Newcastle have a shot at Europe with Joelinton and Guimarães in midfield

Newcastle may be the richest football club in the game, but they have been relatively quiet in the transfer market this summer. Far from splashing the cash, they have only signed three senior players – bringing in goalkeeper Nick Pope from Burnley for £10m, signing centre-back Sven Botman from Lille for £31.9m, and making Matt Targett’s loan move from Aston Villa permanent.

For the most part, Eddie Howe is going with the same side he picked in the second half of last season. Pope displaced Martin Dubravka between the sticks for their opening game of the season against Nottingham Forest on Saturday but all 10 outfield starters were players who had been at the club last season. Dan Burn proved a superb addition at the heart of the defence in January and he kept his place, with new signing Botman left on the bench until the 90th minute. Considering Newcastle’s flying form in 2022 – only Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham have picked up more than their tally of 41 points this year – Howe thinks there is no need to fix something that isn’t broken.

A key element of Newcastle’s good form this year has been their dynamic Brazilian midfield duo, Joelinton and Bruno Guimarães. Joelinton’s redeployment as a midfielder and subsequent rejuvenation has been a huge success. After joining Newcastle from Hoffenheim as a forward in 2019, the Brazilian struggled as the lead man. He played in all 38 of Newcastle’s league games in his first season but only scored twice.

Fans only saw the best of the 25-year-old when he moved back into midfield. Joelinton is hardly prolific in front of goal – he only scored four goals in the league last season – but his influence on the team has magnified greatly. Since Howe took charge last November, Joelinton has made more tackles (64) than any other player at the club, revelling after his change from goal-shy striker to hard-working central midfielder.

Second on that list for tackles is January arrival Bruno Guimarães, with 47. Newcastle caused quite the stir at the turn of the year when they lured Guimarães to St James’ Park from Lyon. The Brazil international had dominated midfields in Ligue 1 and, with each passing week, the £33.5m that Newcastle spent to secure his services looks more of a bargain.

His all-action approach has helped him slot into the team seamlessly and adjust quickly to the rigours of Premier League football. With Howe favouring a 4-3-3 system, picking Joelinton and Guimarães alongside each other in midfield, they are difficult to break down. If you beat the Joelinton press, then Guimarães is there to rob you of the ball, and vice versa. With a full pre-season behind them, the pair were excellent in Newcastle’s opening 2-0 win over Nottingham Forest. Both featured in our Premier League XI for the opening weekend and that was not a flash in the pan. Since Howe took over, Guimarães has been our highest ranked player in the Newcastle squad, with Joelinton third.

The Newcastle manager has two workers who are strong in and out of possession. When defending, they do not give opposing midfields a moment’s rest. For a Newcastle side that was so effortlessly bypassed before Howe’s appointment, this has been a huge turnaround. When in possession, they carry the ball forward to help Newcastle swarm teams. They can both ghost past opponents and wriggle their way out of tight situations while beating a midfield press. Guimarães completed five dribbles against Nottingham Forest, with Joelinton completing four.

Newcastle fans are excited about the future. From struggling to stay in the Premier League under Mike Ashley to having a better 2022 record than Arsenal and Chelsea, they have come a long way. Attention is understandably turning towards a potential return to European action.

Of course, the new owners have only had one full window to invest in the squad and they may strengthen further before the end of the month, with Lyon and Brazil attacking midfielder Lucas Paquetá linked with a switch to Newcastle. He would be joining a team with a solid midfield foundation. Newcastle have proven this year that they can rub shoulders with the big six in the Premier League. If Joelinton and Guimarães stay fit, Howe’s side could gatecrash the European places this season.