Newcastle must use uncertainty over Sean Dyche's Burnley future to their advantage on Monday
Nobody is kidding themselves, the bubble could burst at any minute. Most Newcastle United fans have been living in a dream since March 2016; they’ve seen the club transformed in every sense since Rafa Benitez took charge.
Not only is he a Champions League-winning coach, the kind those hoards of supporters have wanted for over a decade now, but he is a man who understands the club, the people and what they expect. He came at the perfect time, just as the club was about to fall into the abyss, and saved the day.
There aren’t many like him around, so it is natural he will be inundated with interest from elsewhere, especially now he has repaired his reputation after a poor spell in charge of Real Madrid. Contrary to popular belief, Newcastle fans are realists; they’re intelligent enough to know the club punched above its weight by getting him in the first place, let alone in the state it was in when he first arrived.
Links with Spain, Arsenal, West Ham and the Chinese Super League have come and gone, and with the treatment Benitez suffered at the hands of the board in relation to summer transfers, it seemed like only a matter of time before night would turn to day and it would be time to wake up.
Benitez’s reasoning for taking the job, and staying when he arrived at two possible exit junctions, has mainly been his relationship with those who adore him. But the fact his family is settled in the Wirral, building a life even in the seven years since he left Liverpool to work in two other countries, was also a huge factor; he wanted to work in the Premier League.
When the Everton job came available this week and his name was inevitably mentioned, the acceptance that their manager could be lured away did not sweep across Tyneside. Geographically a move makes perfect sense for Benitez but given his deep bond with the Toffees’ rivals across Merseyside’s Stanley Park, and talk of a takeover at St James’ Park, it is clear this rumour, more than most, has no leg to stand on.
Instead, the man the Everton hierarchy are reportedly interested in succeeding Ronald Koeman is set to be in the opposing dugout when Benitez and Newcastle travel to Burnley on Monday night.
Sean Dyche has done an incredible job with the Clarets, leading them to two promotions to the Premier League and now cementing them in the top flight. Turf Moor became a fortress for them last season; they won ten games to help them survive. So far this term, they have played so brilliantly away from home.
Wins at Chelsea and Everton have been complimented by draws with Tottenham and Liverpool; only a defeat at runaway league leaders Manchester City, a side averaging over three goals per game so far this season, ended their fantastic run.
Their fans have a very similar outlook to Newcastle with Benitez in regard to Dyche. He may not have the pedigree or the experience of his next opponent, but he has the backing of many to become the next top British manager.
Some say he should manage in the Champions League, but he may view a move to Everton, at the very least, as a way of proving himself first. They expect him to leave one day, but he could scarcely be more popular in Lancashire.
Whether the reports of Everton’s interest are accurate, or if he will still be Burnley manager by kick off on Monday, remain to be seen, but this has hardly been a great backdrop for preparations on the home side’s part.
Newcastle know all about off-field distractions, enduring some as recently as a matter of weeks ago; but sitting in the top seven, having not lost in four games, they are well positioned to take advantage of any uncertainty currently engulfing the Burnley squad. Turf Moor is not a place Newcastle are used to visiting; the one Premier League meeting there ended in a 1-1 draw three years ago.
Recent history suggests it’ll be tough, yet despite having a significantly weaker squad on paper than the one he inherited, Benitez is helping change the perception of Newcastle. As much as it can appear some sections of the media still yearn for the days when the club were legitimately a laughing stock, they certainly are not now.
As Autumn takes hold and the leaves turn into lifeless shrubbery and the darkness cuts days shorter by the minute, Newcastle appear well on the way to a comfortable season, rather than a campaign standing as the perfect metaphor for the miserable turn in the weather.
After nine games, Burnley are just one place and a point behind Newcastle; they have spent some of the early weeks higher in the table and a victory will strengthen their hand as another team many wrote off in the summer. That is testament to the work Dyche has done, but with just one win in front of their own fans so far, their form is a far cry from last season
If Newcastle didn’t already believe they had a real chance of victory on Monday, the doubts over the man who has changed Burnley’s fortunes in recent years should give them a boost. There have been a lot of similarities between the two clubs this season, but the visitors will be glad the shoe of distractive news reports is on the other foot.