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Rafa Benitez and Newcastle United have set up a pre-season schedule designed to get progressively more difficult as time moves on but will what they have planned, help them to make a strong Premier League start?
The Toon face Tottenham Hotspur on August 13th and so far have added only Florian Lejeune to last year’s Championship winning squad. So at the moment, they look a long way off emulating their 5-1 win over this opposition in their previous Premier League match.
The Magpies face Scottish Premiership side Hearts on Friday night in what’ll be a tricky enough start to their PL preparations. The squad, understandably, has looked a little undercooked in pre-season training and Hearts are just the sort of opposition fired up enough to take advantage of that.
The result is unimportant to Rafa Benitez, though he must realise it’s always important to the fans and a poor start is not what is required to begin, to drum up strong support for a (potentially) new squad over the summer.
They go to Preston North End after that, a place where even when they were at the peak of their form in the Championship, they managed a narrow 2-1 win in a closely matched, fiery encounter. Bradford City, unlucky perhaps to still be in League One, are the next opposition and it’s not lost on the Newcastle coaching staff that the Bantams went 24 league games unbeaten at home in between the defeats to Millwall.
There’ll be a step up in class for Newcastle when they go to Germany, first facing Mainz, before going to play Wolfsburg in their penultimate preparation game of the summer. Whatever scoreline they get out of those two games, will be a bonus, as it’s all about the preparation. But they will need to finish off on a high at the St. James’s Park in early August against a reasonable opposition in the shape of Hellas Verona of Italy.
In the past, this slot has been saved for more prestige opposition such as Bayern Munich. Though Verona will hopefully put up a reasonable fight against the Toon, they will be fully expected to dispatch the Italians to show that they will be up for playing Spurs, Huddersfield and West Ham in their first three Premier League games of the season.
Verona were promoted to Serie A as they finished as runners-up in Serie B last season, making this a rather clever matchup. The relative strength of the English and Italian second tier leagues means that Newcastle will be heavy favourites for their final friendly encounter of the summer and ideally, will be ready for what the season brings from that point.