LONDON (Reuters) – Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe will face his old club Bournemouth in the Premier League on Saturday, hoping to ignite a season that has so far been a slow burner.
Seven points from their opening six games is a modest haul for a club with such grand ambitions following last year’s Saudi Arabia-backed takeover but the mood on Tyneside remains buoyant.
That is hardly surprising considering last season Newcastle went into December without a league win and on a meagre seven points before finally beating Burnley.
Howe, appointed last November, has turned Newcastle into a side that are tough to beat and a thrilling 3-3 draw with champions Manchester City in August proved they have the capability to trouble the big guns.
Some eye-catching signings such as the deadline day swoop for Swedish striker Alexander Isak have fuelled optimism that Newcastle can target the top eight or even higher.
The reality is, however, that newly-promoted Bournemouth have the same points total despite suffering a record-equalling 9-0 defeat by Liverpool and sacking manager Scott Parker after just four games of the season.
“This is very much a ‘must win’ game for me,” Newcastle fan Dale Thompson, writing for online fanzine The Mag, said.
“Not to avoid relegation, as was the case for so long last season. It’s a ‘must win’ if we are going to see Newcastle United now put together the kind of run I think they need to, if NUFC are to do anything of significance this season.”
Howe made 300 appearances for Bournemouth as a player and then, as manager, guided them from the fourth tier into the Premier League where they remained for four seasons.
He describes his decision to leave following relegation in 2020 as one of his toughest, but there will be no room for sentiment on Saturday as Newcastle seek their first win since beating Nottingham Forest on the opening weekend.
The weekend’s Premier League programme is three games light with Chelsea’s home clash with Liverpool and Manchester United versus Leeds United postponed because of events surrounding the funeral of Queen Elizabeth on Monday.
After last weekend’s shutdown, action resumes with two games on Friday while at Molineux on Saturday lunchtime, champions Manchester City can go top by beating Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Wolves, who are 14th, face the almost impossible task of keeping quiet City’s Erling Haaland, who took his season tally in all competitions to 13 on Wednesday with the winning goal in the Champions League against his old club Borussia Dortmund.
The Norwegian already has 10 Premier League goals and if he maintains his current scoring rate, records will tumble.
Wolves also have a big-name striker in their ranks now having signed former Chelsea and Atletico Madrid forward Diego Costa, although he is unlikely to start against City as he builds up his fitness.
A City win would leapfrog them above leaders Arsenal, who visit Brentford on Sunday, and Tottenham Hotspur also have the chance to go above their north London rivals.
Tottenham suffered their first defeat of the season as they conceded two late goals against Sporting in Lisbon on Tuesday, and will be eager to get back on track against a Leicester City side who remain rock bottom with one point.
Another defeat for Leicester would pile the pressure on manager Brendan Rodgers who is the bookmakers’ favourite to be the next Premier League managerial casualty.
Steven Gerrard is also under the spotlight ahead of Aston Villa’s home clash with Southampton on Friday, when Nottingham Forest take on Fulham.
Winless Everton host West Ham United on Sunday.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis)