There were a lot of doubts surrounding Newcastle United at the start of the new season, but they have adapted to the Premier League in an impressive manner. The Magpies have taken ten points from their opening seven matches, which has them positioned in the top-half during the second international break of the season. Here are five reasons why supporters should be optimistic following the start of the season:
Rafa Benitez remains with the club
The Newcastle manager is the key individual for the future success of the club. There were tensions with the board during the summer, which increased speculation regarding his long-term future in the North East. The club failed to back him sufficiently and let a couple of key targets (Willy Cabellero and Tammy Abraham) join other clubs, despite Benitez doing a lot of groundwork to secure their signatures.
However, the former Liverpool and Real Madrid manager remains at the helm for the time being. In recent weeks, the speculation has faded away and the Spaniard looks a lot happier when he talks to the press. Although his long-term future isn’t guaranteed, the signs are a lot more positive than they were at the end of the transfer window. He is proving that he can get the current squad to compete in the Premier League. If he stays and he is backed in the market, Newcastle could become a force in this division once again.
Takeover rumours getting louder
Mike Ashley isn’t the most popular figure with Newcastle United fans and while he remains as the club’s owner, there is a limit to what the club can achieve. It is thought Rafa Benitez would be unlikely to stay for the long-term if the club remains under the current ownership. At the beginning of the season, he admitted to Sky Sports that he would be open to selling the club and recent developments suggest there is substance to the speculation.
The Mirror reported last week that the club had signed non-disclosure agreements with potential investors. Meanwhile, the Telegraph report that Amanda Staveley has met club officials and opened lines of communication for further talks over a takeover. The financier, with strong links in the Middle East, was at the Liverpool game at the weekend, which fuelled more speculation about a sale. This is certainly a story to follow.
Mikel Merino looks to be a great signing
It was a low-key summer for Newcastle and the club were widely criticised for that by the media. There was a general agreement that the club lacked quality and would struggle to stay in the Premier League as a result, but the start of the season suggests that won’t be the case. One signing to make a real impression is Mikel Merino, who is currently on loan from Borussia Dortmund.
The midfielder has been a revelation in the middle of the park and offered a calming presence in possession, as he takes his time to select the right pass. His reading of the game and decision-making are superb for a player of 21 years of age. Merino is currently averaging 3.35 successful tackles and 2.34 interceptions per ninety minutes, marking him as one of the best ball-winners of the season so far.
Jamaal Lascelles continuing his development
The club captain started the season out of the first-team and it was difficult to see him working his way back in anytime soon. However, an injury to new signing Florian Lejeune gave an opportunity to the Englishman and he hasn’t looked back since. He has already scored two winning goals and has been assured in his defensive work as well. The 23-year-old continues to develop under Rafa Benitez, but his leadership ability allows him to stand out as a huge talent.
Stan Collymore made a comparison to Steven Gerrard in his recent Mirror column and suggested that England scouts should be watching the centre-back with an eye on the World Cup. This is high praise indeed and underlines the positive impression that he has already made since Newcastle’s return to the top-flight.
The atmosphere at St James’ Park hasn’t been as good as it once was during recent seasons. A major reason for that was the under-performance of the team and the stagnation of the club. It was difficult to feel excited about being a Newcastle supporter and the apathy seeped into the stands. Since the arrival of Rafa Benitez, there has been a steady improvement in the atmosphere and that culminated at the weekend’s draw with Liverpool.
Before the game, there was an excellent display by Gallowgate Flags, who have been the supporter’s group behind the improvement in the atmosphere. Benitez features prominently on the flags and it is obvious that the Spaniard has united a fan-base and caused them to fall in love with their club again. It is a positive time to be a Newcastle fan. If the manager stays for the long-term and the takeover talk develops into something concrete, the potential of this huge football club could finally be fulfilled.