NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe believes it is his task to ensure Newcastle United catch every team in the Premier League, not just weekend opponents Arsenal.
The Magpies’ faithful are dreaming of the Champions League — they have done for 20 years — and Howe is just seven points away from guaranteeing the club’s return to Europe’s premier competition. It could, of course, be less, depending on results elsewhere.
Despite the Gunners’ remarkable season, they sit just one place and 13 points ahead of Newcastle, having played a game more.
Newcastle are just 14 points off the Premier League summit and Manchester City. Time will run out for United, who have just five games left this campaign, but there’s always next season.
The ease with which Howe has turned the Magpies from potential relegation fodder to top-of-the-table challengers in less than 18 months is nothing short of miraculous. He understands, though, it is his job to do that, such is expectation at the football club since the majority buyout by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia.
“The aim is to try and catch and overtake everybody. It is easier said than done, though,” Howe said.
“We have to have that mindset — wherever and whatever we achieve we are not happy and content with that and we want more. It is the only way for the players to think, otherwise as soon as you reach what you feel your summit is, the only way is down.”
That mindset, and some clever coaching and transfer dealings, has accelerated what felt like a three-year plan to get back into the Champions League. Howe admits the team’s rise has even taken him by surprise.
When asked whether he even considered Champions League football before his side had kicked a ball this season, the head coach said: “No, I didn’t think that way. It was an incredibly busy summer to try and get the best players we could into the squad. I felt we did that to our best ability and then pre-season was an amazing thing. We had a brilliant pre-season, we really enjoyed it, looking back that probably laid the foundation or our success this year.”
Howe, though, is definitely not counting his metaphorical chickens just yet, insisting the job of reaching the top four is far from done.
“Nothing is done, and I didn’t expect it to be done,” he said.
“We’re competing against elite teams who will fight to the end, and we have to do the same.
“Our five games, we need to give our best preparation and focus to because the fight we’re in could go right down to the end of the season.
“Newcastle has shown previously in their history that they’d be a brilliant part of that competition but it’s up to us to get there.”
This time last year, the Magpies put the final nail in the coffin of Arsenal’s hopes of themselves returning to the top four. As well as boosting their own chances, Newcastle could also deal a near-fatal blow to the Gunners’ hopes of a first-league title in almost two decades.
Reflecting back on that memorable 2-0 win, on May 16, 2022, Howe said: “I think it’s a different game. We’ve come a long way in that period of time and Arsenal have, so you’ll see two teams that have improved since that point.
“In terms of overall performance, I thought it was our best performance to that point. I thought we were really strong in our off-the-ball performance and very good, also, on the ball, and we were creative against a very good team. Since then, we’ve eclipsed that this season, in terms of how we’ve played in certain games, but probably looking at this game knowing we’re going to have to replicate our best performance to win again.”
Howe is likely to recall Allan Saint-Maximin to the United bench, with Sean Longstaff also in with a shout of making a return.
“Sean is OK, he’s improved,” Howe said.
“Allan has trained yesterday. It was great to see him back on the grass, he trained very well too. Really pleased with that.”