Can Newcastle Really Finish in the Top Four?

Can Newcastle Really Finish in the Top Four?

Heading into Match Day 14 in the Premier League - with only two games remaining before we head into the World Cup Break –the league table perhaps looks a little different than many would have predicted.

Manchester City are the one real exception. Pep Guardiola’s men – fired by the frightening Erling Haaland - are of course up there as they bid to defend their title. The Citizens are nevertheless only in second spot – as Mikel Arteta’s vastly improved Arsenal lead the way. Seeing Spurs – typically pragmatic under Antonio Conte – inside the top four is no surprise, but what about Newcastle United? Improvement was of course expected following the takeover, but Champions League Qualification in Eddie Howe’s first full season in charge? Could it really happen?

It just might you know. The long-coveted Sven Botman is a steely Rolls Royce at the heart of the league’s stingiest defence, the previously maligned Joelinton is playing like Socrates, and quite what Miguel Almiron has been drinking, only Eddie Howe knows. Ridiculed by Jack Grealish – who continues to underwhelm at Manchester City – the little Paraguayan has transformed into a purveyor of spectacular goals and looks a shoo-in for the October Premier League Player of the month award. All in all, it’s not hard to see why Geordie fans are daring to dream.

What do the Numbers Say?

Turning first to the current season, the Magpies sit where they do purely on merit on the back of their best start to a season since 2011/12. A statement which is firmly backed up by the underlying stats. Newcastle are:

  • Top of the Goals-Against table , with only 10 conceded.
  • Third in terms of Goals Scored.
  • Third in the Goal Difference standings
  • Second behind only Manchester City in the adjusted Expected Goals table.

Stats a Symptom of a Longer Trend

Many fans will point to the fact that we are not yet even at the halfway stage of the season, and to expect Newcastle to reach the Champion’s League remains unrealistic. There may be some truth in that – the side were after all sitting in nineteenth spot 12 months ago - but a look at the entire period under Eddie Howe brings cause for optimism.

Since taking over the reins on the 8th November 2021, Howe’s Premier League record reads:

  • Played - 40
  • Won - 19
  • Drew - 11
  • Lost - 9

All told, that record has produced an average of 1.70 points per game. Extrapolated to a full 38-game season, the Magpies would be expected to achieve a total of 64.6 points. A fine tally, and one which would have seen the side finish in the following positions over the past five Premier League seasons.

  • 2021/22 - 6th
  • 2020/21 - 7th
  • 2019/20 - 5th
  • 2018/19 - 7th
  • 2017/18 - 6th

That may make for disappointing reading for Toon fans dreaming of trips to the Bernabeu, but it should be remembered that the bulk of the results data used came from last season, and it’s hard to argue that Newcastle aren’t a significantly better side this time around

What about on this Season’s Form?

If the overall results under Howe would see Newcastle just miss out, how are they likely to fare if able to keep up their current points per game rate from the current season? 24 points from 13 games equates to an average of 1.85 points per game and a total of 70 points over the course of a full season. Using this tally, and again looking at the past five seasons, the Mags would have finished:

2021/22 - 5th
2020/21 - 3rd
2019/20 - 3rd
2018/19 - 5th
2017/18 - 5th

On that basis, Newcastle United would look to have a very strong chance of at least qualifying for Europe and a 40% chance of qualifying for the continent’s Premier club competition – all of which was scarcely imaginable 12 months ago.

Factors in their favour

It may yet still prove to be a tall order, but the revitalised North East club do have a few factors in their favour.

The most obvious one is of course the vast wealth now backing the club. Talks of January signings are being talked down a touch, but that seems to be the standard approach from those in charge and hasn’t stopped the club shelling out £240 million in the past year. On that note, the full benefits of record signing Alexander Isak are yet to be felt due to injury, whilst star man Allan Saint-Maximin has barely kicked a ball since August. Depth already looks stronger than at any time in recent memory and may yet be added to the winter window.

The second factor we see as a plus is the World Cup break. Some may see events in Qatar as a momentum stopper, but Newcastle will have fewer players away than many of the other Champions League contenders, giving the squad a real chance to recharge their batteries. Given the side’s all-action, high-pressing style (first in the league in final-third turnovers) this may yet count as a major boost.

So You’re Saying There’s A Chance?

The overall consensus remains that Newcastle will come up short, and it’s hard to argue too strongly with that. Nevertheless, overall results, including against the big sides this term – A draw with Manchester City at home, draw at Old Trafford, win at Spurs, and a controversial 98th-minute defeat at Anfield, are a fine testimony as to just how far Newcastle have come. A general top-four finish price of 13/5 (representing a 27.78% chance) may just be a touch on the generous side.

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