Stretty News spoke to Coming Home Newcastle writer Antonio Losada – a supporter of Newcastle.
The Red Army travels to Newcastle for a fixture that could have a big say in the top four race. Under Eddie Howe, the Magpies will believe they have a chance to get into Europe’s biggest competition.
Antonio Losada gives us a Newcastle perspective ahead of the game. You can follow him on Twitter here: @chapulana
Manchester United haven’t won away at St. James’ since October 2020. How confident are you ahead of the game?
Antonio: “That’s an interesting fact, and that’s definitely something Newcastle have spent a year and a half talking about so everybody knows how stout their defence is when playing on their home turf.
“The improvement has been incredible in the last three seasons (including this one). Considering all competitions, Newcastle only won eight games from Sep. 2020 through Dec. 2021, but after the takeover in that latter season, Newcastle have won 17 of 25 games from Jan. 2022 through this month. That’s ridiculous, and more so is the fact that they Magpies have only lost twice in that 14-month span.
“That said, Man Utd earned a 1-1 draw in their last visit to SJP, and they recently defeated Newcastle in the Carabao Cup final (on neutral ground) while pushing for a top-3 finish in the Premier League.
“Confident? Yes, to some extent. Convinced Newcastle will stiff Man Utd off and get three points on Sunday? Not really, leaning more toward a draw and very happy with it.”
What’s the general feeling among Newcastle fans when it comes to being owned by a state?
Antonio: “We would defer this question to Eddie Howe, who would defer this question to whoever, who…
“There are always going to be conflicting feelings, of course, but the main vibe I got from asking some local lads from Newcastle is that more than anything the new board has done wonders for the club as a whole and the city by extension.
“From what I know, Everything that happens around Newcastle, the club, has an immediate and very direct impact on everything that happens around Newcastle, the city. More than anything, locals felt very relieved when Mike Ashley and his cheap mob sold the club once and for all, and you just have to look at the scenes around St James’ Park after the takeover was announced to see how happy 99 percent of the folks were about it.”
How do you feel about the Saudi owners and the differences they’ve made to Newcastle?
Antonio: “Off-field, off-country issues aside, the takeover has made wonders to all things Newcastle. The club has improved mightily on all fronts. The coaching staff was revamped, new training grounds are getting developed, and investments were made in facilities—not just players—while some members of the board and in-betweens (scouts, sporting directors, etc…) have also been hired to improve the entire operation.
“It’s easy to look at the transfers through the last three windows and boil it all down to the arrival of this or that player, but the truth is that Eddie Howe has made the most of the core that was already in place when he arrived in Tyneside while slowly-but-surely adding some of the pieces he was gifted by way of arrivals.
“New revenue streams—such as the already announced documentary to be broadcasted on Amazon—are getting explored, the brand is expanding beyond the British frontiers, and playing European football next season (we hope!) will also clearly help the club in their new ever-growing status.”
Which United player, if any, would you like to see at Newcastle?
Antonio: “The rumours are already out there—no, I’m sadly not talking about Marcus Rashford joining Newcastle. Scott McTominay seems to be a player highly rated by Eddie Howe and the rest of the staff, and truth be told I wouldn’t really hate that move that much if it ends up happening for a reasonable amount of money.
“If it was entirely up to me (and probably the Saudi-backed board too, considering they have a seemingly bottomless bag of money available) I’d love to watch Jadon Sancho wearing Newcastle’s stripes. With Erik ten Hag managing Manchester United and how capable he seems to be at making everything work and bringing the best out of every living soul, odds are Sancho will become his true self and blossom into the wonderful player he showed flashes of in the past.
“Feel free to give us a call if you decide to move on, though!”
Will Newcastle finish in the top four?
Antonio: “I want to believe that’s going to be the case, but at the same time, I said from the start of the season that I’d be very pleased with a top-7 finish. In other words, qualifying for any continental competition would be more than enough for me, personally, considering what the club went through last season in avoiding relegation and where they find themselves now.
“A top-four finish has become perhaps more realistic after the sacking of Tottenham’s manager Antonio Conte, although it’s hard to make any sort of prediction based on that exclusively. Perhaps they improve, perhaps they don’t. And you still have to consider Liverpool and Brighton as very serious threats to make a home-stretch push toward a Champions League places finish.
“I think ultimately Newcastle will fall to the fifth or sixth position, though, and I’ll be ecstatic with that anyway and even more considering where the Magpies are coming from.”
Which players should we watch out for on current form?
Antonio: “The only answer here is Alexander Isak. There have been other players performing greatly through the whole season—no need to mention midfielder maestro Bruno—but Isak has been more than impressive of late and he seems to have caught fire at both club and country levels in the past few weeks.
“Isak was negatively impacted by injuries and a lack of playing time that clearly blocked him from developing a steady form through his first months in Tyneside, let alone with the World Cup break smacked right in the middle of the season, but Howe has finally handed him more minutes than ever and he’s clearly paying off with an all-around game, contributions all across the pitch, and most importantly a much-needed goalscoring power that Newcastle had lacked after the winter break.
“Another option, much less glamorous but equally impactful, would be Joe Willock. The English midfielder is just another young building block and only nine players (four defenders and the goalie included) among his teammates have logged more minutes than him in the Premier League this season. Watch out because he’s been on a tear of late.”
What do you think of Manchester United a) the club; b) the team; c) the fans and d) the manager?
Antonio: “A) Manchester United are just a behemoth. It is what it is, and that’s not changing any time soon, no matter the results on the pitch or what happens off the field. Man Utd are a global brand and there’s no denying that. Everything felt a bit dark for a while, but just an influx of youth and new vibes brought by the new manager and some incoming transfers have fixed that in a minute.
“B) There is an interesting blending of experienced and youth in the squad, but so far so good. The transition toward a better era (and hey, it’s not that you have ever stopped winning trophies even if the highs have not been as high as those from the past!) is already there and I don’t think Man Utd is that far from getting back into true contention for the Premier League and the Champions League.
“C) I don’t really think I have the strongest opinion here as I have experienced the Premier League and English football from outside of Great Britain my whole life, so I’m not too well-versed in the day-to-day rivalry and dealing with fans from this or that club. In other words, Man Utd always felt like this typical giant European club in the vein of you Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, or Juventus (just to name a few) that will always have fans everywhere just because those clubs never fail to find ways to sign flashy, world-renowned players yearly and were always in the telly (in the early aughts) or now in your stream services for the younger generations to enjoy even if brief attention spans of time through short clips.
“D) Erik ten Hag is sublime. Just fantastic. I cannot complain, of course, because Newcastle stroke gold missing on hiring Unai Emery and having to go with Eddie Howe instead. But if you ask me about up-and-coming, long-term legendary managers that we will look back on in a few years and acknowledge as greats of the game? Ten Hag is definitely on my list. A bright mind and (almost) always stubbornly right. Can’t get much better than that.
Best and worst memories from games involving Manchester United and Newcastle.
Antonio: “I don’t think I need to go way down memory lane to pick the most nightmarish of clashes between these two… You probably have an idea about what I’m talking about.
“The truth is Manchester United have gotten the better of Newcastle more often than not. Keeping things relatively recent and positive, and looking at the paltry three wins Newcastle got against the Red Devils in the past 10 seasons (ugh), Matty Longstaff’s game-winning goal in Oct. 2019 was a nice moment considering it marked the first pro-goal by the Academy product. Now his brother Sean is a staple in the Magpies midfield and young Matty is still in the squad, which is fantastic too!”
High and low point as a Newcastle fan this season?
Antonio: “Leaving the surprising Premier League results aside, it has to be the Carabao Cup run for the good and for the bad.
“Crashing out of the FA Cup left us a bit cold as a fanbase, so the League Cup run toward the final was surely one to experience considering it basically is the only title that Newcastle could have really thought about winning this season and in such a short time after the Saudi takeover.
“Even with the soul-crushing final defeat to Manchester, the excitement that each and every game on the way there brought to every Newcastle fan was incredible. I was legitimately pinching myself after every victory out of pure disbelief. The scenes from Trafalgar Square were wild and I would have loved to be there with the rest of the fans.
“Had you told any level-headed, long-time fan of Newcastle about this development just two years ago… they would have probably sent you packing to the nearest psychiatrist.
“It’s definitely encouraging going forward and helps one believe exciting times are definitely ahead and on the near horizon.”
All-time Newcastle cult hero and why?
Antonio: “There are a lot of great players to be found in the history books of Newcastle, believe it or not. One that might actually hurt you to hear about is Alan Shearer, who decided to come back home instead of going to Manchester to grab some silverware.
“I have to pick Shola Ameobi, though. The lad spent 14 seasons at Newcastle perfectly split into two equally-long halves by a one-year campaign at Stoke helping them achieve promotion to the Premier League.
“Most casual football fans might not have even heard about him, but Ameobi wrapped up his Newcastle career with appearances in the EPL and the UEFA Cup/Europa League, played the third-most players for the Magpie organization, and also finished tied-third for the most goals scored donning Newcastle’s threads. That’s crazy to think about.
As a bonus, under-the-radar pick, I’d go with the extraordinary Fabricio Coloccini, who somehow just retired as recently as 2021 and is now into his managerial career!”
Favourite Newcastle XI from players you have seen?
Antonio: “I won’t provide any background here to make things weirder for those reading who are not very into Newcastle or football as a whole.”
GK: Shay Given
DEF: Jose Enrique, Fabricio Coloccini, Jamaal Lascelles, Kieran Trippier
MID: Jermaine Jenas, Jonjo Shelvey, Bruno, Hatem Ben Arf
FWD: Obafemi Martins, Shola Ameobi
Predict the score of the game at St. James’ Park this weekend.
Antonio: “I’m always on the low side of expectations, so I’d be very pleased with a 1-1 draw to keep our season hopes alive and that top-four finish at reach.”
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