It was yet another injury that saw a surprising name added to Newcastle’s starting eleven against Chelsea on Saturday. Eddie Howe’s side has endured a growing carousel of unavailable players through the opening third of this year’s Premier League season.
With important players unavailable from defense to midfield to the front three, Newcastle’s team sheet has seen a healthy (ironically) mix of the entire squad. This past weekend proved to be no different.
A surprise performance
After Joe Willock picked up a knock in training just before Saturday’s match against Chelsea, Howe was presented with his latest opportunity to alter his starting eleven. Up steps 17-year-old Lewis Miley for his Premier League debut at St. James Park.
Miley appeared to be playing an advanced role alongside a midfield comprised of Joelinton and Bruno Guimarães, and it wasn’t long until he made his impact on the match. In the 13th minute, the ball fell to Miley after Anthony Gordon fired a pass into Joelinton. The English debutant collected the ball, briefly surveyed his surroundings, and pinned a ball to the feet of Alexander Isak who, naturally, finished the move off by putting the ball in the back of the net.
Though Raheem Sterling equalized moments later with a superb free-kick, the day would still belong to Newcastle. As the weeks go by – and the Newcastle medical staff grow busier – the Magpies continue to churn out positive results with whatever team is available. After Matchweek 13, they now find themselves poised in 7th position with only 1 point separating them and the Top Six, and two matches between them and Manchester City in 2nd.
Few expected for Newcastle to repeat their Champions League qualifying exploits of last year when so many English sides looked to have improved over the summer window – not to mention the extra workload they’d be enduring midweek. Nevertheless, the Tyneside club looks to be in amongst it once more.
The lengthening queue for the medic’s table is no doubt still a concern for Howe and his coaching staff. If the ailments continue, however, it may be worth rethinking the training intensity the squad are expected to fulfill week in and week out.
A chance for respite
So far, Howe is passing the test with flying colours having instituted a style of play and identity. It has been done so resolutely that any number of squad players can step in to their role on the pitch and clearly have their marching orders off-book. The Magpies travelled to Paris on Tuesday to play PSG in a group where their odds of advancing look increasingly slim.
Newcastle performed well with Isak finishing off an early chance created by Miguel Almirón – and Miley making his second consecutive start – but their victory was thwarted when a dubious handball penalty was given against them in stoppage time. Members of the Toon Army can be forgiven for feeling aggrieved by Tuesday nights result, especially as it diminishes their chances of advancing to the knockout round.
Few would willingly admit it, but a pairing down of fixture lists may be exactly what the club needs in order to tend to their wounds properly and preserve their ambitions in the Premier League this season. Besides, who can disparage any of the teams that fail to make it out of the heavyweight-laiden Group F?
Miley’s success is representative of what Newcastle has accomplished so far this year. Howe seemingly has a stable of willing and capable soldiers he can rely upon when his preferred eleven – whoever they are – fall ill, get hurt, or suspended. Jamal Lascelles, who scored a wonderful header at the weekend, deputized for the injured Sven Botman, and has been exceptionally solid at the back line.
No, it is not evident how long Howe’s side will be able to keep up this pace. However, what is apparent is that whatever it is that he has been preaching, everyone in the locker room, from teenager to seasoned veteran, has understood it thoroughly.