tottenham’s owners and players for being “Spursy” has pushed the self-explosion button and led to an unhappy end to the Italian’s tenure in North London. There is open talk in the media about Conte’s replacement, but assistant bosses Ryan Mason and Cristian Stellini could well be on the interim charge until the end of the season.

Despite their rich spending, experience, and pedigree, Chelsea and Liverpool, who usually occupy these places, look unconvincing and have endured a hugely underwhelming campaign so far. The duo have failed to mount anything resembling a top-four challenge.

These two plus Spurs should theoretically possess the quality and options to go on an extended run of wins, but their form and results have opened the door for the Magpies.

Things don’t always work in an outside candidate’s favour like this every year, so this is a fabulous opportunity for Newcastle to catapult themselves into Europe’s elite competition. It could have transformational ramifications for this latest version of Newcastle United.

So with the usual suspects looking shaky, the Champions League places are up for the taking, as Newcastle have a golden opportunity to bring an end to their lengthy dominance in the English football landscape. Even when Newcastle lacked the personnel to compete with big teams last season, they always had an unmatched hunger fueled by an extremely passionate city that has been longing for any kind of success.

Thankfully for the Magpies, their fiery fanbase remains the most consistent factor in a toxic environment, and the club’s lack of ambition in recent years has seemingly made players and fans alike even more determined.

Newcastle supporters were bitterly disappointed with the football gods after their League Cup final defeat, which left them with a typical empty feeling. Self-congratulations about the fervour and dedication of their unrivalled support meant little as an opportunity for silverware slipped the club by.

They have recovered well, however, and perhaps have an even greater prize presenting itself, namely qualification for the Champions League or, failing that, the Europa League place.

Instead of growing anxious and fading out when Wolves equalised to make it 1-1 at St. James Park, the player chants boosted as though the fans were tired of their luck; they will not give up this time and will push this team until the final whistle.

Although as per Opta, Newcastle have the fifth-toughest run of fixtures, with reverse fixtures against Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester United, Brighton, and Brentford pencilled in the final phase of the season, it doesn’t take home advantage into account, and four of the aforementioned five teams will have to face the wrath of Newcastle’s fortress.

There’s a reason Newcastle have lost a single home game all season long. Expect a full-capacity (52,000+) crowd to roar them on at every home match between now and the end of the season.

Make no mistake, the Magpies will be seeking revenge against a Casemiro-less Manchester United for the EFL Cup loss in their first fixture back from the break. Wembley was Wembley, St. James Park is St. James Park; it makes a world of difference. The fans will know what the stakes are and will be fresh and pumped up after watching utter dross over the international break.

A win there would lift the Black and Whites up to third, having played the same number of games as the Red Devils, putting themselves in a prime position to gain a place in Europe’s most prestigious club competition.

Note: Brighton, Brentford, and Fulham are all having brilliant seasons, but their lack of squad depth will surely prevent them from an unlikely top-four finish.

Alexander (Isak) the Great

Despite his recent exploits, Toon fans have only seen flashes of the Sweden striker’s ability. Isak has had a frustrating start to life at Newcastle United, with only 15 appearances for the club, eight of which have come as a starter.

A lengthy thigh injury earlier in the season, just weeks after his eye-catching debut at Anfield, teased Newcastle fans, but Isak is now back to his explosive best and is firing on all cylinders.

And there’s a feeling he’s coming good just at the right time, with the Newcastle attack looking stale, profligate, and at times lifeless lately. With match-winning displays against Wolverhampton Wanderers and Nottingham Forest, the 23-year-old has established himself as the Magpies’ main man up front.

The goals have really dried up for Callum Wilson and Miguel Almiron, the duo that fired Newcastle to a brilliant first half of the season. Wilson, who is now struggling with one goal in 15 games, must settle for a place on the bench.

In addition, opponents have seemed to have worked out the threat posed by Newcastle’s right-side triangles between Trippier, Guimaraes, and Almiron, who was going through a dry patch himself prior to his injury.

Instead, other teams have begun to exploit the space behind marauding full-back Kieran Trippier on one side and attack Dan Burn, a central defender playing at left-back. Guimaraes has found time and space at a premium. The No. 8’s Longstaff, Joelinton, and Willock are misfiring as well.

Therefore, it has been vital that Isak started hitting the back of the net. And his all-action displays have shown that he offers this team a different dimension. His rich vein of form has breathed new life into the Toon’s Champions League push.

With seven goals from 17 appearances for Eddie Howe’s side across the 2022/23 campaign, Alexander Isak sits behind Haaland in the goals-per-minute stats with one goal every 105 minutes for Eddie Howe‘s side.

Newcastle fans are starting to see the real Isak, and it’s clear that he is going to be an absolute superstar. Joe Willock has compared him to Arsenal star Thierry Henry, which is enormous praise. The Frenchman is regarded as one of the finest Premier League players of all time.

Isak has similar attributes to Henry. A goal poacher, fantastic dribbler who holds the ball up well and has the ability to carry the ball and create a shooting opportunity for himself. He’s also got a good striking technique, nice finishing off both feet. The volley against Forest was a lovely finish where he controlled the ball behind him.

His goals are propelling Newcastle back into the race for the Champions League, and the frightening fact is that Isak is only 23, which means he’s still likely to get better and grow stronger and bulkier with time on the English shores.

There were many eyebrows raised when Newcastle smashed their transfer record to sign Isak back in August off the back of an underperforming season, but the £58 million man is already having a huge impact at St James’ Park, justifying why Newcastle owners break the bank to bring the generational Swede to the Tyneside.

He could be the next big-time striker that Newcastle United have been long-craving for. A black-and-white hero for a fanbase that loves idolising their strikers. The Sweden international has scored decisive goals and has a big role to play between now and the end of the season.

Can Newcastle seal one of the Champions League places? Well, they have been one of the division’s in-form teams since the takeover and, if they do achieve the target, it would be nothing more than what this group of players deserves. They are looking likely to be there or thereabouts come May. But only time will tell if they can keep up with the competition as the final phase of the season begins to unravel.

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