G'day Newcastle fans, with Florian Lejeune finally across the line (he must have walked to Tyneside), and Atsu being made permanent a while ago, Newcastle appear to finally be building a squad for the Premier League. However, this got me thinking if the transfer window were to end right now, how would we line up for our first game?
For the purpose of this article, I will be using a 4-2-3-1, as this is Rafa's preferred formation. This is my opinion on how we should line up if the window closed now, and where strenghtneing may be required. Also, sorry for the length.
A difficult choice here as we aren't exactly in short supply, with Krul, Elliot and Woodman all viable options for this position. I have personally gone for Darlow as he played 34 games last season and was generally solid, and thus deserves the first crack at premier league football, of the current crop. Like most keepers, he has a mistake in him but is a reliable stopper, with the quality to play premier league football.
Other options at the club: Elliot, Krul, Woodman
Verdict on strengthening: With Krul a strong chance of being sold, and Woodman looking like being loaned out again, I think we could do with a new goalkeeper, ideally with Premier League experience. Not priority number 1, but something we should probably do, depending on other signings and who leaves.
Pretty straight forward here, considering that Anita and Mbabu have both walked out the door. Yedlin had a strong season in the Championship, and is a classic modern fullback, who provides pace down the wing, overlaps the right midfielder and puts crosses into the box. However, he needs to make some defensive improvements, which I think he will make under Rafa. Gamez is a solid defensive option who didn't get much of a crack at the Championship, largely due to injury and could potentially provide good cover if needed.
Other options: Gamez, Sterry,
Verdict on strengthening: This is one position where I think we could be ok as even if Sterry goes out on loan, we still have 2 viable options (provided Gamez stays and does not get injured as much), as well as Hayden if need be. Furthermore, with a 3 at the back formation being discussed, a new right back is probably not high on the agenda for the club.
It's taken long enough, but we have finally landed a key target. Lejeune is somebody who many of us had heard very little about until about a month ago, when every second article I read on Newcastle had his name in it. However, from looking at numbers and watching a little bit of footage, he appears to be a very shrewd acquisition by Benitez, who will probably be a walk-up starter for the first premier league match of the season. Lejeune won 77.7% of his aerial duels in La Liga last season, which was the best of any player to contest more than 50 in that league. Additionally, he also averaged over 10 defensive actions per game, and was Eibar's highest rated player last year according to Squawka.
Other options: Lascelles, Mbemba, Hanley
Verdict on strengthening: With Lejeune already through the door, and Hanley almost certain to go out, further strengthening this area is probably not considered imperative by Benitez, especially with Isaac Hayden also being an option, as well as Paul Dummett, who is probably more suited to playing as a centre half anyway.
This was a tough selection, with Lascelles and Mbemba very unlucky to be left out of this eleven. Clark gets the nod from me as he was arguably our best and most important player last season in the Championship. Clark's premier league experience will also be invaluable early on, as Lejeune adjusts to the league. Additionally, Clark being left footed also gives him an edge over the other 2 as he provides a different angle when playing the ball out from the back.
Other options: See above
Verdict on strengthening: see above
Reliable and solid, Dummett is a pretty easy selection for this position, given how little we have seen of Lazaar, who Benitez does not seem to trust defensively and that he is comfortably better than Haidara. Dummett is very solid defensively and had a strong season in the Championship. He was always reliable, but was not outstanding. Given Dummett's style of play, he is probably more suited to playing as a centre back, as opposed to a left back, but he is a reasonably safe and reliable pick at left back.
Other options: Lazaar, Haidara, Colback*
Verdict on strengthening: Strengthening at left back must be one of the top priorities for Rafa this off-season. With Haidara likely to be out the door, and Lazaar also a reasonable chance to leave, a new left back who can get forward should be very high on Newcastle's agenda, with Dummett being a reliable back up option.
The heartbeat of the side last season and I don't see that changing. Shelvey has shown his quality in the premier league before and is starting to head towards his prime (despite looking older, he is only 25), so his selection in this side, especially given that transfers have not been made, is a no brainer. Shelvey's ability to pick a pass and dictate play will be pivotal to us in the Premier League, and he certainly seems to be committed to the cause, commencing pre-season training a month ago.
Other options: Mbemba, Saivet, Diame, Colback
Verdict on strengthening: Strengthening in the centre of the park is most definitely needed. We probably need to sign 2 central midfielders, given that Saivet, Diame and Colback are all a strong chance to be out the door, and Mbemba is predominately a centre back. We probably need a defensive central midfielder for the first eleven, and a more creative one as a squad player behind Shelvey, although if Diame stays, he could account for this. Furthermore, given that if we play 3 at the back, it is more likely to be a 3-5-2, as opposed to a 3-4-3, more depth in the centre of the park is certainly needed.
A versatile, no nonsense and well-rounded defensive midfielder who plays his role every single week. Despite being young and inexperienced, Hayden is significantly better than our other options for this position, with Mbemba being the most realistic rival to Hayden for this position. Hayden is a very well rounded defensive midfielder, who's primary role is to win the ball back and give it to the more creative midfielder (usually Shelvey), and of the players currently on the books at Newcastle United, he is the best option for the defensive midfield role in the 4-2-3-1 formation.
Other options: See above
Verdict on strengthening: see above
Our first signing of this off-season, although it was making a loan deal a permanent one, as opposed to actually bringing a new face in through the door. Atsu is a player who is quick and direct, and although his final ball is certainly questionable, it is something that can, and almost certainly will, be worked on. Atsu's ideal role for Newcastle this season would be as an impact sub, where his pace could cause severe headaches for defenders who are already fatigued, however if the transfer window ended now, I believe he would be in the starting eleven as Aarons is injury prone and unproven and Gouffran does not currently have a contract (Atsu is better anyway).
Other options: Aarons, Lazaar*, Gouffran**
Verdict on strengthening: Another position where strengthening is an absolute must for Newcastle. A winger who can play on either side would be ideal to give us a quality left sided player, whilst also putting some pressure on Matt Ritchie. Cristian Atsu is a good squad player in the Premier League, who can have a strong impact off the bench, but more quality is certainly needed.
CENTRAL ATTCKING MIDFIELD:
I found this section the hardest one to write by an absolute mile. Perez gets the nod for me ahead of the other options because of his very impressive performances late in the season, when the pressure was on and we simply needed to pick up points. Diame was much more impressive when he played deeper, and De Jong was good in the back half of last season in the Eredivisie, and the choice between him and Perez was quite difficult, but I decided to go with Perez, I just think he creates a little more for other players. By the time the season rolls around, an upgrade in the number 10 role is needed, but if the window were to shut now, Perez would have to do.
Other options: Diame, De Jong
Verdict on strengthening: In my opinion, this is just about the most important area for us to strengthen. The number 10 role is pivotal in Rafa's system, and I personally don't believe that we have what we need in that role, especially given the hit and miss nature of Diame, Perez and De Jong. There is also a strong chance that at least one of Diame and De Jong will not be at the club at the end of the window, and a quality starter is desperately needed.
I really don't need to say much on this man. Probably the best player in the Championship last season and a proven quality player in the Premier League. Ritchie is a footballer who is more than up to the Premier League, and also has the passion, desire and motivation that has been missing from certain toon players in the past (we might come up against one of them when we play Spurs). Ritchie does not have a great deal of competition for this position, so he is a very easy choice for this position.
Other options: Gouffran**
Verdict on strengthening: Like I said when discussing the left midfield position, we need more depth in this position, due to Ritchie's lack of competition in this area. Ritchie and Atsu can both play on either side, however we certainly need at least one more winger, (possibly 2 depending on Gouffran and Aarons) who can play on either side, as we need depth and competition for Ritchie.
Another player who had a phenomenal Championship season, scoring every 96 minutes that he was on the pitch, Gayle is a pretty easy choice for this position. We have a number of options, such as Mitrovic and Murphy, however Gayle is a step above our other options, and has Premier League experience. With Armstrong likely to go out on loan, Riviere being Riviere and Murphy seemingly sitting by the door waiting for his taxi back to the Championship, Gayle is currently only really competing with Mitrovic (who could also leave) for the starting role, and Gayle gets the nod from me because he is a better goal scorer, which is the number one job of a striker.
Other options: Mitrovic, Murphy, Riviere, Armstrong
Verdict on strengthening: A position that has been the subject of much discussion, and is certainly in need of strengthening. Gayle is injury prone, and could do with some new hamstrings so we can't rely on him to be the striker to carry us to where we want to be, and as a result, at least one new striker is required. One position where significant strengthening is needed again.
If by some miracle you've made it to this point, I hope it's been an interesting read for you and feel free to let me know your thoughts.
** off contract but future unclear