With every visible sigh from the new owners during Newcastle’s 3-2 defeat by Tottenham, it was clear how big a challenge they had just taken on. Removing Steve Bruce was one thing, hiring a new boss another but the depths of changes needed at Newcastle has surely amazed Amanda Staveley, her husband and their Saudi investors. It’s important to remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day in the same way that the turnaround of fortunes at Newcastle on the pitch won’t happen overnight. Aspirations of Champions League nights and title celebrations are understandable, but first Newcastle must focus on just getting off its knees.
14 years of abuse and neglect has left its scars, some of which will take a long time to heal. Off the pitch, the facilities need some love and a lot of investment to make them appeal enough to attract bigger names. And on the pitch, the squad itself needs an overhaul to breathe life and hope back into the once optimistic Geordie faithful. Next summer is when that will likely happen but before that can happen, tactical investments need to be made to ensure survival and another season of Premier League football next year.
The January transfer window is still more than a few weeks away, yet it may prove to be the most crucial 30 odd days in Newcastle’s history. Failure to secure the players needed to improve the squad could be the difference between staying up or dropping down. But it will be far from an easy task. The January window is notoriously hard to operate in with few players willing to move mid-season unless they have been deemed unwanted by their existing clubs. Ironically there also appears to be a January premium attached to players who can already smell the desperation of a club in dire straits with limitless funds behind them. This all said, Newcastle must be bold and pursue players that will help them transform their fortunes over the second half of the season, hitting the ground running from day one. That in a sense rule out a lot of foreign imports who could take time to adjust to life in the northeast of England especially during mid-winter. Therefore, buying players already in the Premier League or at least with Premier League experience makes more sense than gambling on a player from another country adapting quickly. Newcastle needs five new players at a minimum, all of whom would be first team players and regulars in the side. Investing in youth players for their academy or glamour players from abroad can wait, for now they need instant success.
The first gap to fill would be at centre half which has been a problem area for quite some time. Despite several options including Schar, Lascelles, Fernandez and Clark, Newcastle’s centre backs look often dazed and confused and as a result leak more goals than is needed. Burnley’s James Tarkowski should be the first player in the door to help shepherd the defence towards a stronger position. The 28-year-old is in the last year of his contract and has already admitted to wanting to try something new so making a move in January may be possible. The commanding centre half is exactly what is needed likely alongside Lascalles (at least in the short term) or as part of a back three. Strong in the air, solid defensively and with an eye for goal, Tarkowski makes perfect sense. If competition for Tarkowski’s signature prevents that from happening, Newcastle would be wise to switch its focus to Brighton and Lewis Dunk who has been exceptional for them over the past few seasons.
Staying with the defence, a new right back is needed with Krafth and Manquillo far from good enough. Both have their own qualities either from a defensive perspective or an attacking one, but neither possess both leaving Newcastle more than often caught short. Norwich’s Max Aarons would be a solid investment for the club not only due to his age (still only 21) but his experience to date (132 games over 4 seasons) and his ability to not only defend well and push opposition players into less threatening positions but also his attacking flair and runs which would add another dimension to Newcastles game. With Jamaal Lewis operating on the other side plus Lascalles and Tarkowski in the middle, Newcastle could finally stop their defensive rot. Norwich are set up as a selling club so attaining Aarons is possible but if they need to look for an alternative, Everton’s Seamus Coleman could also do a similar job whilst bringing more leadership and experience to the table.
In the middle of the park, Wolves Ruben Neves offers more than exceptional vision and superb positional play. Neves can control the tempo of a match either from a deeper more defensive midfielder role or a more central one. Both suit the Portuguese international who has been playing in the Premier League now for four years and has amassed a wealth of experience in the game despite being only 24. Having captained Porto in the Champions League at a very young age, Neves could bring leadership experience too which has been severely lacking in the heart of Newcastle’s midfield for many years now. As a permanent fixture of the Wolves side, his acquisition could prove to be the most expensive but given all he brings to the table, it would be money well spent. Another option would be Southampton’s James Ward Prowse who appears to grow in stature as the seasons advance. Similar in style and approach to Neves, Ward Prowse would be a strong signing that could also bring some dead ball expertise to the club too.
Out wide, the acquisition of Wilfred Zaha could get Newcastle fans back on their feet again. That duty over the past few seasons has too often fallen at the skillful feet of Allan Saint Maximin who has obliged where possible but now sides have caught on to the need to stick close to the Frenchman and double team him as much as possible. Bringing in someone like Zaha would turn the tables on that approach and offer multiple headaches for opposing defenders to deal with. Zaha is exactly the type of player Newcastle fans want to see with his pace and trickery in line with former Toon entertainers David Ginola, Laurent Robert and of course Faustino Asprilla. Zaha like ASM has the ability to turn games on their head, change a draw into a win with one fleeting run that cuts defences open, or a dribble and shot to win a game. With ASM on one side and Zaha on the other, Newcastle would once again put fear into oppositions across the league.
Upfront Callum Wilson has been exceptional however the burden of being Newcastle’s only real goalscoring threat is too much for the former Bournemouth player. He needs support and that should come in the form of Dominic Calvert-Lewin. The Everton and England striker is the perfect foil for the towering and muscular Wilson who plays a similar role to Shearer or Ferdinand in the past. Calvert-Lewin however offers more in the box as well as being a string connector of the play through smart passes and clever runs. Good on the ground and in the air, Calvert-Lewin would be an instant success in the Northeast and would likely be a fan favourite with the Toon fans before long.
These five players plus the return to form of Dubravka and the unchaining of Almiron in a more attack minded position should fire Newcastle well clear of the relegation zone and into mid table security. In addition, all five would prove solid long-term investments with all under the age of 28 meaning that they will be part of the team for the future. One thing is for sure, January is going to be very interesting for Newcastle fans.
Article by Martin Cowgill