“They should be challenging for the Premier League,”
Daryl Murphy on Newcastle United.
“It’s a big club…All they want is their football, there’s 52,000 fans coming to home games in the Championship. It’s unheard of, really.
“They really support the team. We played away games, they were selling the games out. I can’t speak highly enough of them. They were great with me too.”
Newcastle United and Rafa Benitez have a tremendous opportunity to hit the ground running in the 2017/8 season and The Magpies must think and spend big to take advantage of it.
No European football entanglements which will hinder last season’s Top 7 – both Chelsea and Leicester City have won The Premier League in the last two seasons with just one main competition to focus on – means a level playing field with the teams that finished 8th to 17th and of course the two teams Newcastle finished above in The Championship.
A lot is made of the highly competitive nature of The Premier League and while that is true in some respects – organization, intensity and physicality certainly compared to Spain’s La Liga means no easy games. Yet in terms of real football quality, outside last season’s Top 4 teams there isn’t any great sides.
One of the traditional powers, Arsenal, is on the decline as evidenced by its fall from Champions League qualification grace after nearly 20 years in the lucrative competition, meaning its star players will be cherry-picked and want to leave like Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Hector Bellerin to Barcelona.
Of the others, Champions League football returning to a Liverpool side that had midweek free to prepare means two tough games a week for the majority of the season and the question of whether they can juggle on both fronts Under Jurgen Klopp?
Ditto Manchester United as Jose struggled in The Premier League with Chelsea on two fronts before his sacking in December 2015. After acknowledging he had his worst season ever last season finishing sixth, will he thrive on two massive fronts?
And Antonio Conte at Chelsea, Pep Guardiola at Man City and Mauricio Pochettino at Spurs will not want to see a football master like Benitez in the opposition dugout especially at St. James’ Park which can become a fortress once more.
As successful a manager as The Premier League has seen, Rafa Benitez is not rejoining the top flight of English football to make up the numbers.
While Rafa is the ultimate realist in football, he is also the ultimate competitor and will be hungry to win that Premier League title that eluded him and his glittering, almost perfect, CV at Liverpool or he would not have charged himself with the task of awakening the ultimate sleeping giant Newcastle United.
After receiving assurances of spending power from Mike Ashley to make Newcastle competitive this summer, Benitez is immediately looking to bring in the big players who can take Newcastle to the next level.
Former Newcastle United owner and Chairman Freddie Shepherd spoke of the need for a marquis signing through the doors at St. James’ Park recently and its certain that Newcastle will have to break their £15M transfer record many times this season just to punch their weight in the modern market.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang could be the talisman Newcastle need to launch their Premier League assault.
The Borussia Dortmund striker is the top marksman in Europe this season with 31 goals and Newcastle were one of his very early admirers with supremo Mike Ashley joining Graham Carr at the Parc De Princes in 2013 to watch him play.
Back then, the electric-paced striker – a friend of Magpie Ayoze Perez – was available for a more modest £10-15M yet has proven he is worth his goal-scoring weight in gold – or the diamonds that sometimes encrust his tailor-made boots – and £50M for his services would be more than worth it and make a huge statement.
Newcastle have a better nucleus of players ready for the top flight than the majority of people give credit for yet must strengthen the squad massively to boost quality levels and cover the loss of key players which affected their form badly at times last season.
Playmaker JonJo Shelvey makes The Magpies tick and was sorely missed by Newcastle when he was banned over the hectic Christmas period so an alternative to his talents must be top of the list and could arrive in the shape of Fulham’s Tom Cairney:
When PFA Fans’ Championship Player of the Year Dwight Gayle was out the side lacked pace up front, and another pacy finisher is essential if he is ham-strung again.
Newcastle have made one signing already this summer after completing the permanent move of winger Cristian Atsu for £6.2M from Chelsea on a four-year deal yet another winger to cover his absences with Ghana especially on African Nations Cup duty in future years could open the door for England U21 Jack Grealish to move to St. James’:
Scorer of the late goal above against Brighton that sealed The Championship title on the final day of season, ‘The Birmingham Ronaldo’ as he is known among the Aston Villa faithful is a player with bucket-loads of talent who could fulfil his potential under Rafa Benitez and certainly give the Magpies boss more attacking options.
Defender-wise, Newcastle sorely missed Grealish’ former Villa team-mate Ciaran Clark, pictured above celebrating with Dwight Gayle, Grealish and Grant Hanley, in his injury absence in the title-run in and the acquisition of Hull’s Harry Maguire would mean Newcastle have a top defender to increase competition:
Clark himself has spoken of “exciting times” ahead at St. James’ Park and is looking forward to the future with great relish:
“There are exciting times ahead. Everyone is obviously looking forward to the next season, playing against some of the best players and best stadiums in the world.”
Football pundits and transfer targets could do with heeding his words as there is a new mood of ambition – shown by Paul Dummett renouncing Wales for a shot at England honours – at St. James’ Park.
Expected the Unexpected
Juventus Fans Arrested After Clash with Police
Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League quarter-final clash between Juventus and Ajax has already been marred by violence and controversy, before the teams even took to the pitch.
According to Ansa, citing a report from De Telegraaf, dozens of fans were reportedly arrested in Amsterdam in the hours leading up to the game.
Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini (h/t Football Italia) took to Facebook live video to state that “around 120” fans had been arrested.
Per the report from De Telegraaf, fans near the Johan Cruyff Arena were “in possession of knives, clubs, pepper spray and flares.” Also, dozens of Ajax supporters were reported to have clashed with riot police in separate incidents outside the stadium and were eventually dispersed with the use of tear gas and water cannons.
The Mirror posted the following images on their Twitter page:
Man City forward Raheem Sterling Looking to Combat Racism on the Pitch
Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling, who spoke out last month after being subjected to taunts during England’s game in Montenegro, is looking to take his fight against racism to the pitch, saying he would rather stay on the field than let racism force him to walk off of the pitch during a match.
Sterling’s manager Pep Guardiola, stated that he would support players walking off in protest if it happened again, in a strong statement that racism is simply not acceptable.
“I think everyone are entitled to their own opinions. My mum has taught me to be comfortable in my own skin and I am,” Sterling said, according to the Manchester Evening News.
“I wouldn’t personally agree with [walking off], to win the game would hurt them even more they’re only trying to get you down. If you walk off they win, to score or win would be better.
“Everyone’s different. Everyone has their own opinion, how they deal with things emotionally and you have to support everyone.”
Sterling opened up about the racism he has faced in his life, discussing when he first expereinced racism when he moved from North London up to the north-west back in 2010.
“I don’t think trying to make a difference or making a difference, it’s about speaking what you experience. Some people might shy away from it, if more players speak up that might be better.
“It’s offensive but growing up my mum always told me I’m a wonderful black child and I know this. When I hear it, it’s nothing new. I’m happy with it. I’m confident, I’m black and I’m proud. Some people can’t take it but my mum has always told me to love who I am.
“The first time I experienced racism is when I went up north to Liverpool – in London in schools and on a day-to-day basis you’re surrounded by a diverse community. Only a few occasions growing up in the academy in Liverpool, and then mainly in the last couple of years of being a professional.”
Birmingham City Fan Jailed for 14 Days for Punching Aston Villa Player
27-year old Paul Mitchel, a Birmingham City fan has been jailed for 14 days after he plead guilt to assaulting Aston Villa midfielder Jack Graelish during the derby on Sunday.
Mitchell rushed the pitch and took a swing at Graelish when the player’s back was turned at Birmingham City’s St. Andrew’s stadium during the Championship match on Sunday.
Mitchell admitted to invading the pitch and has been officially banned from attending any football match in the U.K. for up to 10 years, and was also ordered to pay £350 in total fines.
Graelish made a statement in which he described how he was “shocked and scared” by the attack.
“I cannot help but feel how lucky I was in this incident,” he said (h/t ESPN). “It could have been so much worse had the supporter had some sort of weapon.”
“He cannot explain what came over himself yesterday morning,” Mitchell’s lawyer, Vaughn Whistance, said on Monday.
“His initial foolish intention was to go onto the pitch to whip up the crowd. He is certainly remorseful today. He is a man with a partner, they have a 2-year-old together and they’re expecting their second child.”
“This weekend a line has been crossed in terms of fan behaviour,” said a spokesperson for the FA.
“On Sunday we saw two separate incidents, at Birmingham City and Arsenal, of individuals entering the field of play and assaulting players.
“Not only is it an offence to enter the pitch, which could result in a club ban and criminal charges for the individual, but it also puts the safety of the players at risk.
“This is entirely unacceptable and we strongly condemn both incidents.
“We will be working with the clubs, the leagues and the police to discuss what collectively needs to be done to protect players and officials on the pitch.
“In addition, we have written to both Birmingham City and Arsenal to seek their observations to examine the security measures they had in place.”
Birmingham City apologized to Grealish and Aston Villa and banned Mitchell for life.
“Birmingham City Football Club would like to apologise to Jack Grealish and Aston Villa Football Club for an incident in Sunday afternoon’s derby match,” a club statement said.
“We deplore the behaviour of the individual who committed this act and rest assured he will be banned from St. Andrew’s for life. The club will also support any further punishment this individual may face in the eyes of the law.
“The club will be working with the relevant authorities to investigate all the circumstances and we will be reviewing our stadium safety procedures.
“What happened has no place in football or society. Jack is a Birmingham lad and regardless of club allegiance should not have been subjected to this — there are no excuses.
“Again, we apologise to Jack and all at Aston Villa Football Club.”
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