By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) - The euphoria that greeted the start of Newcastle United's season has been replaced by a sense of deflation after three successive Premier League losses has left them 14th in the table.
Newcastle's third league defeat last season did not arrive until March and Eddie Howe's side ended up fourth to ensure a return to the Champions League for the first time since 2002.
When they thrashed visiting Aston Villa 5-1 on the opening day of the season it seemed the momentum had continued into the new campaign but defeats by Manchester City, Liverpool and Brighton & Hove Albion have stopped them in their tracks.
Three points from four games is not what was expected after a close season outlay of 140 million pounds ($174.65 million) on new players including AC Milan midfielder Sandro Tonali.
Howe will be anxious to get the bandwagon rolling again on Saturday at home to unbeaten Brentford before Tuesday's trip to Milan for their Champions League opener.
After that, Newcastle have a run of games in which they should be able to climb the table but Howe is only too aware of the complexities of the Premier League and how dangerous it is for fans to start taking victories for granted.
"It's never been lost on me how difficult the Premier League is," Howe said after the Brighton defeat. "It's ruthless, so if you get your focus swayed, you're going to have big problems."
That is especially relevant this weekend with so much focus on next week's trip to Milan when Newcastle will return to Europe's elite competition for the first time in two decades.
While juggling the demands of the Premier League and the Champions League will be new for Howe, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has mastered the art.
City begin the defence of their European crown next week at home to Red Star Belgrade but do not expect them to take their eye off the ball against West Ham United on Saturday.
Leaders City, bidding for a record fourth successive Premier League title, are the only team with four wins from their opening four games although they travel to a West Ham side also in buoyant mood after taking 10 points from 12.
These are heady days for fourth-placed West Ham with a Europa League campaign starting next week, but they have not enjoyed a Premier League win at home to City since 2014.
West Ham are one of four teams on 10 points.
Second-placed Tottenham Hotspur host Sheffield United on Saturday as they seek to maintain their impressive start under Ange Postecoglou while rejuvenated Liverpool kick off the weekend's fixtures away to Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Fifth-placed Arsenal go to struggling Everton on Sunday.
Manchester United's start has been under-whelming with defeats already at the hands of Spurs and Arsenal and they host Brighton on Saturday in urgent need of a commanding performance.
The same applies to Chelsea who have managed only four points from their opening four games under new manager Mauricio Pochettino despite a summer of mind-boggling player recruitment.
Chelsea visit Bournemouth in Sunday's early game.
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(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris)