Newcastle United have made their best start to a top flight campaign since 2011/2 after last week's fantastic 2-1 win at St. James' Park gave them 11 pts from 7 games against early Premier League pace-setters Everton and The Magpies now head to Southampton on Friday night knowing a win could put Steve Bruce's men 4th in the table overnight.
Not since Alan Pardew led The Magpies to a 5th-placed finish in the 2011-12 season have the club troubled the top spots of England's top flight yet these are the heights Newcastle can scale if they seal back-to-back Premier League wins for the first time this season and there are similarities between the two seasons including early 2-1 wins against Everton:
A lethal goalscorer in the shape of Callum Wilson who has scored 6 Premier League goals in 7 games matches the impact Demba Ba made in the 2011/2 season especially the first half of the campaign when he had scored 14 goals by the turn of the year plus a 15th in early Jan 2012 vs Man Utd, against whom he scored last night:
Wilson and Karl Darlow missed out on England selection proving Gareth Southgate's assertion form dictates The Three Lions squad is nonsense as Wilson has scored 5 more Premier League goals than the selected Tammy Abraham and Jordan Pickford's season has been nothing short of embarrassing for the Sunderland-born keeper who peaked at the 2018 World Cup & has nosedived since while Darlow has been statistically one of the best goalkeepers in Europe this season. Yet while disappointing for the pair, this might favour Newcastle long-term as they can rest while opponents are travelling.
Darlow is a very steady influence at goalkeeper like Tim Krul was back in 2011/12 and both have a penchant for saving penalties while Martin Dubravka vying for the no. 1 shirt when he returns mean Newcastle are extremely well off in the goalkeeping department.
Pardew's side was based on a strong defence - Simpson or Perch right-back, two of Steven Taylor, Mike Williamson and Fabricio Coloccini centre backs and Ryan Taylor or Davide Santon left back - like Bruce's rearguard is now its settled in the back 5 defensive shape with Jacob Murphy & Jamal Lewis wingbacks and Jamaal Lascelles, Fabian Schar and Fede Fernandez centrally that has reaped results against Spurs, Wolves and Everton and is a hard side to play against with strength in depth in all positions factoring in Paul Dummett, Ciaran Clark, Javier Manquillo, Emil Krafth and DeAndre Yedlin.
While the class of 2011/12 had Yohan Cabaye and Cheick Tiote in centre midfield, Newcastle's central midfield this season has been a mix of JonJo Shelvey, Isaac Hayden, Sean Longstaff & Jeff Hendrick and while it may not have quite the individual quality of 2011/2, its packed with very good footballers and in sufficient depth with the likes of Matty Longstaff still to feature due to injury so the best is yet to come.
Unsurprisingly, one international call-up a Newcastle player did receive was Jeff Hendrick's to the Republic of Ireland squad, ironically to face England in a friendly:
Hendrick has been a fantastic new influence on Newcastle's team and squad this season having signed on a free transfer from Burnley and having played virtually every minute of the 7 Premier League games so far, the Irishman is one of the key men behind the fourth best Newcastle start since the top flight changed from 42 games to 38.
After starting the season right-midfield against West Ham when he set up Wilson for the first goal of the season and notched a terrific second at The Olympic Stadium to ensure The Magpies got off to a winning start for the first time since 2012/3, he has played in every game and, although most of his good work goes under the radar, his is always the calming pass, decisive tackle, crucial header or clever foul to subtly influence the action.
The Fantastic Four Combine
Take Newcastle's second goal against Everton for instance, new signing Hendrick's is the sprayed ball out wide to fellow new signing Jamal Lewis, who pings a superb ball down the line to fellow summer signing Ryan Fraser who crosses it to £20M new signing Callum Wilson who finished - a goal created in the summer transfer window by Newcastle's scouts and Bruce and implemented and scored by the players.
That lethal combination up front - Fraser + Wilson = Goals - as well as the attacking talents of Allan Saint-Maximum, Miguel Almiron, Joelinton & Andy Carroll is comparable to the forward line-up and options that thrived up front for Newcastle in 2011/12 comprising Demba Ba & Hatem Ben Arfa, Leon Best, Shola Ameobi and Papiss Cisse from January, whose arrival & incredible 12 goals in 13 games was out of this world:
IF Newcastle could maintain early form & get another goal-scoring striker in January there's no reason why they can't take their season to the next level & attack those European spots as well as the final two rounds of The League Cup in this season of all seasons where surprise results are the norm & everything seems possible yet there's a lot of football to be played first although Newcastle are showing shoots of progress.
Bruce, however, is a realist and won't let anybody at the club get carried away and just last week played down Newcastle's chances of crashing the Top 8 although he did admit to targeting a Top 10 Premier League finish:
“But we are where we are & my job is inch-by-inch to keep us trying to improve.
“Let’s be brutally honest here, you look at the top 10 and what they’ve done then it’s very, very difficult with where we are at this particular moment but that’s got to be the aim.
“We’d all love to be competing where the club was 20 years ago or whenever it was.
“But the way we are at the minute we have to accept that’s the way it is & try to keep moving inch-by-inch closer to what we’re trying to do – which is definitely finish in the top 10.”
Yet with a few wins on the spin and a bit of luck - one Newcastle fan even contemplated whether Bruce is using voodoo dolls after Southampton's star man Danny Ings was ruled out of the clash tomorrow night through injury hot on the heels of Everton losing their new talisman James Rodriguez on top of Richarlison & Coleman last week - suddenly the stars come into view and looking up the table is the natural way.
Southampton's own rise to 5th place in The Premier League is testimony to that having won four out of their last five games and drawn the other with Chelsea after two losses to open the season yet without Ings and facing Newcastle, Wolves & Man Utd next, their season could resemble a game of snakes and ladders as they slip down the table.
After The Saints' 4-3 win at Aston Villa was masterminded by three James Ward-Prowse free kicks - two scored directly, one headed in by Jannik Vestergaard - Newcastle will have to stay on their feet and not give free-kicks away in and around the penalty area yet if they can do that, there's a great chance of returning to Newcastle for the international break with 3 points in the bag like they did twice last season against Southampton including in March from St. Mary's to take a winning feeling into the first lockdown:
One game at a time is the oldest and wisest football motto yet if Newcastle can grab all three points at Southampton, they'll be sitting pretty throughout the international break before entertaining Chelsea at St. James' Park, another game they won last season...
Prediction - Southampton 1 Newcastle 3