NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe refuses to be drawn on whether Newcastle United plans to dip into the transfer market come January.
The Qatar World Cup, which kicks off on Nov. 20, slap bang in the middle of the Premier League season, looks set to punctuate what has been an incredible start to the top-flight campaign for the Magpies.
Sitting comfortably in the top-six mix after 13 games, in fourth spot with 24 points from a possible 39, things could barely have gone much better for United.
Despite a net spend of more than $200million so far during the two transfer windows since the majority takeover of the club by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, Howe has been credited with squeezing the absolute maximum performance out of what is largely the same core group of players who struggled with relegation trouble during the early part of last season.
Six of United’s 10 outfielders who took to the pitch in the 4-0 hammering of Aston Villa last weekend were at St James’ Park prior to the buyout last October. However, the impressive start to the season has not silenced speculation about possible new signings when the trading window opens after the World Cup.
While Howe is understood, as might be expected, to be keeping one eye on options for the window, he is in no mood to reveal his plans to anyone outside of the club.
“I’m not trying to dodge your question but I will because we haven’t had discussions on January yet,” he said when asked whether he would be actively looking for new signings at the turn of the year.
“We haven’t had internal discussions in terms of finances and how we look in the market. That’ll be a question for another day.
“At the moment, our focus is on the three games (that remain before the World Cup break). During the break, we’ll look to January to see what our options are.”
Already this season is shaping up to be a tale of expectations exceeded by United. Some might have expected that a place in the top 10, maybe even the top eight, would be a realistic target during the first full season under PIF ownership, but only the most optimistic could have imagined that a top-four finish might be possible. Yet things continue to develop apace on Tyneside.
“I don’t know, it depends on who is setting those expectations,” Howe said. “For me, I’ve always said we plan to win. That’s our expectation, so if we don’t do that we fall below what we want to do.
“I’ve just been very pleased with the consistency of our training and performances. All I ask is we continue that to the best of our ability.
“I try to stay very detached from the emotion because I don’t think that helps me in my preparation and trying to get the team focused on the next challenge. All I want to do is to try and get the team performing at the highest level it can with the potential inside the squad and not really focus too much on results or targets, just try and drive the team in the way I think is best.”
As Newcastle prepare for a visit to Southampton on Sunday, Callum Wilson is expected to start the game at Saint Mary’s having come through an illness.
“I think he’s OK; he’s had a little cold. It’s funny how everything gets around, especially when you’re doing a podcast, but fingers crossed he’ll be OK,” said Howe, referring to Wilson’s appearance on a BBC podcast earlier in the week.
“New (injury) problems? No. I think we’ve had, as we always do, a few bumps and bruises but nothing too bad.
“We’ve come through with Allan (Saint-Maximin) OK after his little cameo. Jonjo (Shelvey) is OK after his little cameo, too, so the strength of the group is slowly returning.
“We have Emil (Krafth), Alex (Isak) and Matt Ritchie still out but, apart from that, I think we’re in a good place.”
One player who will definitely not be making the trip to the south coast of England this weekend is Joelinton. The Brazilian picked up his fifth booking of the season during the victory over Villa and therefore picked up a one-game suspension.
“I think Joe’s been fantastic again this season,” said Howe. “He’s been a model of consistency. Really pleased to see him score last week. I felt he needed that for himself and he was very pleased to get that goal.
“But again, I asked him to play in a slightly different position and he did it selflessly for the team. As always with Joe, I think he’s got that steadiness and work ethic and determination that the team needs. When we are playing at our best, he epitomizes that.”