In his latest Reporter Notebook, Sky Sports News' Keith Downie discusses Newcastle's rise and how it might affect their transfer plans plus whether we now have a ‘big seven' in the Premier League.
Following their 2-1 win against Tottenham on Super Sunday, Eddie Howe's side currently sit fourth in the Premier League, marking a rapid rise since the club was taken over by the Saudi-led Public Investment Fund (PIF) last year.
In a recent Gary Neville Podcast, the Sky Sports pundit said he was impressed with how Newcastle have gone about their business under the new ownership, but there were still questions to answer.
“Newcastle have improved enormously,” he said. “Eddie Howe's doing a good job and the type of players they've signed are the right type to get them to that next level… It's been well thought out. The football project that has been put in place has been pretty good and sensible.
“There will always be question marks about them [the owners]. How were the Saudi Arabians accepted into the Premier League? We don't know. There's no transparency and there's no independence.
“The reality is these questions are not going to go away, but I don't believe they should be directed always to the football coach… I'm not saying he shouldn't get asked questions, but the owners and the executives should be the ones taking these questions – as well as the Premier League.”
Here, Downie offers his reflections on a successful season so far for Newcastle and how it might affect their plans and the Premier League going forward.
Is this rise sooner than expected for Newcastle?
“There's a train of thought from both inside the club and the fan base that Newcastle are exceeding expectations on the pitch right now, but you won't hear the manager Eddie Howe admit it.
“This season was all about consolidation and gradual improvement for Newcastle under their new owners, but they've come racing out the blocks and sit in the heady heights of fourth place and a Champions League spot. Nobody expected that when they kicked off the season with a home win against newly-promoted Nottingham Forest just 11 weeks ago.
“But there are so many aspects to admire from Newcastle's start. Aside from Fabio Carvalho's 98th-minute winner at Anfield at the end of August, Newcastle would be unbeaten in their first 12 games. That has included clashes against three of last season's top four.
“They also have the best defence in the league, conceding just 10 goals in the opening 12 games. This is a side that conceded the most goals of everyone in the Premier League in the previous calendar year. Eddie Howe has drilled that defence in super-quick time, with four of his back five arriving since he took the job. Only Fabian Schar superseded Howe's arrival, and even then he was out of favour under Steve Bruce, so has shown big improvement.
“Howe is very careful to ensure that the start to the season isn't to be expected as the norm, but at the same time points to the fact that there's more to come. It's an unusual situation for both him and Newcastle to find themselves in. It's new ground for everyone associated.
“Post-match on Sunday, he said he's excited because he doesn't feel his team are up to full speed yet. But at the same time, he wants to temper expectations.
“Remember, the owners were at pains to say when they took over that they wanted to do things gradually. That didn't include qualifying for Europe less than two years after finding themselves propping up the table.
“People will say Newcastle's rise is no surprise given the fact they've spent in excess of £200m in the two transfer windows since the takeover. But while the likes of Bruno Guimaraes, Kieran Trippier and Sven Botman have been a roaring success, it's the improvement of players shorn of confidence before Howe's arrival that's been most impressive of all.
“Joelinton, Miguel Almiron, Schar and Sean Longstaff have taken their games to different levels in the past year – proving it's not all about money at the new-Newcastle.
“And the scary thing is they have risen to the top of the form table without the likes of Allan Saint-Maximin, Alexander Isak and Jonjo Shelvey. The team will only get better once that trio are back.
“While Howe is trying to keep feet on the ground, he knows those players improve his team, and that's exactly what Newcastle are right now – a team. That was there for all to see in the celebrations at Tottenham at the full-time whistle.
“But despite all of the positivity, a top-eight finish would still be seen as a success this season. The fans – who had become accustomed to merely surviving – are just enjoying the journey of unknown.”
Do we now have a top seven?
“It certainly feels that way. At the start of the season on a fans' podcast, I was asked to predict Newcastle's finish and I plumped for seventh. I still feel the majority of ‘the big six' will finish above Newcastle, but the St James' Park side are giving them a fright right now.
“Make no mistake, Sunday's win was a big statement – beating a Spurs side so imperious at home, and with it the first win on the road under the new regime against one of the big boys.
“This wasn't just a smash and grab either. Howe spoke afterwards about what made him most satisfied was how his team failed to buckle at 2-1 and instead continued to take the game to Spurs. “It was a real positive sign for the future that we didn't go into our shells,” he said afterwards.
“Yesterday was the first time in a decade that Newcastle have entered the top four, and it felt seismic. It definitely feels like Newcastle are now beginning to bridge the gap between the top six and the rest.
“We've seen West Ham and Leicester do similar recently, but the challenge for Newcastle will be to stay there. Further expenditure in the next two transfer windows will help that.”
Will the start to the season affect transfer business?
“Newcastle are at pains to say they don't want to run before they can walk, and it's important to point out that there are so many other aspects of the club that require investment to bring Newcastle up to the top level.
“Just seeing Spurs and their magnificent stadium at close quarters made you realise exactly how far Newcastle have got to go off the park. That work is now in its infancy in the background, but it'll take a lot of time and patience.
“One of the key appointments in recent months has been the arrival of Darren Eales as CEO. He's been tasked with bringing in increased revenue to the club which will in turn allow Howe and Director of Football Dan Ashworth to navigate Financial Fair Play (FFP) and spend more in upcoming transfer windows.
“Eales says they can be creative moving forward so he knows he needs to get to work quick, but both he and Ashworth have also said spending at the level we've seen in the last two windows is unsustainable under FFP rules.
“So I don't think their position in the table will alter plans for January. Remember they're not in a rush to get ‘there' – wherever ‘there' will be.
“I still expect them to add in January, but probably in just one crucial position. The form of the likes of Almiron and Longstaff is ensuring that Newcastle can wait for the right player to become available, rather than making panic buys.
“And the way the team are playing, who's to say any new arrivals will get in the team anyway!”