NEWCASTLE UNITED’S form has dipped dramatically in the last month, with the Magpies having lost six of their last seven matches in all competitions.

December has featured exits from both the Champions League and Carabao Cup, and a slide out of the Premier League’s top seven. What has gone wrong for Eddie Howe’s side?


Newcastle’s squad has been decimated by injury so far this season, with the absence of a host of key players having proved extremely costly. It is not just the missing players that has damaged the Magpies, it also the inability to rotate or rest players because the squad has been so depleted that has contributed to the club’s poor run.

The problem has been most acute in the wide-attacking and wide-midfield slots, with the long-term absence of Joe Willock, Harvey Barnes, Jacob Murphy and Elliot Anderson having severely restricted Howe’s options. With the quartet out, and Joelinton also having missed matches, Anthony Gordon and Miguel Almiron have had to play every week. As a result, they have looked increasingly jaded as December has progressed.

The Northern Echo: Jacob Murphy receives treatment after suffering a dislocated shoulderJacob Murphy receives treatment after suffering a dislocated shoulder (Image: PA)

At the other end of the field, it is surely not a coincidence that Nick Pope’s shoulder injury has coincided with Newcastle’s defence suddenly malfunctioning. Martin Dubravka has not committed any absolute howlers, but he does not seem to have the same relationship with Newcastle’s back four that Pope does.

Some of the injured players are gradually beginning to return, but as the performances delivered by Dan Burn and Sven Botman on Boxing Day prove, it will take a bit of time to get them back up to full speed. In the meantime, Newcastle will have to continue to try to muddle through.


While Newcastle’s general malaise has spread right through the squad, it is notable that a number of last season’s key performers have suffered a marked downturn in form.

The most obvious example is Kieran Trippier, who has suffered an especially difficult December. Mistakes against Everton and Tottenham resulted in the opposition scoring goals, but were nothing compared to the stoppage-time error that enabled Chelsea to equalise and go on to knock Newcastle out of the Carabao Cup. Trippier is 33 now, yet the Boxing Day game with Nottingham Forest was his 30th match of the season for club and country. Mentally and physically, that workload has taken its toll.

The Northern Echo: Kieran Trippier misses his penalty during Newcastle's shootout defeat to ChelseaKieran Trippier misses his penalty during Newcastle's shootout defeat to Chelsea (Image: PA)

Bruno Guimaraes is another of last season’s key performers whose recent form has been patchy at best, with the Brazilian combining the odd performance where he dictates play from the heart of midfield with a string of other displays where he plays erratically and is often caught out of position. Tuesday’s outing against Forest certainly fell into the latter camp.

Gordon’s form has dipped in the last month or so, almost certainly as a result of his relentless workload, with Almiron growing less and less effective on the opposite flank. Again, the Paraguayan’s performance against Forest was an especially poor showing. Callum Wilson and Alexander Isak continue to interchange in attack, but neither has looked at their most effective in the last few weeks, with both having suffered injury issues that appear to have blunted their sharpness.


Despite some of the wilder commentaries from sections of the national media, Howe’s position on Tyneside remains rock solid. There is an acknowledgement from those above him that anyone would have struggled to cope with what has been thrown at Newcastle this season, and the bond between Howe and Amanda Staveley, in particular, remains extremely strong.


However, that does not mean Newcastle’s head coach should be immune from criticism. Yes, Howe’s hands have been tied to a large extent in recent weeks. But there have still been times where the Magpies boss could have done things differently but has perhaps been too loyal to the players who have tended to be in his first-choice line-up in the past.

The Northern Echo: Eddie Howe and Jason Tindall chat during Newcastle's Boxing Day defeat to Nottingham ForestEddie Howe and Jason Tindall chat during Newcastle's Boxing Day defeat to Nottingham Forest (Image: PA)

Why did Burn start ahead of Livramento on Boxing Day when his lack of pace and mobility was always going to be an issue against the lightning-fast Anthony Elanga? Why hasn’t Livramento had a proper chance in his preferred position of right-back when Trippier’s form throughout December has been so poor?

What has Lewis Hall done wrong to mean that he is seemingly not even considered for a starting spot? Howe insists the Chelsea loanee remains part of his long-term plans, but appears unwilling to start with him no matter what. And with so few options in midfield and attack – particularly in the wide roles – might it not be time to move away from the 4-3-3 formation that Howe has stuck rigidly to throughout his St James’ Park reign? Is it worth pairing Wilson and Isak as a front two? Or even experimenting with three centre-halves and wing-backs to try to tighten things up at the back?


Perhaps the answer to at least some of Newcastle’s problems will lie in the January transfer window. The last month or so has exposed major flaws within the squad that undoubtedly need addressing.

The lack of a natural holding midfielder has been an issue for quite a while now, but it tended to be masked last season because Newcastle’s high-pressing was so effective that teams rarely got the chance to scythe through the Magpies midfield in the way Forest did on Boxing Day.

Forest’s forwards had the freedom of St James’ whenever they were able to counter-attack, and the acquisition of a natural holding midfielder must be a priority next month. It should have been in the summer, but Newcastle opted to move for Sandro Tonali instead. Kalvin Phillips, desperate to get out of Manchester City, is an obvious candidate provided the Magpies can make the sums work.

The Northern Echo: Newcastle have been heavily linked with Manchester City's Kalvin PhillipsNewcastle have been heavily linked with Manchester City's Kalvin Phillips

As Howe is rightly at pains to point out, January can be a difficult month to do business in, but Newcastle could also surely do with another forward player to give them additional options in the final third. Wilson and Isak both have chequered injury records, and while Howe’s strong tendency to play with just one striker could make it hard to recruit another forward capable of making an immediate impact in the Premier League, a lack of attacking variety has hampered Newcastle this season. In hindsight, Yankuba Minteh’s loan deal at Feyenoord should have contained a loan clause enabling the Magpies to recall the youngster next month.

Might it also be worth signing another goalkeeper? Newcastle have a lot of shot-stoppers on their books – Loris Karius and Mark Gillespie have been in a host of squads this season without playing – but Dubravka has not really been able to step in as a like-for-like replacement for Pope. Given that Pope is due to turn 32 in April, is it time to start seriously thinking about succession planning and considering potential long-term options? That must be a temptation, especially when there is every chance Aaron Ramsdale is growing increasingly frustrated on the bench at Arsenal.