With 14 games to go, Newcastle are on track for a Premier League return come May, but if that is to happen, what areas of the pitch could Rafa Benitez be looking to improve?
Predominantly a left-back. I think most Newcastle fans would agree Paul Dummett, (like others), struggled to cope in the Premier league last term with its pace and intensity. The thing is though, what other options did they have at left-back? Massadio Haidara was injured and it was often left to Jack Colback to fill in when needed after the relatively recent departure of highly-rated Davide Santon. This season in the Championship, Dummett has done quite well and is steadily improving but with only the inexperienced Achraf Lazaar and under-played Haidara as back up, Benitez could be looking this position as a potential area to bring in someone of real Premier League quality to bolster the defence.
There could be an argument for a new squad player at right-back to protect the upcoming star DeAndre Yedlin. Vurnon Anita, who has been Newcastle’s other right-back this season, is quite inexperienced in that position in the Premier League, so it could leave the position exposed if something was to happen to Yedlin.
Again this is up for debate. Isaac Hayden is sure to be a regular in the Premier League at some point if he stays fit but is only 21 years of age and is yet to make an appearance in the big league so is it a big ask? Jonjo Shelvey is a guaranteed starter for United which is an easy one but he too needs protection. Then there’s Jack Colback who has somewhat under-performed the past two seasons. Vurnon Anita is again another good option and has been a great pro for Newcastle in his more familiar position in midfield, but he isn’t getting any younger. So it could be argued that Rafa may be looking at another defensive midfielder that can add some quality and an extra pair of legs in midfield for the Premier League.
There’s no doubt that Newcastle posses quality in the wide areas and have some great talent at their disposal – but is this limited to the Championship? Christian Atsu has impressed fans this season but he hasn’t had too many minutes and there are big question marks whether the 25-year-old can live up to the expectations of the Premier League. Of course, the Ghanaian is just on loan from Chelsea, but he could be on Rafa’s wish list to pen down on a permanent deal – I personally believe he’s a gamble worth taking.
In terms of experience, Yoan Gouffran is the opposite. He has been at Newcastle for over four years now, after originally being signed as a striker from Bordeaux for under a million pounds, and has made 89 Premier League appearances in black and white. His deal runs out in the summer but rumour has it that Rafa is keen to extend it, but perhaps this will be just as a squad rotation option.
Like Shelvey in central midfield, it’s expected that Matt Ritchie will be on the team sheet for the first match of next season and he can maintain the flare and experience to the side but the question marks over Atsu, Gouffran and the injury-prone Ronaldo Aarons. This should persuade Rafa to bring in a new winger, as he was so keen to do so with Andros Townsend in January.
Would you be in favour for a Townsend return?
Despite topping the league for most goals scored this season, Newcastle are a bit thin on the ground up front – their success mainly down to the 20 goals of Dwight Gayle. But the news this week is that Gayle is expected to miss another month of action with his hamstring problem. This just leaves the struggling Aleksander Mitrovic and the under-played Daryl Murphy at Rafa’s disposal. This has been perfectly fine in the Championship this season, but in the Premier League, it wouldn’t be enough. Gayle, (and Murphy to some extent) have been great additions, but another top striker in the summer wouldn’t go a miss.
This Saturday (25th February), Newcastle host 21st placed Bristol City at St James’ Park, 3pm.
Feature Image Quality – Martin Le Roy