Premier League 2017/18 Preview – Newcastle United

Newcastle-United

Image: mirror.co.uk

Newcastle were expected to walk the Championship last season, but stuttered on their way to the title, only just edging out Brighton. Credit must go to Rafa Benitez for sticking with the club in the Championship, and if he stays, which is not a certainty at the moment, he will be the reason that Newcastle won’t go down this season. Christian Atsu has made his loan move permanent, and £6.2m could prove a bargain. The Magpies’ strength is out wide, with Atsu joining the hugely influential Matt Richie, who impressed in his previous Premier League season with Bournemouth, and another new signing Jacob Murphy. Murphy was a key player for Norwich last season, netting nine goals and providing six assists. Florian Lejeune has joined from Eibar, and will likely partner Ciaran Clark at centre-back. Javier Manquillo, who spent last season on loan at rivals Sunderland, will also bolster the defence, as Benitez has looked to strengthen the best defence in the Championship last season. It’s been a frustrating summer for Magpies fans, as the club have missed out on a number of transfer targets and owner Mike Ashley appears to have gone back on his promise that boss Rafa Benitez would be given the money to strengthen his squad. Newcastle have the squad to avoid a relegation scrap and push for mid-table, but ultimately where they finish will depend on whether Benitez stays.

Key Player: Matt Ritchie. The Scottish winger has one of the best left foots in the division, and was a key player in the Magpies’ promotion season. He chipped in with 12 goals, making him Newcastle’s second top scorer, and this goal threat will be vital to support Dwight Gayle, who does not guarantee goals in the top division. Almost half of Ritchie’s assists last season were to Gayle, so this partnership could again bear fruit.

One to Watch: Freddie Woodman. The goalkeeping position is a competitive one for Newcastle this season, but Woodman has proved that he has the ability to step up to the plate. Like Jordan Pickford did last season, Woodman has the chance to assert himself as a potential first choice ‘keeper, as the club has no stand-out number one. Despite never playing for Newcastle, Woodman has experience of playing under pressure, winning the 2014 Under-17 European Championship and the 2017 Under-20 World Cup with England, winning the golden glove and saving a penalty in the final of the latter.

Last Season: 1st (Championship)

Predicted Finish: 15th

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Sentimental Chelsea blow title chance?

Deluded Chelsea fans have forced Roman Abramovich in to surrendering the league title and strip apart a successful team. Since Rafa Benitez was named interim boss last year, fans clamoured for the return of ‘the special one’, with this blinding them from what Benitez achieved.

Mourinho is returning to the Bridge after “[his] worst season as a manager”, where a feud with club captain and Real Madrid icon Iker Cassillas blew up in to a full scale players revolt against him. His touchline antics in Spain, such as poking Pep Guardiola in the eye, led to Andreas Iniesta claiming that “he damaged Spanish football”.

Although rows with the likes on John Terry and Frank Lampard seem unlikely, neither is guaranteed first team football, but nor will they be contempt with a place on the bench all season.

Another thing to look out for is the deconstruction of a potential world-beating side. Mourinho has reportedly told David Luiz, who his touted by many as a future Chelsea captain, that he “will be sold if he doesn’t stick to his role”. Then there is the system, a 4-2-3-1, including 2 hard-working wingers who he expects to track back. This system has already seen the demise of Joe Cole and Luca Modric, who’s careers stagnated under Mourinho. The same fate is likely to affect two out of Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar. This would rip apart what was looking one of the most fearsome attacks in the world.

One positive of Mourinho’s return though is that we are likely to see Romelu Lukaku playing regularly for Chelsea. Mourinho likes strikers in the ‘Drogba mould’, and Lukaku is essentially Drogba without the diving or petulance.  Although this has led to rumours that Fernando Torres is on his way out of Stamford Bridge, Demba Ba is surely the more likely option to be up for sale. Ba, although a decent Premier League striker who will score 15-20 goals a season, is not the calibre of player needed to challenge for the League and Champions League. Torres, however, showed with his form in last season’s Europa League that he is on the road to recovering his best form.

Torres’ form, as well as Chelsea’s Europa League win and solid 3rd place in the Premier League was down to the management of Rafa Benitez. Benitez’s squad management got the Blues through 69 games last seasons with relatively few mishaps. Chelsea would be in better stead for a title challenge with Benitez at the helm, but the fans’ sentiment forced him out.