Trevor Steven: Eddie Howe and Newcastle can gatecrash the Premier League’s top six
Pep Guardiola’s reaction to his Manchester City team dropping points on Sunday spoke volumes about the great strides Newcastle United have made.
Far from being upset or concerned by the end of his team’s 100 per cent start to their Premier League title defence, Guardiola instead could only praise the Magpies.
The City boss might not be the last to consider a draw a good result at St James’ Park this season.
What’s interesting about Newcastle’s improvement since their takeover 10 months ago is that, despite having super-rich owners, they have achieved it without spending extraordinary amounts.
They have taken a shrewd approach to transfers, building relative success compared to recent years while also making sure that they invest in the other areas of the club that need it, such as the stadium.
They needed the right man in charge, though, and in Eddie Howe they seem to have him.
Initially seen as an appointment to bridge the gap between battling relegation and being upwardly mobile, he has done more than that in both results and performances and has probably got the team ahead of where many people thought they would be at this stage.
Howe’s first signing as Newcastle manager was Kieran Trippier, a player he knew from their time together at Burnley and who he obviously trusted.
To that cornerstone he has since added other important signings, none more so than goalkeeper Nick Pope, whose performance against City was in the very top bracket.
His physicality means he can face down imposing strikers like City striker Erling Haaland. Pope must now be breathing down the neck of England No1 Jordan Pickford.
Add in Dan Burn, who has been Mr Dependable at the back, Bruno Guimaraes, who has been a terrific signing in midfield, and Callum Wilson in attack and Newcastle have a very good spine.
Those players belong in the top half of the Premier League and, under Howe’s guidance, have made the team competitive.
Newcastle intensity makes them best of the rest
You need more than talent to succeed in the Premier League, however; the hunger to fight and a manager capable of devising a strategy that his players can understand and believe in are also essential.
And that is what Howe has done with a well-organised, high-intensity style of play that has become increasingly common in the top flight and can also be seen at teams like Brighton and Leeds United.
We are used to talking about the Big Six in the Premier League but no one gets in purely on reputation; you have to earn it. And I think Newcastle can definitely gatecrash that group at the expense of one of the regulars.
They look best placed of any team to do so. West Ham United have started badly and seem more likely to be mid-table, Leicester CIty have lost their way a bit and there are no signs of Aston Villa making that leap.
Newcastle have the momentum to do it, but they do need their key players to stay fit as they still have a shallow squad. If they do that, I think they will be hard to beat home and away.
And because they have the wealth of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment fund behind them, they are in the fortunate position of being able to buy players in January if they feel they need to.
I was a boyhood Newcastle fan so I am so pleased for the whole region that the club is moving in the right direction again. Clubs can take a while after a takeover to settle down, but they seem to have found stability quickly and now exciting times lie ahead.
Trevor Steven is a former England footballer who played at two World Cups and two European Championships. @TrevorSteven63.