The Premier League fixture list announcement on the 14th June was the final confirmation of Newcastle United’s top division status for the coming 2017/18 season. The opening match-up sees Toon host the last side they faced in the Premier League; Tottenham Hotspur. Last time out, the home side surprisingly and emphatically came out 5-1 winners, despite finishing 15 places lower.
There is a level of optimism as well as excitement for the 12th August, even though Spurs are regarded by many as the most rousing team in the division with a host of impressive Englishman. A similar performance to the last encounter in May 2016 would be the perfect start and give the side a welcomed early injection of confidence.
However, the Magpies have suffered one draw and two defeats (Southampton and Manchester City twice) in their last three Premier League opening fixtures; the last team they beat on an opening day was Tottenham Hotspur, 2-1, at St James’ Park back in 2012.
A victory, draw or a respectable performance, one opposite to that at Craven Cottage last year, is needed to ensure that Newcastle defeat fellow promotion gainers Huddersfield at the John Smith’s Stadium; a strong start in the top division cannot be underestimated in its importance and David Wagner’s side represent a must-win fixture.
On the whole, the 2017/18 fixture list seemed to equally distribute the more challenging fixtures for the Toon across the ten months. However, the already demanding December period is undoubtedly the trickiest for Newcastle. They face reigning champions Chelsea away first, followed by Leicester and Everton both at home, Arsenal and West Ham away, ending with Manchester City and Brighton at St James’.
This testing month of football could go either way, but the home games to Leicester, Everton and Brighton must yield at least 3 points to avoid the season crashing before the half way point.
That being said, there is many an opportunity in the New Year to pick up points and strengthen the potential for Premier League football for consecutive years. Chelsea at St James’ Park is the concluding fixture for the season, so Newcastle must ensure that their points total at the business end of the season is sufficient to avoid gratuitous last day heroics.
With all this considered, what can we, as fans, expect for this resurrection season? Newcastle followers will always have high expectations; for results and general performances. There have been suggestions from betting companies that a top half finish isn’t unrealistic given the financial backing that Rafa Benitez will be provided with this summer as well as the ‘big-club’ reputation.
If Rafa opts to use the extent of his Premier League spending voucher, then those brought in will need time to settle and buy into the club’s philosophies. Not to mention that opinion of The Magpies has slipped from title contenders 20 years ago to relegation prone.
Therefore, it would be hasty and delusional to expect a top half finish this campaign. It’s impossible to deny that a relegation free season would be a success for any promoted side regardless of budget and club stature. Securing top division status for the 2018/19 season empowers Rafa to continue evolving his project here, which hasn’t started too badly so far.