A stellar start to the 2061/62 campaign saw Newcastle United sitting top of the Premier League heading into the new year. Surely they couldn’t win their first English title since 1927 in Robinho Lazaró’s first season in charge?!
It seemed very unlikely, especially as Man UFC remained unbeaten and were just two points behind and with Newcastle’s threadbare squad and limited resources leaving them susceptible to an injury crisis. But Lazaró was seeing any form of European qualification as a massive step forward for a club that finished closer to the relegation zone than the top seven last season.
A shot at silverware
A more realistic target could be a first-ever league cup, with Newcastle facing Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup semi-finals. The home leg was first and Newcastle dominated from the first kick but struggled to make their chances count. That was until the main man Juarez tucked home two one-on-ones in the last 18 minutes to give them a comfortable lead. Villa responded to win the return leg at Emiliano Buendía Arena (really!) 3-1. But attacker Spencer Arbiso came off the bench to bag an extra-time brace that sent Newcastle to Wembley! But the real hero was Héctor Leguiza, who played an 8.0 making nine saves.
Their opponent in the Final was Southampton, who breezed past Watford in the semis. Lazaró was without injured right-back Rondinelli and suspended midfielder Ian Raglan then key player Oliveira obviously “stubbed his toe” the day before – so he was given an injection to man up. Lazaró lined up:
Leguiza; Sánchez, Rendón, Rodríguez, Bertagnolli; McKenzie, Marcel, Gutiérrez; Oliveira; Juarez, Willemen
Subs: Pereira, Ford, Arteaga, Silva, Arbiso, Ulle, Musa, Corbo
Newcastle got a flyer as Manuel Gutiérrez sent Juarez through to finish off a lovely move for his 20th of the season inside 10 minutes. The same two players combined again to double the lead seven minutes later then Oliveira handed Gutiérrez a simple finish to make it 3-0 after 27 minutes! Southampton got one back just after the break but Newcastle continued to dominate and claimed a deserved 3-1 victory. And Juarez’s strikes saw him break the Carabao Cup record for most goals in a season with eight in six.
Newcastle United won their first League Cup in their 170-year history!!
The only way is down?
The resumption of league football didn’t go well as Newcastle lost 1-0 at struggling Stoke, drew 2-2 home to Man City, which they were losing 2-0 after 38 minutes, then lost 2-0 at Chelsea. They got back to winning ways as centre-back Oscar Rendón’s first for the club and striker Arnaldo Willemen downed rivals Middlesbrough 2-0 then Juarez nicked a 2-1 win at Villa. But defeats at Everton then 1-0 at home to Spurs saw them fall well behind the top two.
The big target now was to secure Champions League football, which looked a decent bet given they led fifth-place Liverpool by eight points with 10 games remaining. But next up was a trip to Anfield and Liverpool fluked a 1-0 win despite having 11 shots to Newcastle’s 23.
Oliveira, Gutiérrez and Juarez got them back on track with a dominant 3-0 win over Leeds and the same result followed at Sheffield United. But they went one better by thumping Arsenal 4-0 with goals from Juarez, Gutiérrez, Oliveira and young centre-back Willy Arteaga’s first for the club then nicked a 1-0 win at West Brom.
Outside title opportunity!
While Newcastle won four on the bounce, Man UFC had capitulated to lose five of their last eight, including a 2-0 loss at Spurs who now topped the table. As a result, Newcastle had pushed themselves right back into the title mix. They trailed Spurs by four points with five games remaining but led Man UFC by five and fifth place Man City by nine. And they had a pretty decent run-in.
Game 1 – Burnley (9th, home): Newcastle lost ground in the first game of the run-in as they struggled to a 0-0 with mid-table Burnley, while Spurs and Man UFC won and 4th place Liverpool beat Man City.
Game 2: Wolves (7th, away): They dropped more points as a 92nd-minute equaliser earned Wolves a 2-2 draw. Spurs won a game in midweek and won at Villa to move 11 points clear and, as a result, secured their first title since 1961 – that’s 101 years!
Game 3 – Man UFC (3rd, home): A big game followed as Man UFC won their game in hand to move just one point behind Newcastle. However, they beat City, which guaranteed Champions League qualification for Newcastle! On the pitch, yet another draw followed as Lazaró’s former Sporting midfielder Gerard Comamala scored a 91st-minute equaliser to nick a 1-1. Liverpool won, meaning second to fourth was separated by just three points.
Game 4 – Watford (17th, away): Watford were right in the relegation mix, and it was pretty clear to see why. Newcastle bossed this game from the first whistle and sealed a deserved three points with Oliveira scoring after 15 minutes then Willemen tapping home to make it 2-0 after the break. UFC thrashed West Brom and Liverpool won 1-0 at Everton, taking the fight for second to the final day.
Game 5 – Southampton (6th, home): Newcastle had a potentially tricky final day opponent, while Man UFC went to relegated Norwich and Liverpool entertained mid-table Leeds. Newcastle made a great start, racing into a 3-0 lead inside 33 minutes. And all was looking good. That was, however, until the second half as Southampton immediately got one back, scored again 13 minutes later and equalised in the 93rd-minute. Luckily, Man UFC could only draw 0-0 and the point was enough to finish ahead of Liverpool, who beat Leeds 3-1. So Newcastle clung on to finish second in the Premier League!
Four draws in the final five games saw Newcastle eventually finish a huge 12 points behind champions Spurs, who only lost three times all season.
Willemen had the highest average rating in the league of 7.48, which saw him claim both the English Footballer of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year. He was joined in the Team of the Year by Gutiérrez, who topped the league assists chart with 15. And Juarez was the fourth-top scorer with 16 goals in 34 games, which won him the league’s signing of the season – not bad for a soon-to-be 35-year-old.
Lazaró was delighted with his first season back in English football. His Newcastle side massively overachieved what was expected of them in the league and picked up some silverware – so he was excited to see what they could achieve next season with a few key additions.
This season’s star man was probably Juarez, who scored 24 goals and got 13 assists with a 7.43 average rating in 40 appearances. However, Willemen scored 15 and assisted 15 with a club-high 7.46 average rating that also won him fans’ player of the season.
Gutiérrez was also excellent with 18 assists and 10 goals from midfield and a 7.41 average rating, while Oliveira chipped in with a slightly disappointing 10 goals and seven assists and a 7.08 average rating. And Leguiza set a new Newcastle record of 21 clean sheets.
Lazaró was well aware that his squad required strengthening over the summer to compete in the league and in Europe. And there were question marks around some of their older players including, say it very quietly in Lazaró’s presence, the wonderful Juarez. However, Newcastle didn’t have a huge amount of money available so that might be easier said than done.
Could Newcastle challenge for the Premier League title? And how would they fare alongside Europe’s elite in the Champions League? Join us next Monday to find out!