Opposition view: Never a dull moment for Newcastle as an old face returns
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Norwich City kick off their home campaign against Newcastle United – Norfolk-based Magpies fan Tim Williams answers the big questions.
Q: It's been an eventful summer for Newcastle, are you among the fans hopeful that Mike Ashley can be forced to sell?
A: It's always eventful on Barrack Road. Every fan would desperately like Mr Ashley to sell to someone who cares about Newcastle United as much as they do, but he can't be forced to. In fact, I harbour doubts about how keen he is to sell. The current business model for running the club seems to be delivering rather well financially, I think. It seems odd to me that, despite so many protestations about his desire to divest himself of Newcastle United, nothing has materialised in so many years.
Q: The fresh controversy was sparked by Rafa Benitez leaving, how much of a blow was his exit?
A: It's a huge blow, albeit an expected one. We've lost one of the most successful and respected managers in world football, whose tactics and coaching saw players consistently improve and who squeezed the most out of limited resources. No one on Tyneside blames Rafa for finally losing patience. It's pretty much a miracle he didn't decide to leave sooner. We'll always be grateful for his dignity, respect for the fans and desire to improve our club. But this wasn't a 'fresh controversy', it's just another chapter in this regime's catalogue of woe. It's part of the ongoing narrative.
Q: The subsequent arrival of Steve Bruce seemed to go down like a lead balloon, has he been harshly treated?
A: Whoever followed Rafa was going to be on a hiding to nothing to start with. Undoubtedly most of us would have preferred a more 'modern', forward-thinking appointment. But we are where we are. I don't care about the boyhood/hometown club spiel (and I certainly don't care that he managed our neighbours), I just hope Steve Bruce can be as successful in difficult circumstances as Rafa was. And I don't think Bruce has been harshly treated by most of the media and commentators - you can't move for pieces praising his man management etc. But he faces a huge task: lose to Norwich and then Spurs and the home game to Watford could be interesting. I don't think he'll be given much of a honeymoon, put it that way. He needs to get results quickly to win over the fans and get back some positivity around the club.
Q: Some decent money has been spent on new players this summer - were you pleased with the transfer window overall?
A: As always, you'd have to be some sort of shaman to work out the logic and reasoning behind the way we do business at Newcastle United. Rondon and Perez were very effective last season so losing them was not entirely helpful. At £40m, Joelinton looks like quite a large punt. I'm not sure his stats back up the valuation, but ever the optimist I'm confident his showings pre-season indicate reasons for hope that he can get goals. Saint-Maximin looks exciting and, add in Almiron, and you'd think we could have some success. As for Andy Carroll - heaven only knows. He might get fit. Perhaps crucially we didn't lose a raft of other players and our defence was excellent last year. In conclusion, the jury's out.
Q: Alongside the off-field issues, the season started with a 1-0 loss to Arsenal, was it a positive performance?
A: Not hugely. Arsenal were missing a heap of regular first teamers and you'd like to have thought we could have got something from the game. We were not at all bad in the first half. But once Shelvey went off injured early in the second half we proceeded to get progressively more out of shape with each substitution. We ended the match pretty shambolically. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but it looked very strange that we didn't have a central midfielder on the bench. That particular chicken came home to roost. There were mitigating factors - new signings, language issues, early-season rustiness. But let's just say there's room for big improvement.
Q: Who do you expect to be the key players for Bruce this season?
A: Those up front. Goals are always the issue in the Premier League. But if the likes of Schar, Lascelles, Hayden, Longstaff, Lejeune and Debravka can perform as we know they can then we've certainly got the quality.
Q: Do you think Norwich could cause the Magpies problems at Carrow Road?
A: The Canaries' shots stats against Liverpool were certainly impressive. You've got to admire what they achieved last season and Farke seems a likeable and thoughtful manager. It seems they will always aim to go for games, but that might leave them a little exposed against the pace of attacks in the Premier League. I'm sure Norwich will cause us problems. They've got some very good players, although I understand there are some injuries too.
Q: Tim Krul has rebuilt his career with the Canaries after injury, is he likely to get a good reception from the away fans?
A: Absolutely. All former players get a good reception from Newcastle fans unless they leave under a cloud or say something intemperate after moving on. Isn't that the same everywhere? Tim Krul was excellent for us until his awful injury and well liked. He played more than 180 games for Newcastle but, for this game only, I hope he makes a couple of misjudgments! Grant Hanley will also get a good reception. A short spell on Tyneside and a whole-hearted player if perhaps not the fastest!
Q: And finally, what is your prediction for Saturday's game?
A: 1-3. One each for Joelinton, Almiron and Saint-Maximin. I told you I'm an optimist and I'll be in the away end singing my heart out for the lads!