EPL

Isak primed for Premier League success as Newcastle buy from position of strength

By Sports Desk August 26, 2022

It made sense for Newcastle United to first focus on their defence as they approached the transfer market armed with the millions of Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund.

The Magpies had shipped 80 Premier League goals in 2021 – a competition record for a calendar year – and entered the new year in the relegation zone.

Three defenders arrived in Newcastle's first transfer window under new ownership, with loan star Matt Targett signing again at the end of the season on a permanent deal.

Goalkeeper Nick Pope followed as Eddie Howe prepared for his first full season in charge, and so too did highly rated centre-back Sven Botman.

Over the past two windows, in Pope, Kieran Trippier, Botman, Dan Burn and Targett, the Magpies have signed an entire new back five – and it has paid off.

Entering the weekend, only Liverpool (15) and Manchester City (17) have conceded fewer goals than Newcastle (23) in 2022 among ever-present Premier League sides.

Howe's men ended last season a commendable 11th and are in the top six after three weeks of the new campaign, with their form since January tied for fourth.

However, the three teams to have earned more points in 2022 have scored considerably more goals than Newcastle (30) – Liverpool (48), City (57) and Tottenham (54).

Speaking in April of the key to Newcastle improving further in 2022-23, Howe said: "Ultimately, we need to score more goals – that's very clear.

"From open play, set plays – whatever it is – we need more goals, and we'd love someone to be right at the top of the goalscoring charts. If you do, it gives you a much better chance of being successful consistently."

Since those comments, Callum Wilson – out from the end of 2021 – has returned and netted four goals in six matches, one every 112 minutes on average.

But Wilson's latest strike against City on Sunday was followed by yet another injury, hampering his chances of being Howe's man at the top of the scoring charts.

When Wilson was injured heading into the January window, Newcastle responded by signing Chris Wood from Burnley for £25million. This time, they have moved for Alexander Isak, a £59m (€70m) record buy from Real Sociedad.

The Magpies were already in the market for a forward, but Howe himself acknowledged on Friday they would not have struck quite such an ambitious deal if not for Wilson's setback.

Through combinations of form and fitness, neither Wilson (eight), Wood (five) nor Isak (six) reached double-figures in the league last season, yet they have each netted at least 30 since the start of the 2019-20 season – Isak's first at La Real.

In Wilson (30), Wood (31) and Isak (33), Newcastle have three of the 69 forwards – as classified by Opta – to reach that mark in Europe's top five leagues over that period.

Barcelona (Robert Lewandowski, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Memphis Depay), Inter (Romelu Lukaku, Lautaro Martinez, Edin Dzeko), Paris Saint-Germain (Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi, Neymar), RB Leipzig (Andre Silva, Timo Werner, Christopher Nkunku) and Tottenham (Harry Kane, Son Heung-min, Richarlison) are the only other clubs to presently own three of these players.

For the first time in a long time, Newcastle have real depth in attack.

Crucially, with Wilson and Wood both 30, 22-year-old Isak can grow with this side, too; just three of those other 68 forwards are still 22 or younger (Erling Haaland, Dusan Vlahovic, Jonathan David).

This young age might excuse a poor 2021-22 campaign, in which Isak underperformed his expected goals tally of 11.2 and saw his shot conversion rate slump to 8.2 per cent, netting every 359 minutes.

Newcastle are backing the forward to return to his levels of 2019-20 (nine goals, 7.5 xG, 20.5 per cent shot conversion, 166 mins per goal) and 2020-21 (17 goals, 16.8 xG, 21.0 shot conversion, 139 mins per goal).

And despite the size of the fee involved in this transfer, Isak might actually find himself under less pressure on Tyneside, where Wilson will remain the main man when fit.

The England forward is expected back in a fortnight, and Howe has already spoken of using the two as a pair; in Newcastle's 4-3-3 formation, Isak – who ranked eighth among LaLiga strikers for carries (212), seventh for carry distance (2,683 metres) and joint-sixth for carries with a shot (22) – could be utilised out wide.

For now at least, Isak is not the headline act, feeling the weight of Newcastle's season on his shoulders – in complete contrast to the situation Joelinton, the club's previous record signing, found when arriving in 2019 as a struggling side's sole centre-forward.

This time, Newcastle have bought from a position of strength, and Isak's career on Tyneside should be all the better for it.

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