Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe is relishing the hectic schedule and selection dilemmas as he attempts to negotiate a path through a season which could see his squad stretched to its limits.
The 45-year-old left summer signings Harvey Barnes and Tino Livramento, as well as last season’s top scorer Callum Wilson, sitting on the bench for Saturday’s Premier League opener, but saw Wilson and Barnes come on and score in a 5-1 demolition of Aston Villa.
Howe admitted in the run-up to the game that he had “five or six” difficult decisions to make in the light of a fresh £125million spending spree, Anthony Gordon’s pre-season form and the emergence of homegrown midfielder Elliot Anderson, but that is a problem he welcomes with a Champions League campaign looming.
He said: “They’re dilemmas that are needed because we’re going to need the strongest squad possible, and the players who missed out today will play loads of games this season.
“That’s just a fact because we’re in so many different competitions, we’re going to be stretched and we’ll also be needing their quality as well.
“It’s going to be nice to be able to make those decisions. We need the strongest bench we can get this year with the amount of games we’re going to have, the amount of competitions we’re in.
“It was certainly a difficult day yesterday to name the team. They weren’t easy decisions for me to make – decisions I had to make, of course, being in my position – and then you just hope the team performs and you get the benefit of that squad.”
One of those decisions saw Howe hand a debut to £52m former AC Milan midfielder Sandro Tonali, and it paid off handsomely as the 23-year-old not only opened the scoring within six minutes, but produced a commanding display on his first appearance in England’s top flight.
Villa’s record signing Moussa Diaby cancelled out the Italian’s early strike in short order, but his response was to play a pivotal role as Newcastle overwhelmed the visitors, Alexander Isak helping himself to a double either side of the unfortunate Tyrone Mings’ departure on a stretcher before substitutes Wilson and Barnes added their names to the scoresheet late on.
Howe was understandably delighted, but equally confident there is more to come.
He said: “We didn’t defend perfectly, so there’s stuff for us to improve – but it was a weird situation. I thought they (Villa) played well, but we could have scored more goals.”