There are still three roads to Wembley open for Newcastle United this season as Eddie Howe and his staff get one last chance to take stock before the really hectic stuff starts next month.
The fact that Newcastle have stayed in touch with the European chasing pack in the Premier League, remain in the Carabao Cup and still have a shout of success in the Champions League is a testament to Howe and his backroom team at Benton. Howe has steered a once-sinking ship through stormy waters before in the 2021/22 campaign but has now managed to navigate stormy waters this season through global bans, an injury crisis and a tough early fixture list.
But the good news is things could be about to get better, here’s six reasons to err on the side of positivity going into the crunch winter period. With the FA Cup final, Carabao Cup final and even the Champions League final all taking place at Wembley this year there’s plenty of ways to succeed for Howe and his troops.
The impending return of talisman Alexander Isak
The £63million man was just starting to run hot at West Ham when nagging injury doubts returned with a recurrence of a groin problem. With Isak searching for his hat-trick after striking twice to stun the Hammers, he signalled to come off as a precaution.
Three minutes later, Isak was on the bench and West Ham had equalised right at the death to snare a point in a game when Newcastle had threatened to score a couple more. Since then Isak came on as sub in the 4-0 win over Crystal Palace but did not look comfortable and then just 15 minutes into the 1-0 defeat to Borussia Dortmund he was forced off again.
Having already missed a month of action, Isak should be fit again soon and even the sight of him on the bench against Chelsea would give everybody a lift. Newcastle have lacked that clinical edge in front of goal without Isak but if he can get back for the crunch Champions League game away to PSG it could be massive for Howe.
The sight of Harvey Barnes back up and running
Barnes was still getting to know his team-mates when a freak toe injury curtailed his appearance at Sheffield United back in September. Of course, United won that one 8-0 but it was difficult for Barnes to raise a smile as he left Bramall Lane in a protective boot.
Since then he has made great progress in his rehab and could be back earlier than expected. Howe won’t take further risks with Barnes but there is a chance he will be back for December’s eight-game bonanza in all competitions.
The £38million star scored on his debut and can play out wide or just behind the striker if needs be. The sooner he is back the better.
The 90 minutes in Paris that could change the whole picture in Group F of the Champions League
Losing to Borussia Dortmund home and away was tough to take for Newcastle fans. But despite sinking to the bottom of the Group of Death, it’s not over yet.
A win over Paris St-Germain would haul Newcastle above the team they beat 4-1 back in September. And regardless of what happens at the San Siro between Milan and Dortmund, Newcastle would still have a shot of qualifying for the last 16 if they beat the Serie A side at home.
And that’s without assessing the Europa League spot that’s up for grabs in third place. It’s still all to play for in Europe.
A night at Stamford Bridge that could be season-defining
Newcastle will be backed by 4,300 supporters in West London against Mauricio Pochettino’s Blues with Howe’s team a potential 90 minutes away from another two-legged crack at a trip to Wembley. There were easier draws to be had in the last eight, it has to be said.
And having beaten Man City and Man United you hoped that Newcastle’s luck would improve with at least a home tie. Nevertheless, Chelsea – who have been inconsistent this season – is still a winnable tie these days for United.
Howe could have a spate of his stars back by the time December 19 comes around. Opportunity knocks in this one that’s for sure.
Lewis Miley’s emergence
The 17-year-old was one of the big positives despite the 2-0 defeat at AFC Bournemouth last weekend. Miley sailed through the game and only came off early as he is shaking off the effects of glandular fever.
There’s much more to come from this youngster and the way he passed the ball with purpose and was happy to take on responsibility in midfield shows what a star he could become.
January window offers light at the end of the tunnel
Recruitment meetings and scouting missions are taking place as we speak at Newcastle. The aim will be to improve the squad going into the second half of the season and offer some cover in key areas.
The injury concerns for Alexander Isak and Callum Wilson have highlighted that another goalscorer joining the club would be prudent. And Sven Botman’s unexpected knee injury has left Newcastle light on cover at centre-back.
Nobody expected Sandro Tonali to endure the problems off the field that he has, so Newcastle will be on the look out for another midfielder too.
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