Another weekend of Premier League action is upon us, and one of the standout fixtures comes on Saturday night when defending champions Manchester City host Newcastle.
City are still riding the crest of a wave after winning the Treble last season, and they added another piece of silverware to their ever-growing trophy cabinet on Wednesday by lifting the UEFA Super Cup after beating Sevilla on penalties.
But if there’s one team that can stop them, it may be Newcastle.
Two years ago, Newcastle were a club in crisis and looked destined for relegation. The fans had turned on manager Steve Bruce and were desperate for owner Mike Ashley to leave.
Finally, in October 2021, they got their wish. Ashley sold the club to Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, and Bruce left his position just days later. The club have not looked back since.
Newcastle’s Saudi owners, led by chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan (pictured) have transformed the club’s fortunes
Newcastle can now match the spending power of Man City owner Sheikh Mansour (pictured)
Eddie Howe also deserves immense credit for taking Newcastle back into Europe
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When reflecting on what has changed over the past two years, one obvious factor stands out – money.
Newcastle can now match the spending power of City, and this has helped them significantly in their rise out of the bottom three and back into Europe.
Under their Saudi-backed owners, the Magpies have spent upwards of £350m, bringing in the likes of Aleksandar Isak, Sven Botman and Sandro Tonali.
This has allowed them to dine at the top table again, providing the platform to get back into the Champions League for the first time in two decades.
Yet another factor in Newcastle’s transformation simply cannot be overlooked – the man in the dugout.
Eddie Howe was not the name on everyone’s lips when Newcastle were searching for a replacement for Bruce.
Indeed, he was not the owners’ first-choice, as they initially approached Unai Emery only to be knocked back.
Their scepticism of Howe was understandable given he had been relegated with Bournemouth the previous year. Was he really going to be the man to kickstart a new era at St James’ Park?
It turns out that Howe had spent his 18 months away from the game wisely. The job he did at Bournemouth was a remarkable one, taking them through the divisions all the way to the top flight. But he seemed to lose his spark in his final year on the south coast, and didn’t have enough in the tank to keep the Cherries up.
He needed to rediscover what made him one of the most promising young managers in the country, and decided to take himself away to Spain to study Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid.
Howe took himself away to Spain after losing his job at Bournemouth to study Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid
Newcastle have become a well-oiled machine, playing with high intensity while also using the dark arts to their advantage
Having watched the Spanish giants in action, Howe made a note of the team’s staggering intensity all over the pitch, and their ability to take the sting out of the game at key moments. He has made both of those elements a central part of his philosophy on Tyneside.
Last season, Newcastle swarmed teams with their relentless pressure, winning the ball back high up the pitch and creating chance after chance.
There were also times when they knew momentum was going against them, and decided to slow things down. It annoyed opposition teams and managers, most notably Manchester United’s Erik ten Hag, but Newcastle don’t care. They have made it clear that they are fully focused on winning, not whether they are liked or not.
For all of this to work, Newcastle need all the players singing from the same hymn sheet. This is where Howe’s recruitment has to be acknowledged.
Having been given hundreds of millions to spend, there would have been the temptation to buy superstars straight away. That’s exactly what City did when they were bought by their Abu Dhabi-based owners in 2008, as they signed the likes of Robinho and Emmanuel Adebayor. Neither man stayed at the Etihad for very long.
Howe appears to have learned from that, targeting players with strong characters such as Kieran Trippier and Dan Burn, while adding a sprinkle of magic in the middle of the park in the shape of Bruno Guimaraes, who is also very popular with his team-mates.
Newcastle have recruited smartly, bringing in Bruno Guimaraes (left), Sandro Tonali (centre) and Sven Botman (right)
The club hired highly-rated sporting director Dan Ashworth last year, but Howe has still stuck to his principles and worked with the former Brighton man to bring in players that put the team ahead of themselves.
Howe’s ability to get the best out of underachieving players also cannot be underestimated.
Before he arrived, supporters had almost given up on Joelinton and Miguel Almiron. They are now fans’ favourites and two of the most important players in the squad thanks to Howe’s faith in them.
The combination of improving players and making shrewd signings has meant there are no egos in the dressing room, and given Newcastle the best opportunity to close the gap to the Premier League’s ‘Big Six’ in as little time as possible.
After their 2008 takeover, City needed three years to get into the top four and a further 12 months to win the league.
Newcastle have achieved the former in less than two years, and have ambitions of challenging for the title in the not-too-distant future.
Newcastle still have a way to go to catch Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering City side
But Howe has turned Newcastle into one of the best sides in the league, and they may fancy their chances of shocking City this weekend
They still have a way to go to catch City. How many Newcastle players would get into the current City starting XI? Not many.
This highlights the task Howe still has on his hands, but Newcastle’s opening day thrashing of Aston Villa last weekend suggested they have picked up where they left off last year, and possibly got even better.
It was a major statement of intent, and one that City will have noted. A repeat performance would trouble Pep Guardiola’s men and potentially be enough to beat them.
It has been some turnaround from the dark days of 2021, and Howe deserves as much credit as anybody for getting his side competing with the very best.