OPINION: Newcastle must improve squad depth if they are to progress

With last season seeing Eddie Howe’s Newcastle secure their highest top-flight finish since the 2002/03 Premier League campaign, the expectation for the Magpies to perform is higher than ever – but will Champions League football prove to be a distraction for them?

As each of the traditional top six clubs have strengthened their squads during the summer transfer window, the fight for the top four may prove to be more of a challenge for Howe and his players than the previous campaign.

He has added Sandro Tonali from AC Milan and Harvey Barnes from Leicester City, with Tonali a surefire starter and Barnes to offer worthy competition for his compatriot Anthony Gordon. 

In his final press conference of last season, Howe was asked whether expectations will change for 2023/24, and he said: “I think we’ve massively overachieved this year for where we were at the start of the season, and to keep overachieving – and that’s what we’re going to have to do, to match the expectation – is going to be our biggest challenge.” 

Newcastle are at 14/1 odds to win the Premier League the upcoming season, a staggering jump from the 80/1 odds tipped them to at the beginning of the 2022/23 campaign. With the added pressure and minutes of European football to contend with this term, Newcastle’s lack of squad depth may prove to be a serious problem if Howe wants his team to continue “overachieving”.

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Newcastle used only 26 players in the Premier League last season, the fourth fewest behind Manchester City (22), West Ham (25) and Brentford (25). While the Magpies enjoyed league success thanks to the unity and cohesion brought by the smaller squad, the shallow squad depth may well prove an issue when playing multiple matches in a week.

With more games to play and higher expectations from the Newcastle fanbase, the amplified physical and mental demand on the players has the potential to lead to a drop-off in form and quality. 

However, with a month remaining of the summer transfer window, there is still time for the Magpies to strengthen. Though the club has been linked to a £40m move for Southampton right-back Tino Livramento and a record-breaking £82m move for Napoli’s Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, Financial Fair Play rules (FFP) may prohibit either of these deals from going ahead.

FFP rules in the Premier League state that no club can register losses that exceed a total of £105m across three seasons. Should a club breach FFP rules, they risk sanctions ranging from fines and points deductions to, in the most extreme cases, expulsion from the league.

With the club’s summer transfer budget tipped to be in the region of £100-120m, the signings of Tonali and Barnes have already surpassed two-thirds of that budget – despite the recent departure of Allan Saint-Maximin to Al Ahli for £23m.

While the Magpies may not be able to make another statement signing this window, the remaining budget is more than enough to strengthen the squad depth if the opportunity arises.

The expectation for Newcastle to perform and contend is at the highest it has been for over two decades, and the squad depth may be the difference maker as to whether the Magpies can match, or even exceed said expectation in the upcoming campaign.

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