As Eddie Howe prepares for his 100th Premier League game in charge, we take a look at the progress Newcastle have made in his time at the club.

Newcastle travel to Burnley this Saturday for a game that is most significant for what it means for the hosts’ survival hopes.

For Newcastle, there isn’t a great deal riding on it. Yes, they still have a very faint chance of catching Tottenham in fifth, but there is now no chance of that being enough for a Champions League spot after a poor showing from the Premier League’s contingent in Europe this season.

In all likelihood, the best Newcastle can hope for is sixth place, and with it a spot in the Europa League. Even sixth will only be enough for the Europa Conference League if Manchester United finish seventh or lower and win the FA Cup. Not likely, but also not entirely impossible.

But there is another milestone that makes this match slightly more noteworthy for the home side: it will be Eddie Howe’s 100th Premier League game in charge of the club.

It is therefore the perfect time to stop and assess his tenure so far and to wonder what the future holds for both Howe and Newcastle.

Given the heights of last season, when Newcastle secured their return to Europe after more than a decade’s absence and their first appearance in the Champions League for 20 years, the position they now find themselves in might be considered slightly underwhelming.

There may even be some who would call Howe’s position into question. A battle for European qualification which, with a couple of tricky games remaining, they might lose, after finishing bottom of their Champions League group and getting knocked out of both domestic cup competitions at the quarter-final stage doesn’t add up to progress on last season.

But Howe has done so much good work since taking over at Newcastle that he has enough goodwill in the bank with the club and the fans for there not to be any reasonable doubts about him.

For context, it’s worth looking back at the circumstances at the club when he took over.

It was early November 2021, just one month after the Saudi Arabia-backed £300m takeover, and Steve Bruce and interim manager Graeme Jones had left with the team having earned just five points from their first 11 games of the season.

Howe came in with Newcastle only off the bottom on goal difference, the one team in the Premier League without a single win.

Newcastle fans don’t need any reminding how stale things had got under Bruce, but the impact Howe had cannot be understated. They recovered from that terrible start to finish the season 11th. Over the 27 games for which Howe was in charge, Newcastle had the sixth-best record in the Premier League.

There has been a decent amount spent since Howe and the Saudis came in – the kind of money that Newcastle simply couldn’t have spent in the in the Mike Ashley era – and there were four noteworthy signings in that first January, but that fact shouldn’t take away from what Howe did.

Bruno Guimarães (£40m) and Dan Burn (£13m) had a genuine impact in the second half of the season, but Kieran Trippier (£12m) made just six Premier League appearances before breaking his foot and missing the rest of the campaign, and Chris Wood (£25m) scored only two goals in his 17 games.

The improvement in his first six months at the club was stark, and it continued into the following campaign.

It was the defence that Howe fixed first. Last season – his first full one at the club – Newcastle had the joint-best defensive record in the Premier League alongside champions Manchester City, conceding just 33 goals in 38 games. His side conceded 10 goals fewer than title-challenging Arsenal.

Howe had made Newcastle very, very difficult to beat. They lost only one of their first 22 games of 2022-23, a run that included a 17-game unbeaten streak and a stretch of six games and almost 10 hours without conceding a single goal.

As can be seen from the below graphic, for most of 2021-22, Newcastle’s six-game rolling average for expected goals was lower than their expected goals against. In 2022-23, Howe got their xG against right down to as low a rate as 0.5 per game over the six games leading up to matchday 20. In other words, over those six games, Newcastle conceded chances worth just 3.0 xG.

newcastle xg for and against under eddie howe

At the other end of the pitch, they weren’t exactly blowing teams away, with their six-game average hovering around 1.5 xG for the first two-thirds of the season.

However, they clicked in the run-in, and while their xG against crept up, their own xG skyrocketed. In the final 11 games of the season, they put six past Tottenham, hit five at West Ham, and scored four against both Everton and Brighton.

They didn’t manage to hold on to third place – the position they’d occupied for much of the season – but they comfortably held off a resurgent Liverpool who were hoping to sneak into the top four.

The good times, it seemed, were back at St James’ Park. Newcastle went into the summer flying, and dreaming of where their Champions League adventure would take them.

But this season has brought them back down to earth with a bump. They lost three of their first four games of the season (albeit in what was a tough run of fixtures) and went through a terrible run of form through the winter, losing six out of seven in the league around the turn of the year. They crashed out of the Champions League in the group stage (albeit from a difficult group) and have not spent a single calendar week in the top four, having spent most of last season in the top three.

newcastle league position under eddie howe

They have had their fair share of bad luck. Injuries have decimated the squad and left Howe with little more than a starting XI for weeks on end. Newcastle account for three of the 15 instances (20%) of a team using at most one substitute in a Premier League game this season. Then there was last summer’s marquee signing Sandro Tonali’s 10-month ban from football. It all means any discussions about the job Howe has done so far or the potential for how far he can take them need to be in the context of those absences.

But at the same time, Howe has spent big on a fair few players. Alexander Isak, Anthony Gordon, Sven Botman, Harvey Barnes, Tino Livramento, Lewis Hall and Tonali have all arrived for sizeable fees, while they have also brought in Matt Targett and Nick Pope. It all adds up to around £400m spent in the two and a half years since Howe took over. If there was a stick to beat him with, this would be it.

But that isn’t to say this season has been anything like a failure. Perhaps it’s more accurate to call it a crucial part of the learning curve that Newcastle are on. They will learn from having had this many injuries to manage their players’ workloads better, for example.

Their defensive record has been poor this season, with their expected goals creeping up as the season wears on. Their six-game average xG against reached a high of almost 3.0 per game midway through the campaign at the height of their injury crisis. With 55 goals conceded this season, they have already let in 22 more than last campaign.

But they have almost made up for it at the other end of the pitch, and entertainment – quite a good way to buy yourself some time as a manager – has been high. Newcastle have scored 74 goals this season, with their record of 2.2 goals per game their highest in a top-flight season since 1951-52 (2.3 per game). Their games have seen an average of 3.8 goals, which is the second-highest rate by any team in any season in Premier League history, after Liverpool’s 4.0 per game in 2013-14.

Howe also deserves credit for using his whole squad so well. His side have produced 19 different goalscorers this season – the second most by any team in a season in the Premier League era after Manchester United’s 20 scorers in 2012-13.

newcastle squad depth 2023-24

There have also been a few individual success stories. Isak arrived for a huge fee and has struggled with injuries in both of his seasons in the north east, but his stock has still risen. Despite missing 10 games through injury this season, he has scored 19 Premier League goals, including nine in his last eight appearances to put him in Golden Boot contention.

He could become only the fifth different Newcastle player to score 20+ goals in a Premier League season, after Alan Shearer (four times), Andrew Cole (1993-94), Peter Beardsley (1993-94) and Les Ferdinand (1995-96). There has been talk of interest from other clubs but he would likely now command an even bigger fee were he to move on.

Then there is Anthony Gordon, who has 10 goals and nine assists in the Premier League this season. He could become only the third Newcastle player to reach double figures for both goals and assists in a single campaign, after Cole in 1993-94 (34G 13A) and Ruel Fox in 1994-95 (10G 11A).

Joelinton’s conversion into a midfield destroyer has been remarkable, while Guimarães is reportedly attracting attention from some of the world’s biggest and best teams. In Livramento, Tonali, Joe Willock and Lewis Miley, Newcastle have a lot of young players who could get better, too. Sven Botman and Fabian Schär is a top-class centre-back partnership.

But Howe will know as well as anyone that he won’t be given unlimited time at Newcastle. If there is anything like another regression next season, he won’t be afforded the same level of patience, even with the excuse of injuries.

As he prepares for his 100th game in charge, he’ll know that while he has taken Newcastle a long way from where he found them, there is still plenty more to improve.

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