NEWCASTLE: Head coach Eddie Howe has admitted he will have to trim his Newcastle United squad this month — and one of his goalkeepers looks to be most at risk.
The Magpies currently have four senior keepers on their books, with summer signing Nick Pope claiming the No. 1 slot from Martin Dubravka for the start of the Premier League season.
Beyond that, former No. 1 Karl Darlow and ex-Motherwell keeper Mark Gillespie are the other two senior players in that position who currently find themselves out of the first-team frame.
While Newcastle named four keepers in their 25-man Premier League squad at the start of last season — Dubravka, Darlow, Gillespie and recently departed Freddie Woodman — due to illness and injury, Howe accepts doing so this season seems an unlikely prospect, especially with the intent to still sign at least two more outfield players before the close of the transfer window on Sept. 1.
When asked whether one will leave, he said: “It’s too early to say. I don’t know. Certainly, I wouldn’t want anyone to leave, but I’m well aware four is a difficult number to carry.
“My wish would be to do that, but obviously I’ve got to think of the players as well. Hopefully we’ll make the right decision.”
While Pope left Burnley to play in the Premier League, no doubt with promises of first-team football ahead of the World Cup this winter, there was still a degree of surprise on Tyneside that fan favorite Dubravka did not retain his spot in Howe’s starting 11.
The head coach said it was no easy decision to pick who started the season between the sticks, with Howe keen to praise Newcastle’s weekend understudy.
“It was a very, very, very difficult decision,” said Howe.
“I’ve got three quality goalkeepers to pick from in Karl, Nick and Martin, who, last season, was excellent.
“Certainly, my decision to pick Nick wasn’t a reflection on him (Dubravka). It was more of a reflection on Nick and how good I think he is.
“I thought he was excellent (against Nottingham Forest on debut), his ability to come for crosses. He commanded his box very well and kicked well, so I was really pleased with him. He didn’t have a lot to do with his hands, which is a good sign.
“There’s competition for places in that position as well, and I think that strength will help us through the season.”
Another big call by Howe was to leave out the Magpies’ big summer signing Sven Botman.
The Netherlands youth international arrived at St. James’ Park this summer following a six-month chase for the player, and it had been widely expected that Botman would slot straight into the side alongside weekend goalscorer Fabian Schar.
But Howe instead opted to field January signing Dan Burn at center-back, rewarding his remarkable end-of-season form with the shirt.
Explaining the decision, Howe said: “They were excellent in the second half of last season, I have to say, together with Jamaal (Lascelles), who more than played his part.
“All three center-backs, for me, were excellent, but we needed more strength in depth, we couldn’t rely on just three this season. Federico Fernandez has had his injury problems, so we felt it was a position we needed to strengthen.
“Sven was a long-term target for us. We were delighted to sign him. But I think this period, however long it is before he gets his opportunity to start, will do him a world of good. He will get to know the league, the speed, and I’ve got no doubts about him as a player.
“He’ll be a top player for this football club, but there’s real competition for places. Dan, Fabian and Jamaal — they’re not going to give up their shirts easily. That’s a battle I love to see. Knowing I’ve got that quality certainly bodes well for the season.”
Meanwhile, Newcastle are set to be without midfielder Jonjo Shelvey for much of the first half of the season after he went under the knife to fix a hamstring problem.
Shelvey limped out of United’s 3-2 friendly loss to Benfica last month and at the weekend traveled to London for an operation to fix the issue.
Howe knows how much of a loss the experienced former Liverpool and England man will be — and it may even color his transfer strategy in the final weeks of the window.
Speaking about Shelvey’s absence following the Magpies’ 2-0 win over Forest at the weekend, Howe said: “We had to work without Jonjo because he’s injured. We work very hard on all principles of our play, so the midfield dynamic without Jonjo is very different.
“Jonjo is such a unique individual and player. He can pass the ball from anywhere on the pitch to almost create a goal in any position that he receives the ball.
“Bruno Guimaraes is very different but still equally effective. He was very good today. He had a difficult job because he had Jesse Lingard to contain, so it was an interesting battle and I thought Bruno did very well.”
Newcastle currently have Guimaraes, Sean Longstaff, Joelinton, Joe Willock and youngsters Elliot Anderson and Matty Longstaff to choose from in midfield but are understood to have asked Chelsea about the availability of Conor Gallagher in recent days.