LONDON: Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe has for the first time hinted the Magpies’s squad is not equipped to fight on three fronts.
The Magpies were hammered in North London by Ange Postecoglou’s men, as Richarlison’s double and goals from Heung-Min Son and Destiny Udogie ensured Newcastle slipped further away from the Champions League places in the Premier League. It was also their second three-goal beating in four days, having lost at Everton on Thursday.
So with Premier League top four hopes faltering, attention turns to the Champions League on Wednesday, when a win against last season’s semifinalists, AC Milan, will ensure European football remains on Tyneside, either in the last 16 of the competition, or in the Europa League, depending on the result in the Borussia Dortmund v Paris Saint-Germain encounter.
Newcastle also have the prospect of a Carabao Cup quarter final in a week and a half, with Chelsea (a) waiting in the wings.
Assessing his side’s performance, and looking at possible reasons for the last week’s disappointments, Howe has for the first time hinted his squad, after a host of injuries, is not capable of performing three times a week, as has been the case since September.
“We had our moments but we gave everything without the resources to give more,” said Howe. “It is difficult because we play on Wednesday, this is what we wanted. We hoped to have the squad to cope with that but we’ve had worse injuries than any team that I can remember.
“You have to critique like you would normally; we weren’t in rhythm around the box and lacked conviction. We didn’t defend the goals well enough. The moments were there, we had chances. There is always more, you can push yourself even when you’re tired.
“It was a difficult afternoon. The players have done so well to keep going behind a very congested period of games with some very hard fixtures for us.
“When you go back to Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Bournemouth they’re all difficult fixtures and then Everton and Tottenham away in a very short period of time. We haven’t been at our best, it’s there for everybody to see. The players are giving everything they could give so I have to back them and support them but acknowledge that our performances are not where they could be.
“You want to make changes that benefit the team. Not make changes that don’t benefit the team so I’m trying to make those decisions and get them right. I’ve been backed into a very difficult position with the team selection and even in game decisions. Today it would have been easy to say: ‘You’ve got Callum and Sean, put them on the pitch.” But they’re not 100 percent fit so I’ve got to be very careful with them. Thankfully they came through and I thought their performances were really good in the game and that is a big positive in the game.”
While injuries have bitten hard, with the absence of fringe men felt as much as key performers, given Howe has been unable to allow his starters to rest, there is hope from the treatment room.
Callum Wilson and Sean Longstaff both came off the bench against Spurs and it is hoped Sven Botman and summer signing Harvey Barnes are not too far behind.
“We have light at the end of the tunnel,” Howe added.
“Callum (Wilson) and (Sean) Longstaff are two huge players for us. We have to be positive, take the pain and come fighting.
“(Longstaff and Wilson) will be better for today. That was a good 30 minutes for them but we’ll have to take it game by game.”
One player who Howe will have to learn to live without, for game at least, is Kieran Trippier, who picked up his fifth booking of the campaign. He will be unavailable for next week’s visit of Fulham, but will be able to play against Milan.
“It’s a huge blow for us, Kieran is a standard for us really to get a level of consistent performance. We’ll miss his quality,” said Howe.
Two home games in a week comes on the back of an away day double header. The form on home turf compared to their travels is stark. The Magpies have lost just once at St. James’, while they’ve won just once on the road. Howe knows it’s something that needs to change if Newcastle are to challenge the top four, like they did so successfully last season.
On poor away form, Howe said: “I can’t argue with that assessment. It’s up to us to find answers to that. I can’t defend it, so I won’t.”