Newcastle United 2021/22 season preview: Can the Toon build on a promising end to last season?
(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

By Harry Roy, Alex Wood, Dan Wright, Liam Ryder and Harry Crowe

Strap yourselves in Newcastle United fans, because here we go again.

The Magpies kick-off their brand new Premier League campaign this Sunday against West Ham United looking to build upon a 12th placed finish last season; a position that truly looked unattainable just weeks before the end of the campaign in May.

Despite a positive end to the 2020/21 season, the negativity that seems to naturally associate itself with the club reared its ugly head once again this summer; after news that the proposed takeover of the club had hit another major snag, with an arbitration date now set for early 2022.

News of more delays on the takeover front, added with a lack of signings in the summer transfer window, has led to thousands of Toon fans cancelling their season tickets.

What may bring supporters back to St James' Park, however, is the impending arrival of fans favourite Joe Willock for a fee of £25 million from Arsenal – a man who was an overwhelming success on Tyneside last season on loan.

Despite Willock's imminent arrival – and star player Allan Saint-Maximin remaining at the club for at least another season – it does still remain to be seen whether this Newcastle side will kick on after their strong finish last season, or fall into the traps of another nail-biting relegation scrap...

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Transfer business

The summer transfer window at Newcastle United was about three things: sign Joe Willock by any means necessary, offload some high earning players, and sign a centre-back.

That third option looked promising early on – with rumours circulating about a deal to bring Celtic defender Kristoffer Ajer to Tyneside – but that particular transfer, along with a plethora of other rumours, failed to materialise.

Pre-season, as always, allowed Newcastle fans to glimpse young talent that could break into the first team in the future.

Young defender Kell Watts, for example, shone in the brief minutes he played in the 3-0 pre-season win against Norwich, only for him to be loaned out to League One side Wigan Athletic the next day.

It must be said, however, that it is a good move for the promising defender and one that will see him develop further. But with Newcastle's injury-prone backline, many would have wanted to see him in the black and white, before swapping it for blue and white.

Newcastle still desperately need to sign a central defender, especially when you consider that the club recorded seven injuries to their centre-backs throughout all of last season – a factor that was not helped by Florian Lejeune being shipped out on loan to Deportivo Alaves without an adequate replacement signed.

The Toon, along with looking to sign players, were very keen to offload fringe players to free up space on the wage bill for new acquisitions.

COVID-19 has impacted every club in the world, Newcastle were one of those impacted the most. Not having a full St James' Park every week has reduced income, and to balance that, big earners like Yoshinori Muto and Henri Saivet were still picking up handsome wages, despite rarely featuring for the first team.

Despite both Muto and Saivet departing the club this summer, and a significant chunk of the wage bill being subsequently freed, Newcastle are still the only to have not signed a single player in this summer transfer window.

However, that looks set to change in the coming days, as it was revealed on Sunday night that the club had agreed a deal in the region of £25 million to sign Arsenal midfielder and fans' favourite Joe Willock on a permanent deal.

Willock set Tyneside alight with his performance on loan at The Magpies last season, becoming the youngest player in Premier League history to score in seven consecutive games.

This deal to bring the 21-year-old back to Newcastle permanently may be a huge indication as to why the club had made no other movement in the transfer market until now – with head coach Steve Bruce making it very clear he was the club's number one target from the very start of the summer.

It is also a move that Newcastle fans wanted, and what their squad needed. As of now, the move is not finalised but is expected to be completed in the coming days, despite personal terms still being ironed out between the two parties.

Pre-season review

Steve Bruce’s men enjoyed a mixed bag of results during pre-season, starting with a defeat to National League North side York City.

It was far from a brilliant star, but things did improve in their next game at Doncaster Rovers, a game that saw the return of 3,000 travelling Toon supporters, who made their voices very much present at the Keepmoat Stadium.

Those who made the journey to South Yorkshire were rewarded with a 3-2 win, which featured new number nine Callum Wilson’s first goal in front of the fans.

A draw at Rotherham United followed – a game that will mostly be remembered for natural midfielder Jeff Hendrick bizarrely playing as a centre-forward for the final 20 minutes, and then going on to grab Newcastle's equaliser with a header in the final moments of the match.

Newcastle played another League one outfit in their penultimate friendly, this time overcoming a Burton Albion side by two goals to nil at the Pirelli Stadium, making the gulf in quality apparent in the process.

The Magpies defeated fellow Premier League side Norwich City 3-0 in their final game of pre-season, something which can only be a positive heading into the new campaign this weekend.

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Fixture breakdown

August

Newcastle's Premier League campaign kicks off as it did the previous year against West Ham, this time at St James’ Park.

The Magpies won 2-0 on that occasion thanks to two goals from debutants in Callum Wilson, who loves a goal against The Hammers, and Jeff Hendrick.

United also defeated David Moyes’ side in the reverse fixture, winning 3-2 on that occasion with Joe Willock scoring a late winner.

Next up, Steve Bruce takes his side to face his former employers in Aston Villa at Villa Park.

Since Villa’s return to the Premier League in 2019, Newcastle have failed to beat them, losing 2-0 on both occasions away from home, and drawing both home meetings 1-1.

Despite now being without the highly influential Jack Grealish, Newcastle should expect nothing but a difficult game with Villa spending well on the likes of Leon Bailey and Danny Ings.

The opening month of the season is rounded off with Southampton visiting St James’ Park on August 28th. Last season saw Newcastle win 3-2 at home, and despite ending the game with nine men following Hendrick’s red card, and then running out of substitutions after injuries, they held on for a vital three points.

It will be interesting to see how The Saints get on this season with former striker Ings now in Birmingham, and Jannik Vestegaard also being heavily linked with a move to Leicester City.

September

September looks to be a challenging month for Bruce’s men, and it’s a trip to Old Trafford up first for The Magpies.

Newcastle did give a decent account of themselves in the corresponding fixture last season, although they did ultimately lose 3-1 to Manchester United. The Toon haven’t won there since 2013 when Yohan Cabaye scored a famous winning goal.

The next game against Leeds United will also be a tricky match-up for Newcastle, who lost on both occasions to the Yorkshire side last season on their return to the top-flight.

Leeds are another side who have a strong look about them for the new season, with their standout signing being former Barcelona left-back Junior Firpo.

The month is rounded off with with a game that Newcastle will be targeting points in as they visit Vicarage Road to face Watford.

However, United have struggled on that particular ground in recent years and The Hornets will be determined to stay up on their return to the top flight.

October

There are no easy games in the Premier League, but Wolverhampton Wanderers will certainly be no pushover for The Magpies on October 2nd.

Put your money on a 1-1 draw to be played out at Molineux, with the last five meetings between the two sides ending that scoreline.

The two scheduled home games for Newcastle in October are challenging, with Tottenham Hotspur being the first visitors to St James’ Park.

Newcastle did play pretty well against Spurs last season and played out a 2-2 draw, a result in which they may actually have been frustrated that they did not take all three points.

The Toon actually drew both meetings with Spurs, having played out a 1-1 draw at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium thanks to a last minute penalty from Callum Wilson which was certainly controversial.

Crystal Palace away are next, a fixture which Newcastle won 2-0 last season after late strikes from Wilson and Joelinton.

Finally in October, Champions League winners Chelsea visit Tyneside. The Blues, then under Frank Lampard’s management, claimed a 2-0 win against a Newcastle side who were well off the pace on the day.

November

Steve Bruce will be having bad memories about Newcastle’s first November game where Brighton & Hove Albion await at the AMEX Stadium.

Last season saw United get battered 3-0 on the south coast, a result which left many fans calling for Bruce to be relieved of his duties.

In fairness, his side did react well to that thumping and ended the season strongly as they secured survival.

Newly promoted Brentford then travel to St James’ Park after the international break. Newcastle will be hoping to keep Ivan Toney quiet, especially after letting him leave the club in 2018.

Then comes a trip to the Emirates Stadium to play Mikel Arteta's Arsenal.

Newcastle have made The Gunners look like their old selves on their last two league visits there, even though they have been well below par in both seasons.

December

The hectic Christmas period is always crucial for any side and that is particularly relevant in Newcastle United’s case.

They will be targeting maximum points in their two consecutive home games against Norwich City and Burnley, with a tricky trip to Leicester City to follow before games with Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United.

Newcastle did beat Norwich 3-0 last weekend in their final pre-season friendly ahead of the big kick-off in the Premier League.

Goodison Park is the venue for the end of 2021 for The Magpies where they will face former manager Rafa Benitez and his new Everton side.

January

The start to the new year could be an indication of how Newcastle will get on in the second half of the season, with 2022 starting off with a nice long trip to Southampton, ahead of the third round of the FA Cup the following week.

Watford then visit St James’ Park, before the month is rounded off at Elland Road against Leeds United.

The Magpies will be hoping to enjoy this trip a little more than their last visit to Yorkshire when they lost 5-2. They will then also be hoping to be involved in another FA Cup tie the week after.

February

The month begins with Rafa Benitez returning to the ground where he is adored for the first time since his departure in 2019.

Newcastle were one of only a handful of sides who prevented The Toffees from winning on the road last season, impressively claiming a 2-1 win.

They actually did the double over the Merseyside club, also winning 2-0 at Goodison Park later in the campaign.

Aston Villa then travel to Tyneside before The Toon make a trip of their own, this time to the London Stadium where they have won on three of their four visits.

It’s another trip to London the following week for a visit to Brentford, the side who ended Bruce's sides Carabao Cup run last year at the quarter-final stage.

March

The season reaches crunch time in March and Newcastle will be hoping to pick up what could be crucial points in their two home games against Brighton & Hove Albion and Crystal Palace.

There is also another London trip to Chelsea sandwiched in between those two matches.

April

The 2021/22 campaign doesn’t have an easy finish for The Magpies – and April begins with a trip to Tottenham, ahead of home games with Wolves and Leicester.

They will also face a trip to a ground where they have a wretched record in Carrow Road where Norwich City await.

The Canaries may well be fighting to secure their place in the division by this stage given their previous struggles in coping in the Premier League.

April is then rounded off with Liverpool coming visit St James’ Park.

May

The final month of the season hardly has an easy start for The Magpies who face the daunting prospect of traveling to the Etihad Stadium for a game with champions Manchester City.

That comes before Arsenal come to Tyneside, a side who Newcastle only beat twice in the last decade, with their last win coming in 2018 with goals from Ayoze Perez and Matt Ritchie.

The season ends at Turf Moor in what has potential to be a relegation shoot-out depending on how both sides fair over the course of the campaign.

Newcastle did do the double over The Clarets last year, with Allan Saint-Maximin turning the game around in Lancashire last season where he helped his side come from a goal down to win.

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One to watch

Callum Wilson

The 29-year-old made the perfect start to his Newcastle United career last season, scoring on his debut in the opening day win at West Ham and finished what was a disrupted campaign with 12 goals from 26 league games after a year like no other.

With COVID-19 affecting the sporting world and injuries to several key players, including Wilson, noticeably in his hamstring which sidelined the striker for two months, and the lack of service from his teammates throughout the season ultimately halted the England international’s progress and made his life in the North East all the more challenging.

To Wilson’s credit, particularly in the first half of the campaign, he showed how his £20 million fee from AFC Bournemouth looked to be an absolute bargain as he scored six goals for The Magpies in his first seven Premier League appearances – only Les Ferdinand achieved that feat in the top flight in fewer appearances for Newcastle.

Having since been announced as the club’s iconic new number nine, as long as he can remain fully fit, the forward will be instrumental to where Steve Bruce’s side will finish this season and with the welcoming return of supporters back inside St James’ Park, Wilson will be hoping his firepower can not only delight The Toon Army but also England manager Gareth Southgate.

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Potential wildcard

Ryan Fraser

Such was the underwhelming nature of the Scotsman’s first season on Tyneside, you would be forgiven for writing him off, but Ryan Fraser has shown enough glimpses of his quality to show that he could have a big part to play for The Magpies this season.

His delivery from both in-play and set pieces adds a completely different dimension to Steve Bruce’s men – and it is that quality that he can look to bring to the side.

The formation that The Toon lined up with both at the back end of last season and during pre-season means that it may be difficult for him to get into the side. However, he has expressed a desire to be versatile – offering to train to be a centre-midfielder to try and force his way into the starting line-up – which should stand him in good stead.

He may have to wait for his chances but when they do come, there is no reason why Fraser should not have a very solid season on Tyneside.

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What to expect

Before the start of last season, it was rumoured that Steve Bruce set an in-house target of a top ten finish. It is expected that the objective this time round will purely be to survive relegation to the Championship.

The Magpies, despite finishing in a comfortable 12th position in the previous campaign, were favourites to join West Brom and Sheffield United in the second tier after a 3-0 thumping to the hands of Brighton in March – before they went on to win five of their last eight league games, subsequently condemning Fulham to the final spot in the bottom three.

Although the majority of the sides expected to be around Newcastle in the league table have bolstered their squads to some effect, The Magpies have predominantly kept the same squad as they had last season,.

Bruce's men should still have too much quality in their team – in particular in Saint-Maximin and Wilson – to be relegated, but lack the necessary squad depth required to break into the top ten.

Prediction: 14th

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