There is rarely a dull moment at Newcastle currently, but are Magpies fans hopeful of a shock win at Liverpool this week?
Next up is Thursday night’s visit of bottom-placed Newcastle, with Eddie Howe getting off to a slow start as manager.
Despite a big-money takeover lifting the spirits at St James’ Park, there is a huge amount of work to do in order to stave off the threat of relegation.
With the match approaching, we got in touch with Newcastle fan and writer Dave Black (@cm9798) to hear about the Magpies’ woes, Liverpool’s brilliance and more.
How do you assess Newcastle’s start to the season?
One win in 15 is definitely relegation form and it’s hard to see us picking up many more wins in 2021 with the fixture list we have.
Having said that, we’re finally rid of Mike Ashley and the Sports Direct era is over, so in a strange way, supporting the club has not felt this good for a long time.
Eddie Howe has got a big job on his hands and he wants to play in the right way – I’m not overly sure we have the players for it, certainly not the defence anyway.
What are your thoughts on the takeover, both as a fan and morally?
As a football fan, it’s impossible not to be excited.
I think if you said to most fans ‘do you want to become the richest club in the world?’ the answer would be ‘yes’.
I think I’ve said it before, but getting rid of Ashley was the main thing and it’s just a huge bonus that they’ve got basically unlimited funds.
Even in the few months they’ve been here they’ve started to mend what was a pretty broken club off the field, so from that perspective, it’s all brilliant.
Outside of the football bubble there’s a lot of questions to answer, though.
For all the claims that the Premier League were happy with the separation between PIF and the state, I’m really not sure how that is the case and that of course opens up the human rights issues.
I’d love to say that bringing it into this domain will mean more awareness and the chance for things to change, but I think that is probably quite naive, unfortunately.
I think fans have generally taken the stance that they are here for the football and not the geopolitics – I don’t think they are issues your standard football fan wants to be involved in.
There aren’t that many £350 million investors out there and the relief is that the club will try and compete again, even if it takes a while to get there.
Do you think relegation will be avoided after a busy January?
I’m just not sure we’re going to be able to get the right players in.
At the moment, we’re only three points adrift, but I can’t see us winning any of our next three, so how far adrift will we be by January?
The side is lacking a central midfielder who can dominate a game and a centre-back at the very least.
So we’re going to be playing catch-up and confidence is pretty low – I’m at about an eight on the relegation-o-meter, if that’s a thing.
A lot of the rumour mill has been about attacking players like Jesse Lingard, who can be a brilliant player as we saw at West Ham, but it’s not really addressing our main deficiencies.
Who have been Newcastle’s three most important players this season?
Callum Wilson is our most vital player as he’s the only reliable source of goals.
His general centre-forward play has been excellent too but he is generally feeding off scraps a lot of the time.
No surprises that next up is Allan Saint-Maximin, who has dropped off a little bit in recent times but single-handedly carried the team for a few weeks towards the end of the Bruce era.
He gets fans off their seats and commits players all over the pitch, but his end product has just been lacking recently.
Finally, and I never thought I’d say this, but Joelinton has emerged as a key player.
The bad days of him lumbering around as a lone striker seem to be gone now and he’s been playing in midfield, working extremely hard off the ball and demonstrating some of the qualities we didn’t get the chance to see previously.
He’s still not really a goal threat, but he’s been an important part of what Howe is trying to do.
Have any individuals struggled?
How long have you got? The defenders have all had a torrid time.
Captain Jamaal Lascelles has been poor, and to be fair, so have most of his partners. Fabian Schar, Ciaran Clark, Emil Krafth…take your pick, they’ve all had poor games.
Federico Fernandez is out of favour, but did come on against Norwich following Clark’s early red card. There’s been a clamour for him to start but something has clearly happened with him behind the scenes.
Martin Dubravka is finally back to fitness – Freddie Woodman and Karl Darlow have deputised but both have made costly mistakes.
In short, if you play in defence for us, you’re not having a good season.
Turning our attention to Liverpool, how are you assessing their title chances?
It’s quite exciting as a neutral as it feels like a proper three-horse race.
My worry for you is that you probably have the least depth of the three, even if you do play the best style of football and would be my choice if I had to pick a winner.
If Divock Origi or another squad player can just step up for a few weeks and get you through their absence, it will be huge.
It felt like Chelsea might start to run away with it a few weeks ago but they’ve hit a rocky patch of late – with so many games in December it really is a crucial time of the season.
Apart from Salah, which Reds player would you most like to see at Newcastle?
Given our current situation, I’d have to say Virgil van Dijk, though to be fair I’d have every single one of your players!
It was clear to see the difference in Liverpool without him last season and it’s no coincidence that things have gone back to ‘normal’ very quickly since he regained fitness.
He is hopefully due a rest on Thursday, but I doubt it!
Where do you see the key battles taking place on Thursday?
We’re so disorganised I really worry about our left channel – whether it’s Jamal Lewis or Matt Ritchie I’m not sure how they’re going to cope with Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold down that side.
Under previous managers, we have tried to play for 0-0 in most of these big games but Howe doesn’t seem to really want to do that, which I applaud in some ways.
But then you’ll get situations like the Leicester match where we get picked off chasing the game.
I think you’ve got to be brave and leave Saint-Maximin high up the field and give your full-backs something to fret about, then hopefully we can nick something.
Finally, what’s your prediction?
I would bet on: A lot-0!
We’re all over the place defensively and I couldn’t think of a fixture I’d less like to play right now.
I did see some suggestions that Salah or Mane might be due a rest, which would be tremendously helpful, but unless you’re going to rest another five or six, I can’t see any result other than a home win.
By the time the reverse fixture comes around, I will hopefully be in a more positive frame of mind.