Eddie Howe would later admit he wasn’t really thirsty but that didn’t stop the Newcastle manager from unscrewing the cap of the small bottle of water in front of him and taking a long, very slow sip. It was such an obvious time-wasting tactic that by the time he put it back on the table, laughter filled the room.
“I drink my water conveniently,” joked Howe after being asked if he’d rather finish in the Premier League top four or win the Carabao Cup. The 45-year-old had obviously forgotten that, in a moment of unconsciousness, after last Tuesday night Victory in the Carabao Cup against Bournemouth, he admitted: “The Premier League is our priority.”
And so it should be. With Newcastle third as the top tier resume after their World Cup break, a Champions League place next season must feel almost within reach for the club’s Saudi majority owners.
A lot can change in the next 23 games, but Howe appeared cautiously optimistic as he prepared for Monday’s trip to Leicester. “It’s in our hands,” he said. “I would like to think that we are prepared for what lies ahead. I would like to think that the team is ready to play in different ways and I’m not just talking about the system.
“I’m pretty sure the second half of the season will be tougher, but that’s healthy. We are confident; we will rise to the challenge.
Newcastle’s French winger Allan Saint-Maximin recently revealed he spoke to fellow France and Borussia Mönchengladbach striker Marcus Thuram about the benefits of joining Newcastle. “Thank you Maxi,” said Howe, who expects to finally welcome his £60m Swedish striker Alexander Isak back from injury next month. “Thuram is one of the players I watched during the World Cup, but that’s all he did.
“I don’t know what our the window Looks like. I have to be careful not to do something that disrupts the group, but you also don’t want it to become stale. But it would be difficult to improve our starting XI without spending a lot of money and Financial Fair Play rules will make that difficult.
Howe was quick to deny suggestions Newcastle could fund further purchases by selling Saint-Maximin. “For me, every time Maxi is unavailable it’s a disaster because he’s unique,” he said, expressing hope that the winger has overcome the hamstring issues that have plagued him. interrupted the first half of the season. “He has skills that no defender wants to come up against. Maxi is a huge player for us and there is so much more to come from him.
“For me he is the best dribbler in the Premier League. He has the ability to put any opponent on the back foot. The team have performed very well in his absence but he undoubtedly has the qualities that we will need in the second half of the season.When he is in top form, Maxi is a key player from the start.He is absolutely not an impact sub.
In Howe’s ideal word, Saint-Maximin and Brazilian Bruno Guimarães would trade passes with James Maddison at St James’ Park. The Leicester England midfielder remains high on Howe’s shopping list and while a deal next month may be too difficult to complete, he hasn’t completely ruled out the idea.
“I never talk about players from other clubs,” said Howe, who despite frequent praise from Jonjo Shelvey could eventually sell the playmaker, whom some predecessors found very demanding when he was outside the first. XI. “But…James Maddison has been absolutely brilliant this season…it’s great publicity for the Premier League.”
Like it or not, Newcastle are in fact unofficial ambassadors for Saudi Arabia. At some point over the next few months, they are expected to take part in a warm-weather training camp at the lavishly futuristic new Red Sea resort that is rapidly taking shape along the kingdom’s west coast, 300 miles north. north of Jeddah. It’s not just aiming to lure sun-hungry northern Europeans to its glorious winter weather, but to help change international perceptions of the country.
It may seem like an unrealistic ambition, but a year ago the idea that Howe and Newcastle would now give Jürgen Klopp, Erik ten Hag, Antonio Conte, Graham Potter and society real cause for concern was too. .