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Takeover developments suggest troubling times ahead at Newcastle United

Jake Jackman

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Newcastle
Photo: Reuters

Newcastle United are entering into a tense period of their history and the stakes have never been greater. News broke on Tuesday that the takeover talks between Mike Ashley and Amanda Staveley had broken down. Sky Sports were the first to report the story, publishing the following quotes from a source close to the Magpies’ owner:

“It is only right to let the fans know that there is no deal on the table or even under discussion with Amanda Staveley and PCP.”

The source went on to say that the talks had ‘proved to be exhaustive, frustrating and a complete waste of time’. The reaction on social media was predictably a bad one, as many supporters stated that the same description could be used to discuss Mike Ashley’s ownership of the club.

It could be that the story is a cleverly released one by the Newcastle owner’s camp and brinkmanship on his part, but this is the latest of a long string of disappointing events for the club’s supporters. For them, it feels like the Sports Direct tycoon will never release his hold on the club.

A source close to PCP Capital Partners and Amanda Staveley was quick to address the story. Their side of the talks were keen to make it clear that the consortium had made a bid for Newcastle and that remains on the table.

“PCP Capital Partners made a carefully considered bid in November and it remains on the table.”

It is impossible to completely believe any story that has been leaked to the press during these takeover talks, as the media is a tool used to increase pressure on the opposite side. The takeover of Newcastle United was always likely to be a complex business deal that wouldn’t take place over night, despite Ashley’s optimistic Christmas deadline.

It could be that there are more twists and turns to come where the PCP bid is concerned. However, this story has to be taken at face value and supporters should be prepared for the worst-case scenario, which is Ashley remaining at the helm for the foreseeable future.

Why would no takeover be devastating for Newcastle?

Mike Ashley has been owner of the football club for over ten years and the club have been in the Premier League for the majority of those. Why would another few months of his ownership be a bad thing for Newcastle United?

Well, for Newcastle supporters and those that closely follow the club, that is a simple question to answer. Ashley suggested, during his interview with Sky Sports in August, that he was unable to compete with the rest of the Premier League financially and that, concerningly, the club bank was running on empty.

“So people outside of football looking in sometimes think that’s how much you have in the bank, I must make it crystal clear that I am not wealthy enough in football now to compete with the likes of Man City etcetera, not just Man City. It’s basically a wealthy individual taking on the equivalent of a country. I cannot, and will not. “

The namedrop of Manchester City was interesting at the time, as nobody was expecting Mike Ashley to compete with the club funded by oligarchs. However, the sobering fact for Newcastle fans is that their club (£38.07 million) have spent less than both Huddersfield Town (£51.08 million) and Brighton (£42.84 million) since the three clubs were promoted last season.

Against Swansea City at the weekend, the Magpies started the match with eleven of the players that had been at the club last season in the Championship. Mike Ashley has refused to provide the finances required to grow the team to the next level and their precarious position in the Premier League is a reflection of that.

A third relegation in the Ashley tenure is a real possibility without investment this month. As yet, that hasn’t been forthcoming and, judging by his actions during the last 12 months, few supporters are expecting it.

That could lead to further conflict with manager Rafa Benitez. The Newcastle boss has been very public about his desire for more players. The Spaniard is aware of his very powerful position at the club as he is the one person preventing the supporters from directing their anger at Mike Ashley.

If he isn’t given what he wants, he may consider walking away and that is a situation that the owner must avoid.

Benitez is both Ashley’s best asset and biggest threat. The manager has improved the atmosphere around the club and as long as he is in post, the supporters will believe that better times are ahead.

In addition to that, he is a world-class coach and capable of producing better results with an average squad. Newcastle are currently out of the relegation zone and considering the talent at his disposal, that is a huge achievement. However, if he was to leave his post, a crisis would quickly follow and it would be difficult to see the club maintaining their Premier League status.

The next few weeks and months promise to be crucial in determining the future of Newcastle United. There is nothing wrong with Mike Ashley walking away from talks with PCP and Amanda Staveley. If the deal wasn’t right and little progress was being made, his decision is understandable.

However, as the current owner of the club, it would be unforgivable not to invest before the transfer deadline. The squad isn’t good enough and needs an injection of quality. If that isn’t given, Benitez’s future would be cast into fresh doubt.

Jake is a student based in the South East. He is a Newcastle fan and has a keen interest in Dutch football. Jake can be found on Twitter here - @jakejackmann.

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Newcastle United

Mohamed Diame becoming a fan favourite in Newcastle United’s Premier League turn around

Mohamed Diame has changed his fortunes at Newcastle United in recent weeks becoming a key player in the Magpies Premier League survival bid, writes Jake Jackman.

Jake Jackman

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Diame
Photo: Reuters

It has gone under the radar and received little publicity in the national press, but the turnaround of Mohamed Diame’s season has been sensational to watch.

The Senegalese international has been a regular for Newcastle United since their return to the Premier League and is often picked ahead of Mikel Merino and Jonjo Shelvey, both of whom are well liked by supporters.

That cannot be said of Diame, at least until very recently.

During the team’s nine-match losing run towards the end of 2017, the midfielder was a regular starter and was a main target for the fans’ anger.

Against Everton, he was booed off the pitch after being substituted and at that time, it became difficult to see a future for him in the team.

He was offering little and his languid running style made him appear lazy.

This was a player that had once been very good in the top-flight, but two seasons in the second tier had taken its toll.

The judgement was that he was no longer good enough to compete in the Premier League.

Despite arriving as an established Premier League player, Diame had struggled to make a good impression on the Newcastle supporters during his first season with the club.

It had been anticipated that he would stand out as one of the best players in the Championship and dominate matches from midfield.

However, he was in and out of the team, ultimately failing to become a regular fixture in the starting eleven.

The year prior to joining Newcastle, he had helped Hull City to promotion and his experience was a key reason why he was targeted by Rafa Benitez.

During the 2015/16 season, he contributed ten goals and four assists as the Tigers went straight back up to the top-flight.

It was a goal from range in the play-off final from the midfielder that clinched promotion and it was regarded a coup that the Magpies managed to sign him the following summer.

Diame clearly thought the long-term future at St James’ Park was brighter than the one on Humberside and nearly two years’ on, that has been confirmed.

Newcastle are now back in the Premier League, while Hull are fighting against relegation in the Championship.

Although he had to give up on a year of Premier League football, the Senegalese international is now benefiting from the decision.

It was thought that Diame would provide drive to the midfield and be able to contribute goals and assists.

During the Championship-winning season, the midfielder got only three goals and three assists.

He was predominantly played as a number ten with attacking license, so his poor return in the final third was somewhat a surprise, especially coming off the back of a great campaign in the same division.

There were some calls from supporters to sell the midfielder during the summer and if Benitez had been given a larger budget to spend, it may have led to the departure of Diame.

Due to his lack of impact in the Championship, there were doubts as to whether he could offer much at all in the Premier League.

Although his contributions on the ball weren’t great, the 30-year-old is a hard-working player and that goes a long way with his manager.

The Magpies’ boss knew that the former Hull City player was someone that he could rely on and that was a reason why he was kept for the current campaign.

Since the beginning of this season, Diame has featured prominently, but it was not until recently that he was a regular in the first eleven.

He has played 20 times for Newcastle in the Premier League and 12 of those appearances have come as a starter.

The midfielder made his first league start of the season against Burnley in October and this marked the start of an atrocious run for the Magpies.

They went on to take only one point from a possible 27 and Diame played in six of those matches, including starting against Watford and Everton.

These were regarded as two of the worst performance of the season and the 30-year-old was scapegoated as a result of coming into the team at the wrong time.

He will be the first to admit that he wasn’t at his best, but he wasn’t the only player at fault.

When he was substituted in the match against Everton, he was booed off by his own supporters and it became difficult to see a way back for him at St James’ Park.

However, his manager never lost faith in him and he was given the start against West Ham United days before Christmas.

Newcastle desperately needed a win, but few supporters expected one.

Diame was excellent at the London Stadium as he completed five ball recoveries and scored the second Magpies’ goal with a lovely finish.

That performance kickstarted the midfielder’s season and he has started seven of the eight Premier League matches since.

He has become one of the first names on Benitez’s team-sheet and few would have expected that after the Everton game.

During this spell, he has scored twice and consistently performed to a high level.

In the most recent match against Manchester United, Diame dominated the midfield area alongside Jonjo Shelvey.

The former made six ball recoveries, while his midfield partner made the same number.

However, the 30-year-old was as effective on the ball as he was off it, as shown by his three key passes during the match.

That was more than any other player on the pitch.

The resurgence of Diame at Newcastle has been mind-blowing and one of the key reasons for the turnaround has been Benitez moving him back into central midfield.

For the first 12-months of his Magpies’ career, he was played in a number ten role and the game often passed him by.

Now, he is in the thick of the action and thriving with the increased responsibility.

If he is able to continue his good form and help Newcastle retain their Premier League status, he will become a favourite on the terraces.

That seemed impossible two months ago.

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English Premier League

Newcastle United 1-0 Manchester United: Three talking points from St James’ Park

Jake Jackman

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Newcastle

Newcastle United delivered one of their best performances of the season as they overcame Manchester United in a hard-fought victory. Due to Huddersfield Town’s win earlier in the day, the Magpies started the match in the relegation zone and only three points would see them climb out of the bottom three. That is exactly what they got as they ran themselves into the ground to beat a more talented top-six team. This was the club’s first win at St James’ Park since October and it came at a crucial time. Here are three talking points from the game:

Martin Dubravka shone on his debut

Although Newcastle didn’t do a great deal of business during the January transfer window, they did make three loan signings and one of them was the star of the show on Sunday. Martin Dubravka came in for his Magpies’ debut as he replaced Karl Darlow in goal and it would have been easy to be daunted by the occasion, but the Slovakian international took it in his stride. He was near faultless, as he made a number of crucial saves and marshalled his box effectively.

Benitez has wanted a new goalkeeper since he took over at the club, but last summer’s signing Matz Sels didn’t adjust to English football and that left the manager with the problem that he inherited. Karl Darlow and Rob Elliot have shared the duties of being number one, but neither have stood out as being Premier League quality.

The addition of Dubravka supplied instant benefits, as he was quick to claim crosses and had an excellent control of his area. In the first-half, he made a crucial stop to deny Anthony Martial. With just minutes left, he made an incredible reaction save to make sure Newcastle kept hold of the clean sheet. It was a debut to remember and on this evidence, the Slovakian will be the number one at St James’ Park for the rest of the campaign.

Manchester United lacked options to change the game

There were some strange decisions made by Jose Mourinho as he tried to change the game in his side’s favour in the second half. He brought on Michael Carrick and Juan Mata for Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard. This change arguably made them more predictable in attack, as the two players coming on had less pace and dynamism. The third change saw youngster Scott McTominay come on for Nemanja Matic. It was a tough ask for the inexperienced midfielder to get Manchester United back in to the game.

Although the changes arguably made the team worse, there were few options available to Mourinho, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ander Herrera and Marcus Rashford were all missing from the squad. Marcos Rojo and Luke Shaw were on the bench, but neither are attacking players and that is what Manchester United needed.

Paul Pogba looked jaded and lacking fitness for the entire ninety minutes, but he was forced to start due to the lack of other options on Sunday. It is no excuse, but the inability to change the game did leave Mourinho short, especially after falling behind.

Newcastle won the midfield battle

As alluded to above, Paul Poba didn’t look fully fit and Newcastle United took full advantage of that as they won the midfield battle. Mohamed Diame was a figure of frustration for the first-half of the season, but he has improved significantly in recent weeks. He and Jonjo Shelvey were both superb, as they fought hard and distributed the ball well when they had the opportunity to. Between them, they made 13 ball recoveries and five key passes. They fully committed to the cause and played a vital role in the team’s victory.

The renaissance of Diame has been incredible to watch as he is now performing to the level that Rafa Benitez would have expected when he was signed last summer. However, the improvement of Shelvey could prove to be even more important in the long run. The midfielder has been difficult to manage at times due to his ability to lose his head on the pitch. On Sunday, he was a professional and remained focused, which was a mental victory for him.

The Magpies manager and the supporters will be hoping he can continue to perform to this level. If he can, the former Swansea City midfielder can be the player that everybody knows he can become.

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Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace 1-1 Newcastle United: Three talking points from Selhurst Park

Jake Jackman

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Newcastle

Crystal Palace and Newcastle United played out a draw at Selhurst Park, but that didn’t do much to ease the relegation fears of both clubs. The home side have now lost only two of their last 15 Premier League matches, which underlines their improvement under Roy Hodgson. Meanwhile, Rafa Benitez will be encouraged by his side’s recent form, as they have lost just two of their last eight matches in the league, both of which came against Manchester City. Although neither set of supporters will be delighted by the result, the match showed that both sides are difficult to beat and that is a positive. Here are three talking points from the match:

Wilfried Zaha has found the consistency to match his talent

The winger has been fantastic to watch this season and there are few better in the Premier League at running with the ball. At times, it looks impossible to dispossess him as he weaves past six or seven challenges to create a chance for his team. Zaha completed three dribbles and made three key passes, which made him one of the most effective players in the final third on Sunday. He came close to scoring at one point, but his effort curled over the bar.

It was evident that Zaha was the player that the Newcastle defence feared and he consistently caused them problems down Palace’s right-hand side. Hodgson has got the best out of him in the final third, but his defensive work rate has been equally as impressive. He completed one tackle and one interception during the match. At the beginning of the second half, he burst a lung getting back to prevent a promising opening for Newcastle by intercepting a ball into Ayoze Perez. Under past managers, the 25-year-old wouldn’t have done that. The appointment of Hodgson may be looked back on as an important moment in the development of the Ivory Coast international.

Kenedy looks to be a great signing for Newcastle

This Newcastle United team has a lot of work rate and the players fight for the shirt, but they have looked short on quality up to this point. Rafa Benitez was vocal during the summer as he continually stated he needed more players, but he never once criticised those already at the club. It was important in January that they added some quality and Kenedy looks to be a great addition. He played his part in the first goal with another dangerous corner delivery.

Every time that he gets the ball, he looks dangerous and during his time on the pitch, he completed two dribbles and finished the game with an 86% pass success rate. That shows his quality and he is a player that Newcastle can look to for inspiration. His end product needs work, as he missed a good chance in the first half and dallied on the ball just after the break when he should have played in Ayoze Perez for a one-on-one chance. If he can continue to impress and improve in the final third, he could play a vital part in keeping the club in the top-flight.

The relegation fight will go down to the wire

It is becoming a common theme that matches such as these are becoming must not lose, rather than must win. Both managers appeared relatively pleased with a point after the match, but either side could have won it. Newcastle were excellent for the first half, but they chose to move to a more defensive style after the break. If they continued to commit bodies forward and pressed Palace high up the pitch when the score was 1-0, they would have had a great chance to increase their lead.

However, Palace’s recent run of form shows they are difficult to beat and that showed on Sunday. That said, they could have been more positive once they had the equaliser. They had new signing Alexander Sørloth on the bench, but they didn’t bring him on. He would have added another physical presence in the final third and could have caused chaos next to Christian Benteke. There are only seven points separating the bottom ten clubs and it is shaping up to be the most exciting relegation battles in recent seasons. Both of these teams will be hoping to climb clear over the coming weeks, but this point did little to stabilise their position.

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