Newcastle United will go into 2023 in the Top 4 of The Premier League and in the calendar year of 2022 since the long-awaited Saudi-backed takeover has allowed Newcastle to splash the cash, Eddie Howe's Magpies have demonstrated Top 4 form and are the emerging force in English and world football.
A stunning 3-0 demolition of Leicester City inside half an hour at The King Power Stadium on Boxing Day in which the game was effectively over after eight minutes when Newcastle took a 2-0 lead convinced Foxes boss Brendan Rodgers that The Magpies are "Absolutely" in The Premier League title race & the club are looking the real deal:
With 33 points from the opening 16 games, Newcastle are on track for European football in 2022/23 for the first time since Alan Pardew guided his Magpies side to a 5th-placed finish in the 2011/12 season when Newcastle narrowly missed out on Champions League football but qualified for The Europa League for 2012/13 in which they reached the Quarter-Finals vs Benfica but struggled in the League with 2 games per week due to an increased schedule which strained a small squad unable to cope with it.
That 2011/12 season after 16 games Newcastle had 27 points & were in 6th spot and Eddie Howe's Newcastle are already on 33 having played just 16 games due to the Winter break caused by The World Cup in Qatar so are ahead of Pardew's men.
In fact, the last time Newcastle qualified for The Champions League was in the 2002/03 campaign under Sir Bobby Robson when Newcastle had 28 points from 16 games and were in 6th position so Howe's men have made a better start than Robson's Young Guns who eventually finished 3rd place with 69 points to enter Europe's premier competition.
Howe's men are even outstripping Sir Bobby's title-challengers from the 2001/02 season who were top at Christmas, had 30 points after 16 games and were 3rd in the table.
While a Toon title challenge is entering the conversation on Tyneside & beyond, its worth noting Kevin Keegan's Entertainers team, the side which went closest to bringing the modern top flight title home to Newcastle had 39 points after 16 games finishing 2nd.
The Premier League has become more competitive since Newcastle's last Champions League qualification and direct rivals Chelsea, Liverpool & co will all spend in January.
Yet barring a real collapse in the second half of the season, Eddie Howe's are extremely well-placed to land European football and most likely The Champions League if they continue the form since the first post-takeover transfer window so The Magpies should be planning ahead readying the squad for a continental campaign next season and serious tilt at The Premier League title - which Newcastle would be closer to doing had it not been for dodgy decisions at the start of the season - and both Cup competitions.
After another injury blow to playmaker JonJo Shelvey, Newcastle are in the transfer market for a new central midfielder as a matter of urgency as a long-term injury to Bruno Guimaraes could seriously derail Newcastle's form & ambitions. A pacy, goalscoring attacking forward/winger or both to add to the injury-prone Callum Wilson & Allan Saint-Maximin, currently injured Alex Isak and ever-fit Chris Wood are the attacking positions which Newcastle must strengthen in plus a right-sided centre back capable of playing right back - a mirror to Dan Burn on the other side - would not just guarantee a Champions League place but start to ready the club for Europe's big stage:
- James Maddison - £50M - Leicester City - Attacking Midfielder
The 26 year-old attacking midfield playmaker has been strongly linked with a transfer to Newcastle since the summer and rumours refuse to go away despite a recent injury which saw him go off in The Foxes' last game before the World Cup after scoring vs West Ham and missing Newcastle's 3-0 thrashing of his current side.
Maddison would add guile and passing quality to the Newcastle midfield especially in the absence of JonJo Shelvey as well a real goalscoring knack that has seen him score 7 goals in 13 games in The Premier League already this season.
Friendly with Newcastle's World Cup stars Kieran Trippier, Callum Wilson & Nick Pope in the England squad, the demolition job at Leicester on Boxing Day might remove any doubt whatsoever of which direction the clubs are heading in and seal the deal.
2. Jobe Bellingham - £20M & Add Ons - Birmingham City - Attacking Midfielder
The younger brother of eminent England star Jude, who had his shirt retired at Birmingham when he left for Dortmund - is making his own waves for the Midlands club and England U16, 17s and 18s and has similar attributes including outstanding athleticism and the attacking prowess both inherited from their non-League goalscoring father, Mark, who has developed them into the future superstars they are becoming.
Jobe is already on the rapid upward trajectory his elder brother has trailblazed & he was named Player of the Tournament last year as England U18s won the Pinatar Cup beating Holland, Belgium and The Faroe Isles and would benefit from the expert coach and moulding by Eddie Howe, Jason Tindall and the elite Newcastle coaching team.
Adding the younger Bellingham to the Newcastle ranks would be a major coup for the club & could help land Jude in the summer if Champions League football was secured.
3. Mohammed Kudus - 22 - Ajax - Versatile Midfielder-Attacker-Winger-Striker - £35M
The Ajax attacker is enjoying a breakout season as a goalscoring striker since switching positions this season for de Godenzonen scoring 10 goals so far in 21 games including 4 in 6 in The Champions League as well as two at The World Cup for Ghana.
Supremely confident, he can dribble, assist & score goals as he demonstrated vs Liverpool in The Champions League & has the pace & physique to compete in The Premier League so would be another great wing or forward option for Howe alongside Wilson, Saint-Maximin, Isak and Co. as Newcastle look to compete on three fronts.
4. Nikola Milenkovich - 25 - Centre-Back / Right-Back - Fiorentina - £20M
As Newcastle compete on three fronts in 2023 and chase Champions League football, Howe needs quality options throughout his squad for every position to cope with potential injuries & suspensions and squad rotation with games coming thick and fast in the second half of the campaign and are light in defence due to Emil Krafth's injury.
6ft 5in Serbia international Milenkovich is a defender's defender in the Sven Botman mould and would add another steely defensive brick in the wall to Eddie Howe's already superb Newcastle defence which is the best in The Premier League.
Milenkovich has kept 3 clean sheets in 11 games for Fiorentina this season and starred at The World Cup in Qatar for Serbia playing all three group matches against Brazil, Cameroon and Switzerland as his nation went out but he managed to show his class.
With Newcastle's no. 1 right-sided centre-back Fabian Schar just turned 31, signing Milenkovich would provide a younger option for Eddie Howe as his successor and a potentially frightening future centre back partnership with Sven Botman.