Newcastle United can still equal last season’s Champions League heroics - here's how

Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe can claim a huge victory by ensuring Europa League qualificationNewcastle United manager Eddie Howe can claim a huge victory by ensuring Europa League qualification
Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe can claim a huge victory by ensuring Europa League qualification | Getty Images
Europa League qualification - given the mitigating factors - would be an equally as impressive season as last year for Newcastle United

For Newcastle United, this season has felt like an uphill battle and, when the 2023-24 curtain closes next month, they will remain trophyless. An FA Cup quarter-final defeat to Manchester City three weeks ago means the Magpies will stretch into their 70th year without silverware.

The Champions League promised an odyssey 20 years in the making but that, too, fell flat on its face. Just one win, albeit memorable, from six games did little to convince anyone that Newcastle are ready to overthrow the European elite.

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Throw in a slump down the Premier League table and can Newcastle, when they look at themselves in the mirror, mark this season as a positive one? They can - and could end up celebrating just as much as last year.

Tears of joy flowed around St James’ Park when the Magpies confirmed their Champions League status with a 0-0 draw against Leicester City last year. On paper, repeating that feat is borderline impossible but, in context, can be equalled.

United’s injury struggles are well-documented. Eddie Howe has refused to use a jam-packed treatment table as an excuse. A commendable trait, but everyone else recognises the reality.

Newcastle have 12 players ruled out, a number that has remained consistent since November. Debate raged on social media last week about whether the “unavailable XI” could beat the team Howe has been forced to put out in recent games.

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The Magpies have missed more than 1,400 days due to injury in 2023-24 - more than any other Premier League club. Last summer’s recruitment, too, has also turned out to be a mixed bag.

Nobody could have foreseen Sandro Tonali - the marquee arrival - being slapped with a 10-game ban for breaching betting regulations. Harvey Barnes was the other player expected to make an immediate impact but his progress has been hampered by injury.

Lewis Hall and Tino Livramento were prudent signings, with one eye on the future, but not strengthening further now appears asinine. Failing to do so only compounded the struggles of a congested fixture list due to Champions League commitments.

Off-field unrest from the Dan Ashworth saga and not being able to bolster the squad in January because of FFP/PSR governance also hindered Newcastle. With all that said, should Howe achieve Europa League qualification, 2023-24 can be considered a roaring success.

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As it stands, the Magpies can count themselves as favourites for seventh place - a position that has an unknown reward. Conference League football is guaranteed but a Europa League spot becomes available if Manchester City win the FA Cup.

Newcastle could yet finish above Manchester United - who they still have to play - and force a place in UEFA’s second-tier competition without reliance on others. Qualifying for the Europa League is not the Magpies’ panacea but would go some way to fulfilling their ambitions: retaining star players, attracting signings, keeping the revenue streams flowing and bolstering their UEFA coefficient.

A year ago, Newcastle were third, 12 points better off and closing in on a magical Champions League dream. Fast forward to the present and they are approaching this season’s summit, battered and bruised from a testing campaign.

Nine months of adversity is almost over. Lessons will be learned going forward, with Toon chiefs no longer naive to the struggles of English football’s upper echelons. While this may sound hard to comprehend, given the circumstances, Europa League qualification would be an equally impressive achievement.

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