Newcastle: Luke Edwards drops Champions League prediction as Wembley looms
The Telegraph’s Luke Edwards believes Newcastle United could finish in the top four this season – but their upcoming trip to Wembley may provide an untimely distraction.
The Lowdown: Hard to beat
Eddie Howe’s side have been a tough nut to crack this season, they’ve lost only one game in the Premier League.
Having said that, they have hit something of a blip in form by the standards they have set recently. The Magpies have only won two of their last six league matches, with the rest being draws.
Newcastle are still in a good position to secure Champions League football as they’re a point ahead of Tottenham Hotspur with a game in hand, but they face a first trip to Wembley since 1999 later this month, and Edwards feels this is already playing on the back of the players’ minds amid their 1-1 draw against West Ham United this past weekend.
The Latest: Not good enough for UCL
When speaking on Sunday Supplement, Edwards claimed that Newcastle won’t have a strong enough squad to compete in the Champions League, but feels they have enough to make it into Europe despite half of the campaign still remaining.
He stated: “I’ve always thought they’re massively overachieving this season. I think we constantly need to remind people of that.
“They weren’t targeting a top-four finish. Not in their wildest dreams were Newcastle going for the Champions League in August – they were targeting a top-10 finish.
“I think now, they’ll be definitely after the top six, but top four, I think will be a huge leap. And actually, I’m not sure they’re ready for the Champions League.
“I don’t think they’ve got the squad depth there. You have to have a pool of 15, 16 players at least to be able to compete in Europe’s top competition.
“So I think if they stay injury-free – and they have done for a large extent over the course of the first half of the season – they could still snatch that top-four place.
“But I think we saw against West Ham, they’ve got the distraction of the Carabao Cup final, and with the best will in the world, the supporters, the players, the staff – they’ve all got that on the back of their mind.
“It’s all very well saying ‘focus on the next game’, but it’s very, very difficult when you’re in your first cup final for 24 years, and you have a chance of ending the trophy drought that stretches back to 1969.”
The Verdict: Don’t count them out
We believe that it would be foolish to rule Newcastle out of a spot in the Premier League’s top four.
Howe’s side hasn’t looked like rolling over to any Premier League side following their last-gasp defeat at Anfield back in August, so it’s difficult to back against them at this moment in time.
However, strength in depth does look like an issue, and this was certainly highlighted in their 2-1 defeat in the FA Cup against Sheffield Wednesday, where they fielded a number of fringe players – and safe to say, it didn’t work out against League One opposition.
Should the Magpies achieve Champions League football for next season, our view is that that club will know they need to strengthen in numbers and will do so in the summer.
Based on their recent recruitment since taking charge, the Public Investment Fund has got it right nearly every single time they’ve signed someone.
Some examples include summer arrival Nick Pope, who has been hailed as ‘the best goalkeeper in the world’ by Bruno Guimaraes due to his fantastic record at St James’ Park.
Another is Kieran Trippier, who has had a phenomenal campaign and played a part in all of Newcastle’s clean sheets in the league this season.