Updated: Aug 28, 2021
It was always going to be difficult for us to get players in this January given the amount of senior players already on our books. Unlike previous years when we've named Jack Colback, Henri Saivet and Achraf Lazaar in our Premier League squad (despite the three only making one league appearance between them (which was actually the game that saw Saivet give the ball away for a goal early on before scoring a free kick four minutes later to equalise in a 3-2 win at West Ham in December 2017)) until loaning them out in January, every outfield player has played at least once for us in the league. Since the summer window, Bruce has likely decided to sell Ki Sung-yueng or maybe the Korean midfielder wanted a move away given his lack of game time, which has led to him signing Nabil Bentaleb on loan from Schalke, reports have come out this morning that we did have a £35m bid for Lille midfielder Boboukary Soumare accepted only for the 20 year old to reject us due to not wanting to move mid season. This has left people questioning the board for wanting to spend that much on a midfielder when we have about five of them but in reality, this would've all happened before we went for Bentaleb on loan. Now it would have been easy to ask why we didn't just sign Bentaleb permanently if we had all that money available but given his issues at Schalke and that fact we could sign Soumare in the summer, a loan is probably best for now but if Bentaleb does impress, we'll probably exercise our option to buy him. With Ki on around £60k a week, we couldn't find any club to match that for him so it's understandable why his contract was terminated so that he wouldn't be hanging around doing nothing until the summer (as Bruce would've left him out the squad regardless) and could find a new club more easily.
At the start of the window, I knew we needed a winger in order to keep playing the 3-4-3 formation given that we only had Allan Saint-Maximin, Miguel Almiron and Christian Atsu in that area and I think we can all agree that Atsu simply isn't cut out for the Premier League so I was pretty happy to get in Valentino Lazaro on loan and I'd guess he'll be a back up to Saint-Maximin and Almiron and could also play at right wing-back if we get another injury crisis there (although Isaac Hayden has impressed in that role). We had been heavily linked with Hull's Jarred Bowen and it would've easy to claim we should've just paid the money for him but at the same time, our fans would've also kicked off at us not buying someone more proven than him had he started slowly (like when we signed Jacob Murphy for £12m (again from a club looking to win promotion from the Championship) and things didn't work out for him). Atsu was linked with Celtic and Nottingham Forest but is determined to fight for his place, that said, he needs to be sold in the summer, Rolando Aarons has joined Motherwell on loan after a loan spell at Wycombe Wanderers, in my opinion, he also needs to be sold ASAP, safe to say he's been wasted potential.
Jetro Willems being ruled out for the season has then led to us getting Danny Rose on loan but unlike Bentaleb and Lazaro, there's no option to buy him, this may suggest Willems would be the preferred signing in the summer and if he can recover well, I would probably prefer him given that he's essentially heading into his prime if not already there whereas Rose turns 30 in July but I wouldn't mind signing Rose if he impresses and Willems can't get his fitness up to the right levels. Rose will obviously need to impress if he's to have a chance of making the England squad for the Euros, Ben Chilwell will likely be first choice, Rose could make it as second choice (probably playing the third group game against Czech Republic if the first two group games end in victories). Liam Gibson has had a loan move to Forest Green blocked, maybe incase another injury occurs, but he would need to be registered in the squad and who would make may for him? You could argue it would be Paul Dummett given his long term injury but then we've already signed Lazaro without an attacker leaving.
In an ideal world, it would have been good to get a striker with Joelinton struggling and our other strikers injured and I do believe we could've spent the £35m we supposedly were about to spend on Soumare on one but we already have four strikers. I know you could argue that Dwight Gayle and Yoshinori Muto aren't Premier League quality but for me, Muto should get more of a chance although I do agree with Gayle not being good enough given that he only netted six goals in thirty-five appearances under Rafa Benitez in the 2017/18 season. Thursday saw him linked with a loan move to Nottingham Forest with a £15m option to buy if they won promotion, I would've definitely accepted that as long as another forward was brought in but it looks like it was more false reports, it would've been easy to say that he needed moved on this window and in an ideal world, that would've happened but his wages, age and injury plus the fact that Steve Bruce has wanted to keep him means he stays. I would, however, rather give Yoshinori Muto a proper chance but like Gayle, an injury means he won't be on the move but I do think he'll be sold this summer, hopefully we do see him at some point in the remainder of the campaign. Whilst Carroll, Gayle and Muto are injured, I would actually have Elias Sorensen on the bench as we couldn't loan him out due to FIFA rules as he's played for our U23s and Carlisle this season just so we have a striker as back up.
The injury to Paul Dummett may leave us light on proper centre-backs given that Kelland Watts has joined Mansfield on loan (had he stayed, he could well have been made sixth choice until the end of the season without the need to be registered) but with the amount of midweek games reducing (especially if Oxford beat us on Tuesday), I think we should be fine but worst case scenario could see Isaac Hayden or Emil Krafth deputise there (I actually think Krafth is better at centre-back than right wing-back) but U23 centre back Ludwig Francillette could make a matchday squad towards the end of the season providing we have nothing to play for (like when Rafa Benitez named Watts and Lewis Cass on the bench against Fulham last season).
Other senior players not in the Premier League squad who couldn't even get a loan move away include Jack Colback, Henri Saivet and Jamie Sterry. Colback was never going to be loaned out after picking up a long term injury, instead, we'll have to get rid of him when his contract runs out in the summer, Saivet has been on £35k a week since joining in January 2016 but has had three loan spells away from St James' Park and I'd have thought he'd get another one this month, personally, I could see us terminating his contract if we can't find a buyer in the next twelve months and like Lazaar, that will probably be the only way we get rid of them permanently before their contracts run out at the end of next season. As for Sterry, if he couldn't at least be a back up to DeAndre Yedlin and Javier Manquillo (with Emil Krafth being bought instead) and is still playing U23 football at 24, it's clear he'll never be Premier League quality and like Colback, I'd expect him to leave upon expiry of his contract in the summer. Bruce stated towards the end of pre season that he had a difficult job to leave out some senior players due to the squad limit and it's clear we need to get rid of the players not playing, the problem is getting clubs to buy these players and January's always a difficult month to deal with but with many contracts expiring this summer and next summer, it will very much help us in my opinion.
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