Newcastle United traveled to Bournemouth on Saturday and played, as it were, two distinct games—one which lasted approximately 70 minutes, and the other, which lasted about 20 minutes. Here’s the recap:
Game 1—the first 70 minutes
Coming off the heels of a famous win at home against Manchester United, the Magpies returned with confidence. They played quick, scintillating attacking football, which left Bournemouth out of sorts. They tortured Bournemouth left-back Charlie Daniels—usually one of their better performers—to the point that he did not return after the break. (Credit to Matt Ritchie and DeAndre Yedlin for terrorizing Daniels.)
The goals scored were, on a functional level, mirror images of themselves: both started with a sublime pass (by Jonjo Shelvey and Paul Dummett, respectively), followed by a low cross (Ritchie, followed by Ayoze Pérez), and finally finished for tap-ins by Dwight Gayle.
The defense was rock solid. Goalkeeper Martin Dúbravka made one save on a shot, not on-target. The reason for this was a sublime effort from the spine of the team. Shelvey was a monster on the defensive front again; joining him was the man more familiar with this role, Mohamed Diamé. The centre-back partnership of Jamaal Lascelles and Florian Lejeune looked dominant for the second week as Bournemouth found no paths to meaningful attempts on net. All 11 players dominated their counterparts, and no one was a liability. This was a team which for 70 minutes looked ready to ascend to the Burnley, Everton and Leicester echelon of the Premier League this year—dragging themselves out of relegation early.
Game 2—the last 20 minutes
Newcastle United were taught a tough and taxing lesson in Premier League survival over the final 20 minutes. The timeframe saw Newcastle waste multiple chances to ice the game by adding a third and conceding twice. They ended the match in a draw.
Matt Ritchie and DeAndre Yedlin were abused by Josh King and Adam Smith, the latter scored the first goal on a ferociously struck shot. The spine of the team, which was impenetrable for 70 minutes, was suddenly pummeled. They scrambled to stop the levees from breaking but found no way, as Bournemouth substitute Lys Mousset seemed to simply glide past tackles from the moment he stepped on the pitch. Crosses on all sides trickled through and play was recycled constantly. This led to the second goal scored by former Newcastle charge Dan Gosling.
In the last half, only Dúbravka looked prepared; everyone else looked a liability. Nor was Newcastle able to connect the passes as they did in the first 70 minutes. They just weren’t able to ice the game—something which has come up in past reviews. Most troubling of all was that in the final 20 minutes, the Magpies looked dead-tired. It was like they hadn’t had a two-week break to prepare, or like a squad who didn’t fear the drop—something all-familiar to fans of the Toon.
Will Newcastle survive?
If you were to ask me if I was happy with a point away at Bournemouth before kickoff, I would’ve said yes. Eddie Howe is a quality manager and Bournemouth display chemistry. This is a squad capable of playing with anyone in the Premier League. But for 70 minutes, they could not touch Newcastle. This was possibly the best display the squad’s produced all year and I envisioned the match ending (at worst) 3-1 Newcastle.
In his post-match interview, Rafa Benítez said the points were dropped on the day. Of course, when you are vying with 10+ other teams for survival, points dropped mean that others surpass you in the pecking order. A win on the day would’ve jumped Newcastle to 11th place and four points above the drop. Sunday’s draw means they are in 15th place and are 2 points above the drop.
Next week, Newcastle are on the road again, this time facing third-place Liverpool in primetime. Hopefully, the team can return to playing like the team we saw against Manchester United (and for 70 minutes Saturday). That team will survive. The squad of the final 20 minutes will be fighting until the bitter end—an end which may be painful (5/13, 2018, Newcastle vs. Chelsea at St. James Park).
For now, take the point, regroup for next week, and Howay the Lads!