Ambitious Newcastle United face test of European credentials against Liverpool

Magpies, who have splashed out close to €270m since their Saudi-led takeover, hope that record signing Isak will be clear to play in Anfield clash

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Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe had a sympathetic word on Tuesday for the man freshly removed from his old job at Bournemouth.

He was “surprised and disappointed” for Scott Parker, sacked four matches after having led Bournemouth back into the Premier League. “He did a brilliant job,” said Howe, careful not to judge the club that he himself guided to two promotions “without knowing what’s going on there”.

One thing Howe does know about Bournemouth’s haste in changing their manager is that a 9-0 loss to Liverpool on Saturday had a lot to do with the timing of it.

The humiliation provoked Parker into pointing out how little Bournemouth had invested in reinforcing their squad for the challenges of England’s top division, calling them “underprepared”. The numbers back him up. In the Premier League, only Leicester City went into the last 48 hours of the summer transfer window having spent less than the Cherries.

At the other end of the money table are Howe’s Newcastle. They will take on goal-glut Liverpool this evening with a balance sheet for 2022 that currently shows the highest net spend on players not just in the Premier League but of any club across Europe’s major leagues – a huge leap up in the club’s influence in the market, a statement of ambition from the club’s principal backers, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF).

Howe has a particular perspective on the scale of the transformation. Since he was appointed as manager last November, a month after the takeover of the club by a consortium in which PIF have much the largest stake, Newcastle have paid out as much in fees for new signings as Bournemouth did across the five years that Howe skilfully managed them in the Premier League, until they dropped down to the Championship in 2020.

Bruno Guimaraes has been a revelation since joining Newcastle in January, but could miss the Liverpool game due to injury. PA

The net Newcastle spend so far this calendar year is more than €200 million, a figure swelled last week by the club-record capture of striker Aleksander Isak from Real Sociedad, who could earn €70m from the sale.

If Isak provides the same sort of uplift that the club’s major January signing Bruno Guimaraes has done, Howe will regard him as a major ally in the bid to bring European football to St James' Park next season.

“He's a very exciting player,” said Howe of the 22-year-old Sweden international. “He's got a mix of attributes that will hopefully elevate us: pace, technical ability, a really good dribbler. But also he's a team player. He will want to help bring other people into the game as well.

“I see someone who has very quietly gone about his business in his time with us so far in a very impressive way.”

The one frustration has been the wait for Isak’s working visa to be issued. It delayed a possible debut during the 1-1 draw at Wolverhampton Wanderers at the weekend. Newcastle were still trying to accelerate the process on Tuesday to make Isak available for the trip to Anfield.

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There, Howe will in any case line up a very different side to the one he took to Anfield last season, for his fourth league game on the touchline as Newcastle manager, a 3-1 defeat.

The personnel for an entirely new defensive unit – goalkeeper Nick Pope, plus Kieran Trippier, Sven Botman, Dan Burn and Matt Targett – have joined since, at a combined cost of almost €100m, with Guimaraes, a €42m purchase from Lyon, galvanising the area in front of them.

Newcastle were 19th in the table when they went to Liverpool on that December day. “We were in a difficult position at that moment, just trying to stay in the game as long as we could,” recalled Howe. “We’re in a stronger place [now], unbeaten [so far this season]. I see no reason why we shouldn’t go there and give another good account of ourselves.”

He has injury concerns over Guimaraes, and winger Allan Saint-Maximim – who was in inspired form in the 3-3 draw against champions Manchester City and who struck an eye-catching, volleyed equaliser at Wolves – but neither of them grave enough, Howe says, to provoke another major swoop into a transfer market where Newcastle’s big-spend reputation is now firmly established.

“We're very pleased with the business we've done,” said the manager. “The injuries we have we believe to be short-term. Longer term, when those bodies are back, we're very strong.

“That's not to say we're totally closed off. We're obviously still looking but I don't expect any major business to be done.”

Newcastle manager Eddie Howe has seen his team win one and draw three of their opening four games of the new season. Getty
Updated: August 31, 2022, 9:53 AM