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Is Newcastle's Season Falling Apart?

Newcastle United were one of the surprise packages of the 2022/2023 Premier League season. The Magpies lost just five games, the same number as champions Manchester City, and had the joint-best defence in the league. This season however isn't going quite so well.

Champions League football was something of a return to a promised land for Eddie Howe's side, and they got off to a flyer, drawing 0 - 0 with Milan in the San Siro before thrashing a sorry-looking Paris Saint Germain 4 - 1 in their first European game at St James' Park since the takeover in 2021.

But their fortunes both in Europe and domestically have turned drastically since October. Injuries have plagued the Newcastle squad, with 12 players missing their past few games, 10 of whom are expected to miss the vital Champions League game with Milan at St James' Park on Wednesday.

Newcastle have just two wins in seven games, which in itself isn't terrible considering the wins have been against Chelsea and Manchester United, but it's not exactly the form of a top four side.

The biggest issue Eddie Howe has faced in this run of games is that he's pretty much having to play the same eleven players constantly. His few remaining first-team players are being run into the ground, with mistakes creeping into what was a remarkably well-drilled team last season.

In recent heavy defeats away to Everton and Tottenham, Newcastle have suffered with fatigue. Both games saw them concede very soft goals as a result of mistakes; it's no coincidence that the players making those mistakes, including last season's star Kieran Trippier, haven't had a rest in well over a month.

These three-goal away defeats mean that the Magpies have already lost more Premier League games than they did last season (6-5), leaving them seven points off the top four less than half way through the season. Of course with more first team players available, their fortunes could change, but after the manor of their late defeat to Everton, it's clear that there is a lot of work to be done.

Salvaging their Champions League campaign would be a fantastic way to do this, but with such a tired squad, how much chance is there of that happening? Newcastle's only route to the knockout stage is to beat Milan at St James' Park and hope that PSG don't beat Borussia Dortmund in Germany. That might sound feesible, but as well as Newcastle's own problems, Dortmund haven't won any of their three league matches since beating Milan on Group Stage Matchday Five.

The Premier League doesn't pose a much better picture for the Toons. After playing Milan this week, Newcastle host red-hot Fulham, before visiting a Luton side who have given Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City a good run for their money in the past month or so.

2023 ends at home to Nottingham Forest, before 2024 starts with a horror run of Liverpool, Manchester City and Aston Villa. There's also a Tyne-Wear derby away to Sunderland in the FA Cup between the Liverpool and Manchester City games, which whilst exciting, Newcastle absolutley cannot lose.

The long and short of it is that Newcastle need some players back. Whilst Sandro Tonali is out for the season and Nick Pope has been ruled out until Easter at least, most of the others who are on the treatment table are nearing a return.

Elliot Anderson and Harvey Barnes are both planning a Christmas present for Eddie Howe by returning for Newcastle's Boxing Day game against Nottingham Forest. Sven Botman and Joe Willock could be in line to return a week later for the trip to Anfield.

Dan Burn and Jacob Murphy are a little further behind, with a January return in line for both; Javier Manquillo and Matt Targett don't have a clear return date due to the nature of their injuries.

There's no denying that it is a tough run for Newcastle. They've almost got as many injuries as the top four put together, so it's no small wonder that they're struggling to keep up. Those players who have come in have done brilliantly to keep the club in Champions League for now and in the fight for European football in the Premier League.

Jamaal Lascelles, Tino Livramento and Lewis Miley are just a few who have helped keep Newcastle's season alive.

This potentially gives Eddie Howe a selection dilemma in the New Year, but he'd almost certainly give his arm to have enough players available to cause selection dilemmas. The reality of Newcastle's injury situation is that Eddie Howe will struggle just to put a matchday squad together.

Their form before their injury crisis should give Newcastle confidence that they can still salvage a successful season in the second half of the campaign. But it's up to the group currently starting to keep close enough to the top six in the Premier League and stay in Europe. Even if the Toons were to drop down to the Europa League, they'd arguably have a much better chance of winning the competition than they do in the Champions League.

It's debabtle what a successful season looks like for Newcastle from this point. It should end in some kind of European football and ideally without more long-term injuries. It might even feature a trophy, with a Carabao Cup quarter-final against Chelsea coming up later this month, and several usual contenders already out of the competition.

For now though it's about staying in touch for Newcastle. Four games in the space of twelve days could define their season, with Champions League and Carabao Cup qualification on the line as well as six huge Premier League points.

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