Wed. Jul 24th, 2024

If Kieran Trippier had spread out four errors across two otherwise near faultless years in a Newcastle shirt, nothing would have been said.

Some talk about him among the Magpies’ best-ever business. His impact has, arguably, rivalled that of Alan Shearer, even without the boyhood legacy.

“He’s a transformative signing, someone who has taken the group on to a totally new level,” said Eddie Howe on Tuesday night, of the player who became his first buy in January 2022.

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Kieran Trippier’s poor pass allowed Mykhailo Mudryk to equalise late on for Chelsea on Tuesday night

That difference he has made at St James’ Park, the way he has embodied their rise from bottom of the Premier League to Champions League qualification inside 18 months, has raised even more intrigue around a run of four mistakes coming in barely as many games over the last three weeks.

Two blunders, both punished with goals, were a major factor in a surprise 3-0 defeat at Everton earlier this month. His clumsy defending did not cover himself in much more glory as Heung-Min Son breezed past him to tee up Richarlison for a tap-in as Spurs hammered Newcastle 4-1 three days later.

On Tuesday, his undercooked back-pass header which cost the Magpies an equaliser at Chelsea, and eventually their Carabao Cup semi-final place with it, was the most painful of the lot.

Trippier still tops the charts across the Premier League for assists and completed crosses, and ranks second for chances created across the league this season. His attacking numbers have fallen away in recent weeks too, but serve to highlight quite how sudden his drop-off has been.

It must be noted that before this tough run, Trippier withdrew from the England squad in mid-November on personal grounds which were kept private and have remained so.

Howe hinted at them when speaking up for his vice-captain following the disappointment at Stamford Bridge – where Trippier also suffered a rare penalty miss in the shootout – in urging team-mates and fans to rally around a player who has been an almost ever-present fixture over the last 18 months.

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Dwight McNeil pounced on Kieran Tripper’s error to score for Everton against Newcastle earlier this month

“He’s been our heartbeat,” he said. “He’s given us so much, now is our turn to support him and look after him the other way and that’s what we’ll do.”

There is no doubt the Magpies faithful will follow suit. But there are other, simpler explanations for the way things have played out, especially when he captained Newcastle to superb wins over Chelsea and Manchester United since leaving St George’s Park.

Aside Nick Pope and Bruno Guimares, Trippier has been the first name on the team sheet at St James’ Park for some while.

He played in every single one of Newcastle’s games last season. That schedule has not eased up. Even with the added strain of football’s toughest continental competition and Newcastle’s place in the self-proclaimed group of death, he has missed only two matches since the start of the campaign.

Only seven outfield players across the Premier League have been named on more team sheets in all competitions in 2023/24. Just two are in their 30s.

“Looks exhausted,” was the Newcastle Chronicle’s succinct appraisal of his performance against AC Milan last week.

Weeks before his slump, Trippier racked up his 500th club career game last month. His 400th came under Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid, where he faced fitness demands he has admitted even eclipse those of the Howe regime. But at 33, he cannot go on running forever.

His last Premier League start was that humbling at Tottenham. Newcastle had 43 per cent of the ball, which would suggest he would run more than in games where they have dominated.

Tellingly, Trippier covered the least distance per 90 minutes of any league game he he started all season – even below wins over Crystal Palace and Sheffield United, where he was taken off before the 70th minute and would have been particularly fresh.

Beyond the defensive mistakes, his attacking output has also suffered since the Manchester United win. It is clear enough with the naked eye, but chances created, take-ons, and completed passes are all down. His crossing completion, normally such a consistent part of his game, has halved.

Those numbers may represent a small sample size, but that’s just it – there have not been longer-term hints to Trippier’s form.

All signs point to a player in need of a rest. He missed Saturday’s win over Fulham, through suspension rather than by design, but was only introduced at half-time at Stamford Bridge in midweek.

For most of his time on Tyneside, he has been undroppable. Since his Newcastle debut, he has assisted almost double as many Premier League goals than any other Newcastle player.

Little surprise when he has created 83 chances more than his nearest challenger in that time. So much has gone through him, and he has embodied the Magpies’ transformation as much in his importance to their attacking output as his leadership qualities and defensive contribution.

But now Tino Livramento’s arrival, and his bright start, finally offers another other option without a significant drop-off.

The ex-Southampton man’s ability to replace him has been limited by injury, and requirements elsewhere – namely left-back and right-wing – in his opening season to date.

But with Dan Burn fit again and Miguel Almiron in full flow, now presents the perfect time to take the vice-captain out of the firing line in an already punishing run of fixtures around the festive period.

Whatever the reason for his decline, that more than anything else would offer the support Howe mentions to get such an integral player back to his best.

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