Alan Shearer column: Ex-Newcastle captain says his old side could be ‘best of rest’

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Alan Shearer column

It was a magnificent game of Premier League football between Newcastle and Manchester City on Sunday that had everything – from great players to great excitement and a great atmosphere.

There are lots of teams that go up against City and Liverpool that try to sit in and defend, soak up pressure and hit them on the break. That was not Newcastle’s gameplan. They wanted to take the game to their opponents and certainly did that.

They went 1-0 down after just five minutes and I was thinking ‘this is not going to be a good day for them’ and feared the worst. But they came back into the game and were much the better team for 30-35 minutes of the first half. They scored three goals in the match and it could have been more.

The last few minutes weren’t fun because Newcastle were hanging on and it wouldn’t have surprised anyone if City had gone on and got the winning goal.

The last time Newcastle went unbeaten in their first three games at the beginning of a season was in 2011-12 under Alan Pardew, when they eventually finished fifth, so this start under Eddie Howe is a damn sight better than it has been in recent years.

‘Saint-Maximin ran Walker ragged’

Newcastle could have a chance of being the best of the rest this season. That might have included Manchester United in sixth place but unless they rapidly sign three or four players in the remainder of the transfer window, that finish will not happen.

One aim for the Magpies, without doubt, will be to improve upon last season when they finished 11th. In fact, they were only three points adrift of eighth place after a shocking start. Five points from three games this time, considering they had champions City and Brighton away, makes it a really positive start. I feel a Europa Conference League spot is a realistic target, which you can achieve by claiming seventh spot.

They took City apart at times in Sunday’s contest. That is no surprise – it is the level that they have set within the football club and how the manager wants them to play; he has said that. They have put up a really good performance and shown up. And the fans will have gone home really happy that they have taken a point out of the game.

City came up against a good Newcastle side in a terrific atmosphere at St James’ Park, with the fans driving them forward. You have to give Pep Guardiola’s side credit for the way they bounced back from 3-1 down. They just don’t panic – they believe in who and what they are. It was no surprise they got a point back because everyone was expecting that. A draw was a fair result.

Newcastle team
How Newcastle lined up against Manchester City

Allan Saint-Maximin ran Kyle Walker ragged. The England full-back had his socks on inside out at full-time. I can’t remember a player running past him as many times as that in a game. There is no doubt Saint-Maximin has the ability. His final ball was superb against City.

The Frenchman has provided four assists for Callum Wilson in the league now – the most he has given for any Newcastle player – which just shows the understanding that the pair have. If they can stay fit, then they will create chances, particularly if Saint-Maximin plays like that. When he is on song, he is very difficult to stop.

Wilson mentioned in the matchday programme about breaking back into the England squad and that has to be his aim. Harry Kane is the striker that will play in Qatar but there are places up for grabs behind him. We know Wilson will score goals and that he is a really good player; the one issue you have is his fitness.

The manager took him off with 15-20 minutes to go against City and that might become a regular tactic to save him from getting injuries in the last portion of the match when he is tired and the muscles are fatiguing.

Meanwhile, Nick Pope has made a really positive start to his Newcastle career and has to be pushing Everton’s Jordan Pickford for England’s number one jersey heading into the World Cup. He was brilliant at Brighton last week where he kept a clean sheet, winning his team a point.

He made some really important saves on Sunday including the one from Erling Haaland at 3-2, where he was quickly off his line and kept himself big. He commanded his box really well too – when Newcastle were under pressure in the last 20 minutes, he came for a lot of balls and took the pressure off his defenders.

‘New owners have galvanised the club and supporters’

It is really exciting times for Newcastle, considering where they were a few years back and at the beginning of last season. When Howe took over in November, the side were 19th in the table and five points from safety. Look at where they are now – and look at the hope that the city and football club has.

The new owners have come in and done their business in a very sensible and measured way. That is the right way to go and everyone is very happy with that. There have been numerous clubs trying to make success happen quickly by spending. Everton are a good example of that – look at the money they have wasted over the years in chasing the dream.

The owners are looking to bring in not just the right players but the right characters too – people who want to immerse themselves in the city, such as Kieran Trippier, Sven Botman, Matt Targett, Dan Burn and Pope.

But in particular, Bruno Guimaraes fits that description – because of where he is from in Brazil, he just gets the area. It shows the way the club want to do things. Against City, he picked up an early booking but continued to work hard for the side and covered more ground (11.98km) than any other player on the pitch.

Premier League table
Arsenal are the only side with their 100% record still intact this season

At the minute, the strategy is working for Newcastle. The owners have galvanised the club and supporters after the toxicity of the Mike Ashley reign. They brought Howe in and the manager has done a magnificent job so far. The second half of last season was superb – only Liverpool (48) and City (46) collected more points than Newcastle’s 38 in that period – and they have carried the good work on into this term.

After City got taken over in 2008, they won their first silverware – the FA Cup – three years later and the Premier League title the following season. I don’t expect Newcastle to be challenging for the league in three years’ time but I would expect them to have a much better go in cup competitions than they have done in previous years.

It has been 17 years since the club last reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup, back when I was still playing for them. There has been nothing in cup competitions since. They have a better squad now, which you will see in the early rounds of the cup games, and hopefully will progress to bigger and better things.

I hope at least they give it a go in the cups, which they have not done for so long now.

‘Newcastle need to bring in a forward player’

There are 10 days remaining in the transfer window and if Newcastle can get a couple more players in, certainly in a forward position and possibly in midfield, they would be in better shape. It would really enhance their chances of finishing in a better position than last season.

I know they are actively looking and a forward is what they are trying to get in.

We will have to wait and see, though, because there have been so many names linked with Newcastle. That is expected with the size of the club and the money they have to spend.

It would be unfair to name players at other clubs but Newcastle do need to sign a player in the forward positions and without doubt a midfielder too. Jonjo Shelvey is out for a period of time and will need cover.

Alan Shearer was speaking to BBC Sport’s Shamoon Hafez.

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