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The meanest defence in the league

Presenter Jim Rosenthal to Eddie Howe post-match last night: “you’re still the meanest defence in the premier league, just nine goals conceded”.

Just let that sink in. Newcastle United have the best defence in the premier league. The tightest defence in the top division in England. Just nine conceded in 11 games. Games including Man City, Liverpool and Man United. In the not-so-distant past we’d be looking at a cluster of 4 or 5-1's in those fixtures. This is officially the team most difficult to score against in –widely regarded- the best league in the world. And this isn’t a loophole, tongue in cheek stat after one game. The Toon have played eleven games. Madness.

I’ve been supporting NUFC for the best part of sixteen years now, ever since my uncle handed me a black and white shirt older than me. In that time, I’ve seen some tremendous players, some frankly rubbish players. Fantastic team men who’ve made me proud to wear the stripes and some awful mercenaries whom I never want to see near SJP again. I’ve seen one or two great defenders, though mostly disappointing ones. I like to think there's been quite a lot of lessons and experience packed into my time supporting the boys in black and white- however, I have never seen us have such a good defence.

Such a change from what we have been used to. The starting back four last night were magnificent. Stout hearted, tough, resilient, organised. We have had too many talented defenders in the past who have when it comes to it, been flimsy and without substance. Not this lot.

Trippier, Schar, Botman and Burn. What a bunch of players these lads are. One of the most pleasing things is to see how they’ve brought each other on. Dan Burn and Fabian Schar have undoubtedly played massive parts in helping Sven Botman settle into the side, especially given the fact that he was forced into the starting eleven a lot earlier than Eddie would’ve liked. Trippier himself has raised the standards and elevated the performances of all around him. The ability and calmness of big Sven has clearly made the already capable Dan Burn look even more comfortable at left back.

This is a group of defenders that have each other's backs. It was pleasing to see, KT remonstrating with Anthony Gordon in defence of his team mate. After some choice words from the feisty scouser towards our inspirational new skipper, the cavalry arrived. Fabian Schar, a player you could previously accuse of being a little lightweight- although I would call it tactical savvy – making his presence known. Love it.

A crucial cog in any defence and the last line of defiance in conceding goals is the player between the sticks. In the summer, if you would have asked the fans “which position is an urgent priority to sort?” I doubt GK would have been the answer. I myself, was content with Martin Dubravka, one of the steadiest and more consistent performers in the league. I was sad to see Dubers go, however I understand it was the only foreseeable outcome after Pope’s impressive start to the campaign. With a warm message of good luck, MD made his way to Old Trafford and Nick Pope looks to be one of the best value for money transfers of recent times. Although goalkeepers rarely command vast transfer fees, £10 million for a player of his quality can be seen as an absolute steal. He has been a revelation this season, and looks the perfect character in Eddie Howe’s new team. Down to earth, humble and hardworking, Nick Pope is an extremely impressive individual who has been the standout player in his position in the PL this season so far.

There is also the problem now of team selection. It’s an age-old phrase in terms of having too many good players to select: “Oh it’s a good problem to have” or “good to have competition in the squad”. It is true now of this team.

Matty Targett whom we haven’t seen start for a while, was absolutely sensational at Anfield earlier in the season. The left back kept Salah firmly in his pocket and his typically modest way, was faultless that night. Despite suffering from illness in recent weeks, you would’ve expected him to walk straight back into the team when deemed 100%. The truth of it is, he hasn’t been able to get past Dan Burn.

Dan Burn has put up some excellent displays this season, again another who was fantastic at Anfield. I questioned the quality of his distribution in the 5-1 drubbing of Brentford last time out at SJP. In truth, perhaps that was an overly critical observation, but we know how good he can be. In my mind he is the complete defender, a slight throwback who can mix it and throw his weight around if needed- an old school defender. But one has transitioned and moved with the times, usually good on the ball, calm and most importantly- versatile. Mr Burn looks the business at CB or LB in a back 4, comfortable in a back 3 and has performed well in the past at LWB. Deceptively fast for his size, tough, dominant in the air and most importantly for the Geordies- a local hero.

Although a recent signing, a lot of people throughout the football community would probably expect the Toon to ‘upgrade’ on the likes of Dan Burn and Fabian Schar. The statement signings of Trippier and Botman were expected to be followed by a similar ‘ambitious’ signing to further upgrade our defence by replacing Schar. The Swiss has been sensational this season. MOTM against United in a shut out at Old Trafford- and to think we bought him for £3 million. Barmy value. He is one that has improved tenfold since Eddie Howe turned up, and swiftly stuck two fingers up to those less informed outside of the club who questioned his calibre and quality. All with that lovely smile too.

Matt Targett too. Although not in the starting eleven at present, I think it’s a fair assessment to say he is our starting left back when everyone is fit and firing. He hasn’t put a foot wrong since setting foot on Tyneside nearly a year ago and just this week I’ve seen NUFC linked with Luke Shaw to replace him. Shaw’s career hasn’t taken off like it should of in terms of consistency and although I have no doubt that Mr Howe and his staff could really help Shaw- is the signing needed? Targett has proven himself the ideal full back. Defensively sound, reliable, steady in the tackle and more than capable of aiding the transition between defence and attack (Leicester at SJP last season). Yes, we want great players to take us to the next level, but there is nothing wrong with improving those already there and allowing them room to grow, as the coaching staff have done so brilliantly so far.

Even Jamal Lascelles. The club captain. You’d forgive him for sulking a bit at being frozen out of the starting XI. A quality team man, no such behaviour has been exhibited (standby for a further article on JL). A perhaps surprise inclusion to our trip to Anfield alongside Dan Burn was justified by a disciplined and well-rounded performance. He coped well under the threat of Liverpool’s front three, showing the level of performance that we consistently saw during Rafa’s time, culminating him in a strong £30 million link to Chelsea.

If they all play to their full capacity, we have 4 strong premier league centre halves in Botman, Schar, Lascelles and Burn. Quality full backs in Trippier, Krafth and Targett. The exciting thing is the club will look to add and Eddie Howe’s defensive selection headache will only increase.

The rest of the team deserve enormous credit as well. Eddie continuously praises the whole side in terms of defensive contribution, not just back to front, but crucially, front to back. So much depends on the methos, intensity and organisation of the press. Whether that be Sean Longstaff up alongside Wilson to press the defence, Joe Willock surging forward and ‘trucking’ the ball up to give the team some respite or Jacob Murphy activating full Duracell mode and leaving it all out there on the pitch time and time again. Good teams defend from the front and we are first class at that this season. Wilson often displays his bite backs up his bark and cannot be easy to play against for any defender in terms of the trouble he gives them. Joelinton as we all know has morphed into some kind of Viera/Gravesen hybrid, a dominating and often intimidating presence in the middle of the park. Bruno, much lauded for his ability on the ball, has so much to offer in keeping clean sheets too. An efficient and stout tackler, playing much like an Argentine midfielder at times rather than a Brazilian. But the aspect of his game that I have been impressed with more and more is his ability to draw fouls and close games out. He is so good at this ‘skill’ and believe you me, it has helped to win us so many points since January last year.

This is now a team packed full of great characters, solid team ethic and an overwhelming winning attitude, alongside a bottomless appetite for hard work and effort.

The jewel in this particular crown has to be the manager. When appointed, several ‘pundits’ - step forward Merson, Sutton, Sherwood and Agbonlahor – continuously questioned and wrote off the gaffer. After all this was the man who apparently single handedly relegated Bournemouth, a man who played nice football but whose team shipped too many goals and was brittle at the back.

12 months on, Eddie Howe is one of the most respected managers in England and his team have the BEST defensive record in the Premier league. You just love to see it.

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