Last season’s final Premier League table threw up some interesting statistical quirks as the league essentially split into three separate competitions. Between the high-flying top seven and the relegated dead weights at the bottom, there formed a distinct middle tier with very little to choose between the sides.
Two more wins for seventeenth placed Watford, for example, would have seen them go level on points with Southampton in eighth, who finished just six points ahead of the Hornets. As half of the league found themselves in this extended ‘comfortable middle table’, it seems likely that we will see a similar trend next year.
It is in this nether zone that Newcastle United will most likely find themselves next season, and are rated by SkyBet as the side with the sixth highest chance of going down. This is not bad for a newly promoted club, even one the size of Newcastle, and they can draw heart from their most recent return to the top tier of English football. Their last successful season in the Championship was followed by twelfth and fifth places finishes in the Premier League.
Their first fixture, at home to Tottenham, is a repeat of the Magpies’ most recent game in the league. Another victory over a Spurs side that they astonishingly beat 5-1 in the 2016 fixture would help maintain momentum from last season’s triumph and signal their intentions for their return.
A quick start will be vital as a particularly tough run of fixtures in December could bring a harsh winter for the Magpies. As even the hardiest of Toon fans will be forced to apply clothes to torsos, their team face Everton, Arsenal, West Ham and Manchester City in the space of two weeks.
It is during spells like this that Rafa Benitez’s Premier League experience and extensive CV will be vital, helping his relatively young team to deal with the pace and intensity of the league. Benitez’s is by far the biggest name currently at St. James Park and one which demands both respect and a hefty transfer budget.
Although a potential takeover is still being mooted by Chinese investors, Benitez will not want boardroom negotiations to distract him from improving his squad and Alan Shearer has claimed that his former side will need around £150 million if they are to compete in the Premier League, as he wrote in his column for The Sun.
Already, Benitez has signed Christian Atsu from Chelsea, and appears keen to return to his former club again, attempting to secure young striker Tammy Abraham on a season-long loan, according to BBC Sport.
Added to these exciting attackers are rumours of a move for Pepe Reina – according to the Chronicle – who could be a considerable presence, both around the club and between the sticks. While this remains paper talk, it shows a desire for Newcastle to push on and aim beyond simply surviving in their return to the big leagues.
A club the size of Newcastle cannot be content bumping along the bottom and must fling themselves into the mid-table mixing pot that will likely form again this season. If the league’s middle tier becomes as tight as last season’s was, every single point will be vital, as the Magpies look to hoist themselves back to where they belong.
Correct recruitment under the guidance of a Champions League winning manager could see success return to St James’ sooner than expected.