‘Why this week will make or break Newcastle’s season’

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November 30, 2021
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    Alan Shearer column banner

    There are no ifs or buts about it – Newcastle's season is really all about their next two games, Norwich on Tuesday and then Burnley on Saturday.

    They are both at St James' Park, and they are both must-win matches for Eddie Howe's side.

    Even six points probably won't lift Newcastle out of the Premier League's bottom three because their goal difference is so bad.

    But two wins are imperative because that would at least put them in touch with the teams just above the drop zone, with an extremely tough run of games to follow.

    Newcastle's Premier League fixtures before 1 January
    Home Away
    Norwich (Tue, 30 Nov) Leicester (Sun, 12 Dec)
    Burnley (Sat, 4 Dec) Liverpool (Thu, 16 Dec)
    Man City (Sun, 19 Dec) Everton (Thu, 30 Dec)
    Man Utd (Mon, 27 Dec)

    Otherwise, Newcastle are facing a scenario where they are well adrift come the start of January, which could affect the calibre of players who arrive when the transfer window opens.

    Not many top players will want to commit to a team who, by then, might look a lot like they are going to be relegated.

    I know there is the loan market as well, but I think it is really key that, come January, there is some hope of staying up in order to attract the players Newcastle will need to try to keep the club in the Premier League.

    Snapshot of the bottom of the Premier League: 15th Southampton, 16th Watford, 17th Leeds, 18th Burnley, 19th Norwich & 20th NewcastleNewcastle are only the sixth team to fail to win any of their opening 13 Premier League games. Four of the previous five were relegated, with only Derby County (in 2000-01) surviving

    'The longer the wait goes on, the tougher it gets'

    As I said on Saturday, Eddie will know now that he faces an incredibly tough task to keep Newcastle up.

    There's a reason why Newcastle are bottom of the table and the only team in England's top four divisions without a win – they haven't done anywhere near enough in their first 13 games of the season to be any better off than they are.

    Clearly, that's not Eddie's fault. The club are in this situation because the squad has been neglected for the past four or five years, or even longer – there just hasn't been the investment there should have been.

    Eddie was the right choice to rescue their season because he knows about the Premier League, what it is like to be at the bottom end, and what it takes to survive.

    But he is not a miracle worker, and he has taken charge of a squad that is seriously lacking.

    The longer this wait for a win goes on, the tougher his task becomes – no matter how much money is made available to strengthen the team in January.

    'Any time anyone gets near Newcastle's box, it scares me'

    Not winning games becomes a habit that is difficult to break, no matter who you are playing.

    Newcastle should have taken three points in Howe's first game, against Brentford, but they missed a big chance late on and only drew.

    Then you see them beaten the way they were at Arsenal on Saturday, particularly the way they defended again. Everyone knows about that weakness now and they have got big, big problems.

    They have been really poor at the back all season and it was the same at Emirates Stadium. I know they were playing much better opposition and were away from home, but the fundamentals of defending are still the same and Newcastle are lacking them at the moment.

    Any time anyone gets near their box, it scares me, because they cannot defend.

    They have got a couple of players suspended for the Norwich game – left-back Matt Ritchie and centre-half Jamaal Lascelles both miss out – but the way those two have been playing, I don't necessarily think that is a bad thing.

    In the early stages against Arsenal, there were a few encouraging signs – I thought Newcastle looked organised and competed well, but even then the Gunners created some big chances in the first half.

    Yes, things were better than they had been but it didn't last. If Newcastle are going to dig themselves out of this hole, they can't just play like that for 30 or 35 minutes – it has to be the full 90.

    To put it bluntly, they are going to have to start defending a heck of a lot better than they have been, otherwise their season – and top-flight status – could well be over before they know it.

    What has changed under Howe?

    Graphic showing Newcastle are ranked 20th in the Premier League for goals conceded, expected goals conceded and most shots facedNewcastle are yet to keep a clean sheet this season and have conceded the highest number of goals in the Premier League as well as facing the most shots

    Certainly against Brentford, Newcastle were much more on the front foot. That brought its own problems, however.

    Scoring three goals at home should guarantee you three points, but when you go on the attack a little bit more, you leave the back door open. That's not always a good idea with this team.

    I mean, Newcastle's defence is not good enough with protection so when you take some of it away, you are going to concede more goals.

    One thing that has not been lacking from them, though, is fight. I don't have any complaints about that in either of Howe's games so far.

    But what is evident is that, to win football matches, you cannot give away the sort of goals they have conceded against Brentford or Arsenal.

    Newcastle's fate this season is not going to be decided by what happens when they play the top teams, it will come down to their games against the teams in and around them at the bottom.

    That's Norwich, and Burnley too. So, especially at home, they have to beat them.

    It won't be easy – Dean Smith has made an excellent start as Norwich manager, and Burnley are always tough opposition under Sean Dyche.

    There is a lot of pressure on the Newcastle players but it is up to them to stand up to that, and be brave. It doesn't matter how they do it, and they don't have to play well, but they do have to win.

    The fans, as ever are going to play a huge part in making that happen.

    I found it amazing that Brighton, who are eighth in the league, got booed off on Saturday by a section of their fans after drawing against Leeds.

    A few hours earlier, Newcastle, who are 20th and had been hopeless defensively, got cheered off like crazy as if they had just beaten Arsenal rather than being outplayed by them.

    That tells you everything about the Newcastle supporters, and I know they are enjoying how open and engaged the new regime at the club is, compared with how they were treated previously.

    The fans have not been treated like that for a while, but that side of things has improved enormously already – it is just the results that haven't got any better yet.

    Alan Shearer was speaking to BBC Sport's Chris Bevan.

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