THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

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It’s been a slow summer at St James’ Park but Newcastle are well placed to have a solid season, while opening-day opponents Spurs look to push on

11 August ~ Newcastle's return to the Premier League begins, coincidentally, with the same fixture their last spell in 2015-16 ended with; at home to Spurs. Last time out both teams knew already how their season would end beforehand, with relegation for Newcastle and an exhausted disappointment at losing out on the title to Leicester for Spurs. The surprise 5-1 home win that day was attributable to the circumstances, but a repeat would be even more unlikely.

Spurs followed up their deflation with a rather more uplifting second to a runaway Chelsea last season and finished with 12 wins out of 13, culminating in 6-1 and 7-1 away demolitions of Leicester and Hull. Newcastle will hope they can catch them before they hit form again, though the window for doing that might not even last the entirety of Sunday's game.

Unusually Spurs haven't bought anyone this summer but they were doing pretty well before the break and the chances are they'll do well again. Newcastle by contrast have spent £30 million bringing in five players and all look credible first-teamers but it's the transfer policy which is at the root of the club's perceived troubles. A single note has played all summer in the papers and the conductor of the monotony is widely believed to be Newcastle's manager, Rafael Benítez.

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Though professing on the record to be more frustrated by the market itself than the club's actions, those with access to Benítez tell us that off the record it's a different matter. Benítez is reputed to have been attempting to apply pressure all summer on the club's owner, Mike Ashley, to approve more spending. 

The manager's unhappiness at the situation, it is implied, might eventually develop into the desire to leave. It's not uncommon to hear supporters say Benítez leaving would be a final straw for them but what we are seeing played out is whether Ashley believes that to be true. After all, he has heard this kind of thing before.

There's a certain fatigue at the unrelenting nature of the speculation but while no one believes Newcastle will take the league by storm, they're a reliable striker away from having addressed the most obvious areas needing improvement in the line-up. The squad itself needs to be thinned out and perhaps if that can be achieved the funds to get that striker will materialise.

At no time last season were Newcastle the most impressive side in the Championship but they were solid and found a way to win games. That'll be more difficult in this division but the hope is those skills in the squad and on the bench will still apply. If they're enough maybe next summer will be different. Mark Brophy

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