Newcastle United – the world’s ultimate soap opera football club. We would have been silly to expect that to change in the 2018/19 Premier League season – in true Geordie fashion, the magpies threw up some of the biggest story lines of the season. With Rafael Benitez’s future on the lips of every Newcastle fan across the world, the Spaniard has been linked with just about every job that has come available in football.
As well as the future of the boss, takeover talk was rife once more – this time with Peter Kenyon playing the role of the proverbial knight in shining armour. He came to save the Toon from the clutches of the tyrannous Cockney – but due to a lack of funds and a ridiculously high price, the takeover fizzled out just the way Amanda Staveley’s did twelve months earlier.
Story of the season
The club finished 13th in the Premier League, three places lower than they did the previous year, despite picking up one point more. After a drab start to the season, Newcastle failed to register a single win until Watford visited St James’ Park in early November. The poor start to the campaign saw them sat bottom of the league in mid-October, but the win was all they needed to push on.
In fact, if it were possible to erase the first two months of the season and have the season start on November 1st, Newcastle would currently be preparing for Europa League football next season. As it is, another season of Premier League football will have to suffice.
One of the most remarkable things of the Magpies’ campaign was the striking similarities to the one before. Right down to all but securing their Premier League status at Leicester’s King Power Stadium with a few games to go, the similarities were just… frankly creepy.
After 31 games last season (2017/18), here’s how Newcastle statistics looked:
P 31, W 9, D 8, L 14, GF 31, GA 40, GD -9, Points 35
This is where they stood after the same amount of games this season:
P 31, W 9, D 8, L 14, GF 31, GA 40, GD -9, Points 35
I don’t know about you, but that creeps me the hell out – how weird is that? In the end, the stats at the end of the two seasons are quite similar, but not as mad as they were at the 31 game mark.
Either way, Newcastle survived comfortably in the end and will play Premier League football again next season. There’s just the small matter of who will be manager. Rafa’s contract talk meeting began today (May 16th) – by this time tomorrow, we should have a definitive answer on whether or not he will lead the magpies into the 2019/20 season.
Player of the season
In rather un-Newcastle like fashion, there were more than a few candidates for this accolade this season. Between the unbelievable performances of breakout star, Sean Longstaff, the emergence of Isaac Hayden as Mister Reliable, the stalwart like defensive performances of Fabian Schar to the irresistible attacking trio of Ayoze Perez, Salomon Rondon and late arrival, Miguel Almiron – Newcastle fans were spoiled for choice.
In the end, the winner was star striker and West Bromwich Albion loanee, Salomon Rondon. The Venezuelan centre-forward chipped in with 11 goals and 7 assists this season – proving absolutely pivotal to everything the magpies did in attack. In fact, had it not been for his direct goal involvements this season, Newcastle would have taken Cardiff City’s place in the final relegation spot.
Despite all of that, there is still discussion about whether or not Newcastle will trigger his £16.5million release clause – mostly on account of the fact he turns 30 in September. Normally, Newcastle’s transfer policy dictates that they only sign players from whom they could potentially make a profit, i.e a 24-year-old who they can sign for a few million and then sell for quadruple that four seasons later. For a lower level Premier League team, that policy makes total sense – but not signing your player of the season on a permanent deal is just insanity.
As previously mentioned, Rondon’s goals kept Newcastle in the league this season – thus earning the club over £100m in television money once more. Despite the fact his age proved to be no issue at all when it came to scoring goals this season, the club don’t seem to be willing to spend a small portion of that money on bringing him back to St James’ Park.
It’s a deal they simply have to make. If Newcastle want to another like Rondon, they either pay his £16million release clause, or they pay upwards of £30million on a player of a similar calibre, or worse, who happens to be a few years younger – no brainer, right?
Game of the Season
Unlike the player of the season, this one wasn’t even close. In January, a mere few days away from the end of the transfer window – Newcastle still hadn’t made a big name signing, Manchester City came to town. The Citizens have had Newcastle’s number for years and years, even before the oil money came pouring in.
The Mags had failed to beat City in the league since 2006, with the only win in thirteen years coming in the league cup in 2014. In the early going, it didn’t look like that was going to change anytime soon as Aguero put the visitors in front after just 25 seconds.
After a half of domination, half-time came and City looked to be cruising toward yet another victory. However, in the second half, Newcastle didn’t even contemplate lying down and taking it. After having barely touched the ball all game, Salomon Rondon got a chance in the box and boy, oh boy did he take it. Lashing the ball past Ederson to make it 1-1 with 25 minutes left to play.
At this point, everyone in the stadium, and probably around the world assumed Newcastle would play for the draw. It certainly looked that way too as City prodded and probed the Newcastle defence, unable to find a way through. Then, in the 78th minute, the unthinkable happened.
Sean Longstaff picked up the ball in a very dangerous area and broke into the box before being taken out by Fernandinho, winning his side a penalty. Matt Ritchie stepped up and absolutely clattered it past Ederson before running to the corner flag and clattering that too.
After a nervy last 15 minutes or so, Newcastle managed to hang on and win the day. Finally, after 13 years of pain against City, the Magpies had pulled one over on the Sky Blues – and in doing so, handed Liverpool a massive chance to take back the initiative in the Premier League title race. Unfortunately for them, they drew 1-1 with Leicester 24 hours later, failing to capitalise on City’s backwards step.
City didn’t drop points again after that for the rest of the season and thus, won the league. Newcastle were the only team to take points off City in the Premier League in 2019 – what a result.
On to the summer
The summer approaches and the transfer window has already opened. Before any of that, Newcastle need to secure the services of their manager for next season. As mentioned earlier, talks got underway today and we will likely get an answer either way within the next two days.
If he’s staying, focus can move on to transfers. If not, then all their energy needs to be on finding a suitable replacement – hey, former Sir Bobby Robson protege Jose Mourinho is out of work, maybe he can be persuaded ;).
Overall Season Grade
After a poor start and plenty of drama to endure off the pitch, the managers and the player did a damn good job to make sure they finished mid-table this season. It wasn’t always thrilling to watch but they just about got the job done.
My overall season grade for Newcastle United is a B+.