How Newcastle should line up for the 2023-24 season: Sandro Tonali & Alexander Isak can turn Eddie Howe's side into dark horses for the title

The Magpies are well placed to keep progressing and make a strong push for silverware after some more shrewd recruitment

Newcastle were one of the biggest success stories of the 2022-23 campaign, which saw them qualify for the Champions League for the first time in 20 years and reach the Carabao Cup final. Eddie Howe was trusted to lead an ambitious project at St. James Park by the club's Saudi-backed owners, and so far, he has proven to be exactly the right man for the job.

The question is: just how far can Howe take Newcastle? Time will tell, but it's safe to say that they're in a great position after another summer of smart business in the transfer market.

A strong start will be crucial to their chances of success in 2023-24, and the Premier League fixture list has thrown up a real baptism of fire. Newcastle will face Unai Emery's Aston Villa, reigning champions Manchester City, Liverpool and Brighton in their first four games - which they should see as an opportunity to lay down a marker.

If the Magpies' points total is in double figures by the end of that testing run, what's to stop them from emerging as dark horses for the title? Juggling Premier League and Champions League commitments will be a new challenge for Howe's side, but they have the depth to make a real impact in both competitions.

Newcastle's strongest starting XI is a match for any team on the continent, and if they can avoid any serious injuries, there is a very real possibility that their agonising 54-year wait for a major trophy will end in 2024...

  1. GK: Nick Pope

    GK: Nick Pope

    Nick Pope enjoyed an outstanding debut season at Newcastle, who snapped him up for just £10 million from Burnley last summer. The Magpies finished the campaign with the second-best defensive record in the Premier League thanks to Pope's commanding displays between the sticks, and at 31, he still has plenty of years at the top level ahead of him.

    Gareth Southgate continues to favour Jordan Pickford ahead of Pope at international level, but for our money, the Newcastle man is currently the best English goalkeeper in the business.

  2. RB: Kieran Trippier

    RB: Kieran Trippier

    Right-backs don't come more reliable than Kieran Trippier in the modern game, and the 32-year-old seems to be ageing like a fine wine. The Magpies' de facto captain was one of the standout performers in Howe's dynamic, attack-minded side last season, weighing in with seven Premier League assists.

    Trippier is a superb all-round full-back and he remains a master from dead ball-situations - as evidenced by his spectacular free-kick in Newcastle's famous 3-3 draw against Manchester City in August last year - while he should get some rest this season with new signing Tino Livramento drafted in from Southampton to provide high-quality back-up.

  3. CB: Fabian Schar

    CB: Fabian Schar

    Fabian Schar's future at Newcastle was very much up in the air prior to Howe's appointment in November 2021, but he has worked hard to turn his career around and was a mainstay in the English manager's line up last term.

    Surprisingly nimble for a big man, Schar excels when bringing the ball out of defence and has a fierce competitive edge that makes him a useful asset at both ends of the pitch.

    The Switzerland international has firmly established himself as one of Newcastle's most important players, and if he can keep up the same level of performance after entering the final year of his contract, he will surely earn an extended stay on Tyneside.

  4. CB: Sven Botman

    CB: Sven Botman

    Newcastle spent £35 million ($45m) to beat AC Milan to the signing of Sven Botman in the summer of 2022, and it has proven to be bargain price. The former Lille centre-half made the transition from Ligue 1 to the Premier League seamlessly, forming a rock-solid partnership with Schar in the process.

    Botman boasts a natural composure on the ball and he's dominant in the air, with few attackers ever managing to get the better of the 23-year-old in one-on-one situations. The scary thing is, Botman still has a lot more potential to unlock, and Howe is the perfect manager to bring it out of him.

  5. LB: Dan Burn

    LB: Dan Burn

    A homegrown favourite, Burn has exceeded all expectations since returning to his boyhood club from Brighton in January 2022. The 31-year-old played his way back into contention for an England call-up last season, making the left-back spot in the Newcastle side his own ahead of Matt Targett.

    Burn, one of the Premier League's tallest defenders at a towering 6'6, is one of the most popular figures in the St. James' Park dressing room and is deservedly set to play a vital role once again in 2023-24.

  6. CM: Bruno Guimaraes

    CM: Bruno Guimaraes

    Bruno Guimaraes only missed six Premier League games last season, but it's no coincidence that Newcastle failed to win any of them. The Brazilian enforcer has established himself as a talismanic figure in Howe's team since joining from Lyon for £40m ($51m) in the 2022 January transfer window, setting the tone with his aggressive style of play and ball-carrying skills.

    Real Madrid have reportedly emerged as suitors for Guimaraes, who has expressed his "doubt" over a potential contract renewal on Tyneside. Newcastle must do everything they can to tie him down to a new deal if they are serious about becoming one of Europe's elite sides.

  7. CM: Sandro Tonali

    CM: Sandro Tonali

    Next up is Newcastle's new club-record signing SandroTonali, who enjoyed the best campaign of his career so far at AC Milan in 2022-23. The 23-year-old excelled as a box-to-box midfielder during the Rossoneri's surprise run to the Champions League semi-finals, and he's exactly the right fit for Howe.

    Tonali will embrace the hard-work required to be successful in the Premier League and his superb passing range will add a new dimension to Newcastle's build-up, meaning £60m ($77m) could look like a steal come the end of the season.

  8. CM: Joelinton

    CM: Joelinton

    There was a time when Joelinton looked destined to join the list of the worst Premier League signings in history, with the Brazilian having initially been brought in by Steve Bruce to solve Newcastle's scoring woes. But Howe's decision to drop Joelinton into midfielder has reaped great rewards, as he has been able to maximise his technical qualities and drive the Magpies forward.

    Joe Willock is also pushing hard for a spot in the middle of the park, but Joelinton should remain first-choice when fully fit because of how influential he is, both on and off the ball. Ironically, he also carries a greater goal threat than ever after accepting a deeper role, and there is almost no stopping him when he's in full flow.

  9. RW: Miguel Almiron

    RW: Miguel Almiron

    Newcastle's 'Eel' had largely flattered to deceive prior to Howe's arrival, but Miguel Almiron finally developed a consistent streak after being pushed further up the pitch. The elusive 29-year-old scored a career-best 11 goals last season, including a quite remarkable improvised volley against Fulham, and developed a telepathic understanding with Trippier and Guimaraes in the final third.

    Almiron has drastically improved his end-product under Howe and he is always capable of conjuring up something out of nothing with his wand of a left foot - which is why he is now a cult hero among the St. James' Park faithful.

  10. ST: Alexander Isak

    ST: Alexander Isak

    There were plenty of sceptical looks around Tyneside when Newcastle paid £59m ($89m) to sign Alexander Isak from Real Sociedad last summer, given the fact he only managed to score six goals in 32 La Liga appearances in 2021-22.

    A serious thigh injury prevented him from making an immediate impact at St. James' Park, too, but he returned in the new year with a point to prove. Isak is an intelligent, unpredictable forward who can cause damage with either foot and dribble with deceptive speed - which was most evident when he danced through Everton's defence before providing a superb assist for Jacob Murphy in a 4-1 win at Goodison Park.

    Howe got the best out of Isak by deploying him on the left flank, but the time has come for him to trust the Swede through the middle at the expense of Callum Wilson - who despite his impressive goals return last season, does not offer the same constant threat as his 23-year-old team-mate.

  11. LW: Harvey Barnes

    LW: Harvey Barnes

    Leicester City endured a miserable 2022-23 season that ended in relegation, and they have since been unable to prevent their best players jumping ship to remain in the top-flight.

    Harvey Barnes has been given a clean slate at Newcastle, who have invested £38m ($49m) in his talents after seeing him net 13 Premier League goals in his final year at the King Power Stadium - the best tally of his career to date.

    Such a hefty price tag comes with pressure to perform, but Barnes has all the attributes to slot into Howe's line up perfectly. The 25-year-old loves to run at defenders and has become the unofficial master of the give-and-go, which he usually follows up with an emphatic finish.

    It will be fascinating to see how Barnes adapts to life at a Champions League club, but on paper, Newcastle now have one of the most exciting forward lines in European football.