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Five reasons to be optimistic following Newcastle United’s start to the season

Jake Jackman

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Newcastle

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.

Gallowgate Flags

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.

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.

Leicester City

West Ham and Leicester should pounce for Stoke’s Xherdan Shaqiri

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Photo: Getty Images.

One player certain to be on the move this summer is Stoke City midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri, who will put an end to an unhappy spell at the bet365 Stadium, but could still stay in the Premier League to West Ham or Leicester.

Sky Bet offer odds as low as 1/10 that Shaqiri will depart this summer, with West Ham the leading Premier League club in the betting at 8/1 and Leicester City not far behind at 10/1.

That’s not to say that a stay in England is certain, particularly given that the two Milan clubs are favourites with Inter at 6/1 and AC Milan at 13/2, with Lyon also in the running at 8/1 level with the Hammers.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

The winger has not hidden his disappointment with the team’s struggles this season and the Potters now face an uphill battle if they are to avoid relegation from the top flight.

The Swiss international will not entertain the idea of playing second tier football after a decorated career has previously seen him play for the likes of Bayern Munich and Inter Milan.

Having failed to live up to expectations since Mark Hughes brought him to England in 2015, he may be keen to make the move abroad, but with finances likely to be more attractive to remain in the Premier League he may not rule out such a move.

Leicester could be forced to sign a replacement for Riyahd Mahrez whilst West Ham will also be looking for options out wide when Joao Mario’s loan spell comes to an end.

His pace, power and strength could catch the eye of both sides but they will have their work cut out to convince him to remain in England this summer.

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Everton

Liverpool fans will love who are favourites to sign Mario Balotelli

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Mario Balotelli
Photo: Getty Images.

Mario Balotelli is not a man who conjures up fond memories for Liverpool fans, but that could all be about to change if the betting is accurate in forecasting where he could move if he leaves OGC Nice this summer with one Premier League side leading the race to bring him back to England.

Whilst Serie A sides are the frontrunners in the betting to sign Mario Balotelli, there are also several English clubs in the mix, based on odds offered by Sky Bet. Favourites are the side that Liverpool fans would both find hilarious and dread in equal measure: Everton.

Odds on the controversial Italian moving to Goodison Park this summer are as low as 8/1, whilst West Ham are also in the running at 12/1.

(Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

The centre forward picked up more yellow cards, seven, than goals, four, during his time on Merseyside but has scored 39 goals in 61 games for his new club in France and insists he’s a new, mature man.

Italy still seems his most likely destination with Napoli and Juventus leading the odds, but a move to Everton would give Balotelli the chance to either redeem himself with Liverpool fans by failing as much as he did at Anfield, or rebuild his reputation in the country where he made his name with Manchester City.

The Toffees are desperate to add firepower up-front, but having been so disappointed by their business last summer it is hard to see how taking a gamble on a player as volatile as Balotelli would be a wise move.

That said, they know that the quality is clearly there within the player and may have the same hope as Brendan Rodgers did when he signed Balotelli for Liverpool, that they can bring him in cheap, get the best out of him and sell him on for a profit.

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Manchester United

Has Romelu Lukaku enjoyed a successful debut season at Manchester United?

The Belgian international has 27 goals in all competitions this season.

Martyn Cooke

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Romelu Lukaku
Photo: Getty Images

Expectations at Old Trafford have always been high.

Over the previous three decades, Manchester United have become one of the most successful club teams in Europe with Sir Alex Ferguson creating an era of dominance that brought success and trophies on a previously unprecedented scale.

His successors may not have been able to directly replicate his achievements, both David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal won just won FA Cup between them, but the raised bar that he set remains in place.

Expectations of individual players are also high, especially if you happen to be a striker.

Wayne Rooney, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Robin Van Persie, Eric Cantona, Andy Cole and Teddy Sheringham are just a small selection of prestigious names that have shouldered the goal scoring responsibility at Old Trafford.

So, it would be fair to say that Romelu Lukaku has some rather large historical boots to fill.

The Belgian striker arrived at Old Trafford in the summer for an initial fee of £75 million after prolific spells with Everton and West Bromwich Albion.

He was brought in by Jose Mourinho to be the focal point of the Manchester United attack and to placate some of the goal scoring issues that the Portuguese coach had experience in his debut season with the club.

(Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

A big-name striker, following in the footsteps of club legends, at a club that demands success – expectations were certainly high.

So, how do we rate Lukaku’s first season with Manchester United?

On Wednesday evening the Belgian climbed off the bench at the Vitality Stadium to score the goal that secured three points against Bournemouth. It was the 24-year-old’s 16th Premier League strike of the season and the 27th goal that he has netted in all competitions so far this campaign.

In basic terms, this season has been the most successful and prolific in front of goal in Lukaku’s career.

Mourinho has been using the Belgian as a lone striker and the focal point of Manchester United’s attack in a campaign in which the club has struggled to maintain pace with their cross-city rivals.

Lukaku has demonstrated that he possesses the pace, power and strength to become one of the leading strikers in world football and when he is fit, confident and on form the 24-year-old is as good as anyone else in the business.

However, despite his considerable goal return Lukaku has not been without his critics in his debut season at Old Trafford.

It has been suggested that the Belgian is a fast-track bully, a big-name that only scores against the so-called ‘smaller’ clubs and fails to produce when it really matters.

Critics point to the limited impact that he has had in matches against Manchester United’s direct rivals – he has scored only once against a top six-team this season.

Some supporters have also become increasingly frustrated that Mourinho’s reliance on Lukaku has seen game time restricted for players such as Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.

(Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)

The duo started the game against Bournemouth in mid-week and flourished in the Belgian’s absence, offering a more mobile, pacey form of attack that has often been missing this season.

Finally, it is noticeable that Lukaku has been lagging behind somewhat in the Premier League goal scoring charts this campaign. He is currently the sixth leading scorer in the league and has found the back of the net 14 times fewer than Mohamed Salah and 10 times less than Harry Kane.

However, when analysing the 24-year-old’s performances this season it is also worth remembering the pragmatic style of play that Mourinho has utilised.

The Portuguese coach is renowned for his defensive approach against other top-six teams whilst even against so-called ‘lesser’ clubs Manchester United have struggled to produce an aesthetically pleasing style of play.

The fact that Lukaku is on track to score 30 goals this season given the general approach of his manager should be applauded, not derided.

The Belgian has undoubtedly been a success in his debut season at Old Trafford but there is certainly room for improvement next year. However, Lukaku is still only 24 and he still has an abundance of time to grow, improve and develop his game whilst the peak years of his career are still ahead of him.

Manchester United supporters will be hoping that his significant goal return this season is just the start and that Lukaku will be able to build on the relative success of his debut campaign and push his game onto the next level next year.

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