Premier League preview: Uphill task for Steve Bruce at project Newcastle

A top-10 finish will be a bonus but anything between 10th to 15th should be a respectable finish for the team from Tyneside.

Steve Bruce has spent in excess of £50m to help bolster Newcastle United's attack.   -  GETTY IMAGES

Back in 2016, Newcastle United was on the cusp of relegation when Rafael Benitez took over as the club's manager. Even though the 59-year-old manager couldn't avoid the drop that season, he had infused the much-needed confidence into the side.

The very next season, Newcastle won the EFL Championship title and was promoted straight back into the Premier League (PL). In the next two seasons, the club breached the 40-point mark, in spite of being touted to be relegated.

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Benitez, who managed the team brilliantly, has now parted ways with the Magpies. Hence, Newcastle had a mountain to climb, even before the start of the 2019-20 season, under new manager Steve Bruce.

A chaotic 2018-19 season for the Magpies

From the beginning of last season, Newcastle owner Mike Ashley wanted to sell the club and made funds hard to come by for Benitez to complete the necessary transfers.

Newcastle was lying in the relegation zone until gameweek 10 and was struggling to win games but Benitez was always confident about his team's chances of survival. From there, the Magpies registered three straight wins as forwards Ayoze Perez and Salomon Rondon regained some form.

But throughout the season, the club was highly inconsistent as its ownership and transfer problems persisited. Benitez, however, was given the green signal to complete the Miguel Almiron deal in January but most of his other proposed transfers never happened.

New manager Bruce breaks club transfer record

At the end of the 2018-19 season, Benitez had no other option but to leave the club as he was not enjoying life under a dysfunctional ownership. Last season's top-scorer Perez, too, left the club to join Leicester City.

New boss Bruce had to do a lot of homework ahead of the new season. After finishing third in the PL Asia trophy in China, Newcastle completed a club record signing of forward Joelinton, considered a direct replacement for Perez, from Bundesliga club Hoffenheim. 

Bruce's also roped in French winger Allan Saint-Maximin, who made the switch from Ligue 1 side OGC Nice.

Former Magpies striker and England international Andy Carroll joined his boyhood club on PL deadline day to boost Newcastle's attack even further. The club's only defensive signing came in the form of right-back Emil Krafth from Amiens.

The team's net spend in the transfer window eventually crossed the £30m mark for the first time in nearly a decade.

Season's prospect still circumspect

Newcastle had always been a defensively-sound team in the last few seasons under Benitez. It doesn't score much but in the same way gives the opposition a tough time trying to find the back of the net.

Its attack has been a misfiring one for long now. No Newcastle player has managed to bag 15-plus goals in all competitions since Demba Ba from 2011-12 season.

The lack of goals is also due to the lack of creative presence. Matt Richie and Rondon did manage to get eight and seven assists respectively last season but most of them came in because of mistakes from the opposition. 

The midfielders have to rise to the occasion and set up the strikers regularly by creating more chances. The newly-arrived forwards must finish most of the chances they get without fail and the defenders must shield the goal with everything they've got.

Only then, will the Magpies stand any chance of staying in the top division at the end of the season. Bruce's men will have their task cut out in the next few months. A top-10 finish will be a bonus but anything between 10th to 15th should be a respectable finish for the team from Tyneside.

Newcastle United's transfer activity

IN: Joelinton (£40m, Hoffenheim), Allan Saint-Maximin (£16.5m, Nice), Jetro Williams (loan, Eintracht Frankfurt), Kyle Scott (free, Chelsea), Jake Turner (free, Bolton Wanderers), Andy Carroll  (Free, West Ham), Emil Krafth (£5m, Amiens)
OUT: Ayoze Perez (£30m, Leicester), Joselu (£1.7m, Alaves), Jacob Murphy, (Loan, Sheffield Wednesday), Mo Diame (free, Al Ahli), Josef Yarney (free, Chesterfield), Liam Gibson (loan, Grimsby), Freddie Woodman (loan, Swansea), Tyrique Bartlett, Jesus Nunez Cumbreras, Otto Huuhtanen, Stefan O’Connor, Callum Roberts (all released)

Premier League fixtures

August

11: Newcastle v Arsenal

17: Norwich v Newcastle

25: Tottenham v Newcastle

31: Newcastle v Watford

September

14: Liverpool v Newcastle

21: Newcastle v Brighton

28: Leicester v Newcastle

October

6: Newcastle v Manchester United

19: Chelsea v Newcastle

27: Newcastle v Wolves

November

2: West Ham v Newcastle

9: Newcastle v Bournemouth

23: Aston Villa v Newcastle

30: Newcastle v Manchester City

December

3: Sheffield United v Newcastle

7: Newcastle v Southampton

14: Burnley v Newcastle

21: Newcastle v Crystal Palace

26: Manchester United v Newcastle

28: Newcastle v Everton

January

1: Newcastle v Leicester

11: Wolves v Newcastle

18: Newcastle v Chelsea

21: Everton v Newcastle

February

1: Newcastle v Norwich

8: Arsenal v Newcastle

22: Crystal Palace v Newcastle

29: Newcastle v Burnley

March

7: Southampton v Newcastle

14: Newcastle v Sheffield United

21: Newcastle v Aston Villa

April

4: Bournemouth v Newcastle

11: Newcastle v West Ham

18: Manchester City v Newcastle

25: Watford v Newcastle

May

2: Newcastle v Tottenham

9: Brighton v Newcastle

17: Newcastle v Liverpool