The Barclay's Premier League season wraps up with the typical 10-match schedule this Sunday. While we can enjoy people on Twitter complaining about why their favorite show on Oxygen is suddenly pre-empted for Watford vs. Sunderland, Tottenham Hotspur have a meaningful match against now-relegated Newcastle United. Tottenham currently sit two points clear of Arsenal in second place and, with a superior goal differential, even a single point will guarantee that Spurs finish above Arsenal for the first time in 1995 and lock up second place behind champions Leicester City.
Newcastle United were relegated on Wednesday due to Sunderland's 3-0 victory over Everton, giving the Black Cats yet another escape from the drop. Ahead of the match, I spoke with Jim McMeachin, the managing editor of SB Nation's Coming Home Newcastle to talk about the expectation for Sunday, what life in the Championship will bring, and if there is any hope that Mike Ashley will actually sell Newcastle United.
What was the biggest factor with Newcastle this season that led to being relegated?
The reasons Newcastle United are going down this season are as myriad as they are simple. I say that only in that each individual player who couldn't be bothered to turn up any particular week surely has a reason for why they couldn't earn their weekly check on the pitch. In reality the biggest factor in our relegation is simply down to this: Timing. The seeds were planted when we did not bring in an actual long-term replacement for Alan Pardew. We let John Carver twist in the wind when we should have appointed someone at that point. Timing. They waited, brought in Steve McClaren later than they should have. They waited too long to bring players in. They waited too long to show Steve the door when it was clear his message was missing horribly. Timing. While Rafa's points return is always going to be scrutinized, the reality is that he made a clear difference on the pitch (excluding the Villa match) and had he been given everything from the Holiday Programme on, we'd be in a different place right now.
Newcastle spent quite a bit of money on guys like Mbemba, Wijnaldum, and Mitrovic. Is there any expectation that they will stay?
These are the fun things we get to speculate about now. Aren't you jealous? Of the transfers in for this season, you've got three categories: Likely to stay, not surprised if they stay, gone. Gini is as good as gone. I can see Mbemba (who was forming a solid CB tandem with Jamaal Lascelles) and Mitrovic staying. I wouldn't be surprised to see Andros Townsend stay although there are reports of something like an £8m relegation clause so he could be gone too. Mitrovic will likely stay, I should think. I wouldn't be surprised to see Shelvey and Saivet stay. Florian Thauvin is as good as gone. Largely things will depend on the clubs' ability or inability to keep Rafa. If Rafa stays, I think more of these players stay than you might think would.
We know there will be movement with players as there always is with clubs going down. Who do you hope to hang on to the most to get back to the top flight next season?
I know that he wasn't everything that we hoped he would be this season, but Aleksandar Mitrovic fits into this category. He is still young and I think if he gets an entire season with a competent manager (paired with better knowledge of the English game) he will be what we thought he was. Chancel Mbemba is in this group too. I think everyone would like to see Andros stay given his late-season form and I personally would like to see Jonjo stay if Rafa does.
Do you think being in the Championship next season is going to make Ashley more likely to sell the club?
How’s Andros Townsend been received at Newcastle?
Andros had a fairly slow start to his time Tyneside. Probably most of this is attributable to the McClaren Factor as following Rafa's appointment he became one of the primary reasons we even had any hope at all as the curtain was dropping. As I said above, I think that most fans would love to see him stay.
Any chance Rafa Benitez stays with the club next season and, if he doesn’t, who is your pick to replace him?
It's hard to see this happening. Of course, it was hard to see him coming to the club for a relegation battle in the first place. From the beginning he has (understandably) stayed pretty tight-lipped about his future – long- and short-term – but has never once ruled out staying if we went down. We're told by Preferred Media Partners™ that there have been talks and that they are considered "constructive" by the club. The club also thought Steve McClaren was THE guy. Unless "talks" is a euphemism for "driving truckloads of cash to Liverpool and dropping it on Rafa's front lawn", I'm going to withhold all optimism even though I believe there's a chance.
So far as a replacement... I know he just signed an extension, but can we take Poch on a season-long loan?
[Writer's note: Nah, we're good there.]
What’s your expectation for Sunday’s match?
I expect a sickening amount of love showered onto Rafa from the fans. I expect the players auditioning for new clubs (Janmaat, Sissoko, et. al.) to have worldies. I expect to walk away from the match completely pissed off that the performance that you'll see has come from a relegated club.
How about a prediction for final score?
You guys are quite good. I don't know if you are good enough to overcome the Powers of All Cosmos, though. Because the universe is not a fair and just place, Newcastle United will win. History tells us this. The irresistible force is behind us. Everything we haven't done all season long we will do. We'll score goals. We'll defend like our hair's on fire. It will be glorious and infuriating. 3-1 to the Toon.