When they were relegated over a year ago, Newcastle United, as a club, were almost as optimistic as they had been for a long while.
After a few years of stagnation during Alan Pardew’s final years at the club, and after a steady decline after that, there was an understandable appetite for change. Rafael Benitez – who started the season as Real Madrid manager – provided it, but whether that change was to take place in the Premier League or the Championship didn’t really matter in some ways. What mattered was that things would be different.
The step backwards to the second tier was seen as a chance to get a running jump, and after a couple of blips along the way last year, it worked. Newcastle were promoted as winners the big time beckoned.
Perhaps the optimism came from the fact that the club seemed to have a plan. For the first time in years, there seemed to have been the right kind of thought put into player recruitment and strategy. Georginio Wijnaldum and Moussa Sissoko were sold, but for hefty price tags, allowing the club to spend quite a bit of money overhauling their relegated squad.
They may have been one of the most expensively assembled squads in second tier history, but people forget the sales which freed up the money to sign the likes of Dwight Gayle and Matt Ritchie.
They’d put together a squad with the aim of conquering the Championship, though. Not the Premier League. Players who knew the league and whom they knew could perform in it were signed. But the narrative of an ambitious Newcastle filled with optimism and splashing the cash is perhaps a factor in why they now look so overly unprepared for the start of the new Premier League season.
Like a student who’s forgotten about today’s exam, Newcastle look oddly unprepared for life back in the top flight. With Dwight Gayle leading the line, the Magpies have looked pitifully toothless up front whilst their organisation at the back will only take them so far over the course of the season.
In the first game, at home to Tottenham, clearly the red card to Jonjo Shelvey changed the game somewhat. Spurs were superior on the ball up until that point, but they hadn’t created much at all. That all changed with the sending-off, but it’s not to say that Spurs wouldn’t have squeezed out a winner before the final whistle.
The second game saw Newcastle create some decent chances, but the performance level was nowhere near good enough for a side who should really be looking to take points off a side like Huddersfield if they’re to have an acceptable season.
All of this is to say that, whilst Newcastle did everything right last year by carving out a Championship squad, they didn’t then go out and do the same thing a year later to give themselves a Premier League squad, and perhaps the most obvious is the fact that they’re still relying on Dwight Gayle up front, a man who scored 15 Premier League goals in three seasons at Crystal Palace.
And even though Joselu has been added to the squad, either as a Gayle replacement or another striker to add a bit of competition, it’s hardly the most inspiring of signings. Much like the rest of the additions this window.
It’s not even about the signings the missed out on, like Tammy Abraham and Willy Caballero, who would have been underwhelming, too. Abraham isn’t a proven Premier League goalscorer and Newcastle have four goalkeepers already.
Time will tell if Newcastle have done enough this summer with their squad renovations. It’s entirely possible that Joselu proves critics wrong and becomes a potent Premier League goalscorer, or that Matt Ritchie reaches another level of performance thanks to the Benitez factor and a lift from the St James’ Park crowd. But these things look unlikely from this vantage point.
Two games into the new season is no time for knee-jerk reactions, but Newcastle don’t seem to have gone about the summer in the clever way they did last year, and the first two games do nothing to dispel the worry that a poor transfer window brings.