Newcastle United have returned to the Premier League at the first time of asking under the charge of one of the top managers in Europe. But can Rafa Benitez steer the Magpies to survival or will this season prove to be another turbulent campaign on Tyneside?
After relegation at the end of the 2015-16 season, Benitez was given a lot of money to spend by Newcastle owner Mike Ashley last year, and that faith was rewarded as the team finished top of the Championship, although it wasn’t all plain sailing. Newcastle lost their opening two matches and three games without a win towards the end of the season saw them drop to second before they recovered to pip Brighton to the title by one point.
Newcastle face a tough opening game to their Premier League campaign, as they entertain Tottenham, but after that, things get a little easier with matches against Huddersfield, Swansea, Brighton and West Ham offering opportunities to pick up early points. A strong start could make all the difference for a club that has been wildly inconsistent in previous Premier League campaigns, and despite the presence of Benitez, bookmakers are taking a cautiously pessimistic approach to Newcastle’s chances this season.
Only die-hard Newcastle fans will be tempted by the 1000/1 available from Black Type on the Magpies winning the Premier League, and bookmakers seem to think the team will spend most of the season looking down rather than up. They are only sixth favourites for relegation, at 9/2 with BetVictor, but are as short as 2/7 with Betfred to finish in the bottom half of the table, while you can get 10/3 with SkyBet on a top half finish.
Newcastle reached the fifth round of the FA Cup last season before losing on penalties to Hull and a similar cup run this season could offer a welcome distraction for the Newcastle fans from what may be a long hard campaign. If you fancy Benitez’s men to bring the FA Cup to Tyneside for the first time since 1955, you can back them at 50/1 with Sporting Bet and they are also available at odds of 50/1 with William Hill to win the EFL Cup.
Ciaran Clark and Dwight Gayle both have Premier League experience and both will be expected to make major contributions, with Gayle’s form of particular importance. Newcastle have not scored more than 45 goals in a Premier League season since 2012 and they will be looking to Gayle to lead the line and score the goals that will help the club to survive. As Jermain Defoe showed last season, top strikers will find the net even when playing for teams in the bottom half of the table, so if you fancy Gayle as an outside bet to finish as Premier League Top Scorer, you can back him at 150/1 with Ladbrokes.
There were rumours of a falling out between Benitez and Ashley earlier in the summer as a lack of transfer activity suggested that the funds that the owner had promised were not being made available. That situation appears to have eased a little and Benitez has been able to make some shrewd additions, including Christian Atsu, Florian Lejeune, Jacob Murphy, Javier Manquillo and Mikel Merino, but further recruitment is likely with another left back, a goalkeeper, and further attacking reinforcements all on the Benitez shopping list.