Gary Neville claims Newcastle United ‘distraction’ as Jamie Carragher draws Liverpool and Villa comparison

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The Sky Sports pundits expressed their doubts over Newcastle United’s top four hopes despite Saturday’s big win over Aston Villa.

Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher have enthused over Newcastle United’s ‘sensational’ performance in Saturday’s win over Aston Villa - but feel Eddie Howe’s side will fall short in their push for a top four place this season.

The Magpies surpassed all expectations last season as they secured a place in the Champions League ahead of the likes of Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea and they made a remarkable start to the new Premier League campaign by thrashing Villa at a joyous St James Park at the weekend.

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With new signings Sandro Tonali and Harvey Barnes impressing on their competitive debuts and striker Alexander Isak producing two clinical finishes, there was a wave of positivity around Tyneside as the Magpies took the first steps in what already seems to a season full of excitement. However, both Neville and Carragher have suggested United will finish outside of the top four this season as they made their predictions for the season on Sky Sports Monday Night Football.

Neville, who predicted Villa would finish ahead of United in sixth place, said: “I made a prediction last week that Villa would be sixth and I’m sticking with it because I’m stubborn. To be honest, I thought Newcastle were sensational on Saturday. What I imagine, and again you’re predicting things when you don’t know what will happen, I think Newcastle are going to have a really good run in the Champions League.

“I think they’re the type of team that could catch teams off guard. I think some of their players will really be motivated by the Champions League. The Champions League, when you experience it for the first time as a club, obviously they’ve been in it before but in this new era, I think it does consume you so much.”

The former England defender believes the Magpies could experience a similar dip in form to the one they suffered ahead of last season’s Carabao Cup Final when they prepare for Champions League group stages this season.

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Howe’s side took just one point from their three league games following their semi-final second leg win over Southampton and struggled to find momentum as they were beaten by Neville’s former club under the Wembley arch. The Sky Sports pundit stressed the Champions League could become ‘a distraction’ for the Magpies and insisted Villa will be able to rely on the experience of manager Emery as they navigate their own European adventure in the Europa League.

He said: “If you get through to the knockout stages, your players’ heads turn and we saw Newcastle last season around that Carabao Cup Final, how those same players really dipped for five or six weeks. They’re going to have a Carabao Cup Final equivalent potentially every few weeks in the Champions League.

“For me, that could distract them. I would just imagine the club will not handle the Champions League as well and it could distract them. If you’re talking about a straight fight between Villa and Newcastle, Newcastle are a better team. I know Villa are in the Europa League but I think Unai Emery has navigated that and done it before many times. It’s not a competition that consumes you as much, I don’t think it’s a challenge.”

Fellow pundit and former Liverpool defender Carragher also believes Newcastle would fail to qualify for next season’s Champions League after predicting they would finish in sixth place in the Premier League table when the season comes to a close in May.

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However, the Anfield legend had words of praise for the work Eddie Howe has undertaken during his time at St James Park and compared the performance in Saturday’s win against Villa to some he witnessed earlier in Jurgen Klopp’s reign at Liverpool

“I think we all underestimate Newcastle and I include myself in that because I haven’t put them in the top four,” he said.

“I think we all keep looking and thinking they can’t keep this going. It’s only one game this season but that was a carbon copy of what we saw last season. It reminded me of Liverpool four or five years ago under Jurgen Klopp. It was high energy, pressing the ball, people with pace all over the pitch.

“They’ve got quality but even the signings they’ve brought in, they’re not the signings that Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United would make. You talk about Livramento coming in, he’s been at Southampton, he’s been injured. Harvey Barnes has come from a team that were relegated. Tonali’s had one game, he’s done really well, and he’s played at a high level - but they weren’t in competition with the other top teams for those players. I describe them as Eddie Howe players, where they look like good players, but he can make them top, top players.”

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Neville had the final say as he compared the Magpies performance in the win over Villa to the ones put in by Liverpool and Manchester United in their own opening weekend fixtures and he stressed Howe’s men are ‘streets ahead’ of their top four rivals.

He explained: “The one thing I absolutely agree is the performance of Newcastle on Saturday, compared to say Liverpool in parts of that game on Sunday and (Manchester) United tonight, they’re streets ahead are Newcastle.”

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