Newcastle United have managed to extricate themselves from the quagmire that is the Championship after just one season in the doldrums. But now they face a new challenge — the multi-billion-dollar industry that is the English Premier League. The Toon will have to cope with a different set of obstacles in the top flight, and before the summer begins in earnest, it’s time to take a look at the competition and what Newcastle will be up against in a few month’s time.
Reigning Champions — Chelsea — The Blues have manhandled the League this term and they hoard an absolute glut of top-level talent. Player of the Season N’golo Kante powers the Chelsea juggernaut through indefatigable will and (to some) surprising deftness on the ball. Combine his abilities to win possesion with the attacking renaissance of Eden Hazard, Diego Costa, and Cesc Fabregas and the West Londoners have reestablished themselves as a national force.
Next season, Chelsea will have the added obligation of playing Champions’ League football regularly and the heavy mantle of defending champs ’round their neck, so they might not be as ostensibly dominant as they appear to be now. Even though Newcastle have held serve against the Blues in recent seasons (at least on Tyneside) this Chelsea beast is of a different manner altogether.
Bogey Teams — Arsenal, Man City, Everton, Southampton — I don’t expect to get anything from these games. Newcastle did finally manage a point against Man City and Southampton last time around, but Arsenal in particular are the uncrackable nut in the pack. Newcastle haven’t even drawn with the Gunners since 2011. Would be really great if a few of these teams could just go away for ever. Like how Sunderland did.
Three Points, for sure — Spurs, Man United — Though Tottenham will have vacated Three-Point Lane by the time next season starts, (they’ll be taking up residence at Wemble-three, thanks, internet) the Magpies utterly own Spurs. I don’t know how or why, but we’ve really got the handle of this eminently talented team. Plus, Jose Mourinho has never won a league game in Newcastle, so we can chalk up a win against his new red charges.
Crunch Games — Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, Stoke City, Watford, West Ham — These games — though categorically unglamorous — could tell the tale of Newcastle’s next season. NUFC must get a decent point-haul off these squads if they have any aspirations of avoiding a relegation dogfight.
A few teams I’m pretty sure are going to be worse than Newcastle — Swansea, Burnley, Brighton, the other promoted team –I’m not particularly bullish at the moment about Newcastle’s roster compared to the rest of the top-flight, so the list of teams I think are worse than the Toon — today at least — is pretty short. A Gylfi Sigurdsson-less Swansea would likely look pretty feckless, though should the Icelander bolt from Wales.
Burnley have done magnificently to claw their way to safety this season, but it’s been entirely due to their home form. The Clarets only won their first three points away from Turf Moor a few weeks ago, and if Burnley are again so reliant on home form again next year they could find themselves in dire straits. Meanwhile, Brighton will need to augment their attack significantly in the offseason; the strike force of Anthony Knockaert, Glenn Murray, and Sam Baldock (though potent in the Championship) won’t strike fear into the hearts of any Premier League defenses. As it is, and it pains me to write this, they have the distinct mien of Middlesbrough about them. Finally, the last promoted team from the Championship will probably be worse than the Toon. Especially if either Huddersfield or Reading come up. Should Sheffield Wednesday win the Play-off Final, they could yet trouble Newcastle.
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