Early thoughts – Newcastle United players look fitter than the last survivor of a zombie apocalypse

Last weekend was a weekend of firsts.

It was the first time I’d been to the first Newcastle United game of the season. I witnessed our first win of the new campaign and against a side playing their first game in the top flight for 23 years.

It was the start of the first full season of the new ownership and manager. I also brought a mate who was attending their first ever Newcastle game.

Oh, and we saw first competitive appearances for Pope and Botman.

As soon as last season finished, I was praying I would get the chance to get to the first home game of the new season. Whoever it was against I wanted to be here. I had been lucky enough to complete the pilgrimage from the South West to the North East on five different occasions last season, notching up six games (I stayed in Toon six days to watch the back-to-back games against Everton and Villa).

I’ve said it on here before but I’m yet to see Howe lose as manager of Newcastle. I watched Bruce lose his last game against Tottenham, my first game back since Rafa, but against Brentford and Watford we picked up draws and Everton, Villa, Southampton (away) and Wolves we came out top every time. I would’ve been at Palace at home too had it not been moved to midweek. Instead, I spent that weekend taking in the pubs and coast of Seaton Sluice as I had already booked the trip.

It was great being back up at my second home for the weekend. Seeing Shearer back on club grounds was brilliant. The inside of the stadium looks the best I’ve ever seen it. The atmosphere was great. I sat in the Milburn but close enough to the Gallowgate to hear the ruckus and join in with the songs. I only registered the chants of ‘come on you reds’ three or four times.

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The game was the most one-sided affair I’ve ever witnessed live. Well, at least when we’re the one side in question anyway.

The Newcastle United players should have scored more goals and I almost had a 93/1 bet come in but Joelinton’s scuffed shot, after a quality run, flushed that down the drain. I’d bet on Wilson to score, Wilson to have 2 or more shots on target, Newcastle to have 5 or more shots on target, the game to have over 1.5 goals, the game to have over 9.5 corners, Newcastle to win by more than 1 goal, Nottingham Forest to have the most cards, Newcastle to win the second half, Newcastle to win the first half and Joelinton to score or get booked (I had imagined it was the booking element of this that was more likely to pay dividends). Had Joelinton buried his first half effort it would have meant those last two elements of the bet were won. I only put a quid on. I’m not a gambling man, so it’s probably just as well I didn’t win. Getting £93 from a pound may have encouraged me to bet more and harder in the pursuit of riches.

What are my general thoughts on Newcastle after that game?

The Newcastle United players look fitter than the last survivor of a zombie apocalypse

It wasn’t just the intensity we started with. It was the intensity we relentlessly displayed.

Where a year ago we started well against West Ham but folded in the second half as fatigue set in, this time we were uncompromising in our efforts. Nottingham Forest didn’t have a shot on target all game and barely got out of their half. We were winning first balls, second, third… The closing down was outstanding.

Not everyone was superb.

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Miggy got into some good positions but must have misplaced his pre-season goalscoring boots and had to resort to last season’s wellies.

Trippier misplaced a few passes and wasn’t at his clinical best. But even in these couple of players we still saw them have a better game than any player in red.

Don’t write off our superSchar

Whenever I hear people discussing starting line-ups, rarely are they considering Schar a likely first choice in our ideal eleven.

Has everyone forgotten how highly we rated him under Rafa? I think Burn is great. He came in and did brilliantly from January onwards. I think Botman is going to be a wonderful addition. However, the only way some people seem to think Schar will get in the team is if Eddie is terrified of playing two left footed centre backs together. I think this is nonsense. If all defenders are fit, I believe we will regularly see a pairing of Schar and Botman.

I do really like Burn and he will get plenty of gametime, either in a back three, covering at left back (where he played large parts of his Brighton career) or replacing injured or tired players, but I do believe Schar is all round the better player. He’s a solid defender, his goal saving block on Lingard a reminder of this. He’s got a goal in him, the belter on Saturday was his 10th in 90 Premier League appearances. At 1 in 9 he has a better per game goal ratio than Miggy, Joelinton or Shelvey (plus most of the rest of the team). It’s equal to our backup striker Chris Wood. Only Wilson, ASM, Bruno, Willock and Trippier have better goal to game ratios in their Newcastle Premier League careers than Schar (even Willock falls short if we discount the loan spell).
He’s also been capped 71 times by Switzerland. I know they aren’t an international heavyweight but they are a decent European team. I genuinely think it’s a case of fans forgetting just how good he was before Bruce came along and made them all worse players.

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If it was Schar that had come in from Brighton in January and BDB had been here for a few years and both played the same as they did from January onwards, I’m sure we would all be saying it should be Schar and Botman starting. Likewise, had it been Schar that we were signing from Lille, knowing little about him but seeing his international appearances and reading about his composure on the ball, solid defensive work and eye for a goal, again I think we would be calling for him to start. We’ve been scarred by the memories of a Bruce’d squad, but Schar is a fantastic player and I’m really glad he’s not been moved on.

I’d be happy with any of those three being in the centre of our defence but I do think Schar and Botman are the better pairing. As another contributor suggested, we may see all three play together at times. Away against Liverpool, for example, ASM rarely provides enough of a threat and is a defensive liability. If we had all three flanked by Trippier and Targett and then a midfield four of Bruno, Joelinton, Fraser (on the left) and then either Almiron or Murphy on the right with Wilson up top, it would give us more stability and structure but also the pace to break away and counter.

So there we have it. A great opening day, a season to look forward to for a change. My next visit will be Palace at the start of September when I’ll hopefully see a couple more new players pulling on the black and white.

You can follow the author on Twitter @billymerlin

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