While some Newcastle fans are insistent on being utterly hopeless on the club's chances of staying up in the Premier League, the reality is that they shouldn't be like that at all. I'm probably going to regret typing this, but Newcastle is probably staying up. They are at about a 15% chance of relegation according to the analytics and the main reason for that is that they don't have to depend on themselves anymore. Hull has to get 2 points at Spurs or against Manchester United on the last day of the season. Even with that, Newcastle can still get points on their own as they showed last week.
Let's move on from that discussion and talk about what happens if Newcastle stays up. This club needs a lot to happen in order to stay out of this type of situation next season, but has the resources and certain players on the roster that could combine to be more fit for a battle at the top of the mid-table. Here's what needs to happen for the latter to be a reality.
1. Find the right manager
Believe it or not this is going to be pretty easy. This club cannot do worse than John Carver and there's no doubting that. Steve McClaren has put himself out of the running and that reportedly has Mike Ashley looking over in Spain, but that's beside the point. Newcastle have enough prestige and funds to attract a pretty good manager, but it comes down to Ashley allowing for that manager to come in and do what they want.
There's your problem. The best option in my opinion was Remi Garde, but he barely made it through a meeting with the club before leaving after hearing of the ludicrous way the club is run. So how does Newcastle find that ideal manager? It's pretty impossible with Ashley at the helm with the way he holds back on funds and controls the transfer with his lead scout Graham Carr.
There are managers that exist that would be okay with what Newcastle does systematically with players, but there aren't many of them and most of them aren't very good. That makes the search difficult and maybe the difficulty of this and our next fact will either see Ashley finally leave or allow more freedom to whoever comes in. That contributes to our next point which is....
2. Spend. A. Lot. Of. Money.
Maybe the logic behind a club in the Premier League being comfortable in the mid-table without spending a lot of money was okay, but this will be the third straight season Newcastle has had horrendous form see them fall in the table. Two seasons ago it was a relegation battle that saw them to 16th, last season was a terrific start to the season to be ruined by the selling of Yohan Cabaye, and this season is another relegation fight on disgusting form.
Perhaps three straight miserable seasons will see Ashley finally spend al that money we've seen go straight to profits. The protest for the Spurs game was a mild success, but was more so a week long message at how unacceptable his lack of spending was. The truth to this is that Newcastle was ranked this year as the 18th most valuable soccer club in the world. This isn't a change as Newcastle has fluttered around 15-20 on the rankings since 2007 when they were 13th.
It's simply unacceptable to look at the lack of talent out there for this team and that this club has a chance of being relegated. They should be spending way more money and maybe a season like this finally gives the owner a wakeup call. If this theoretically happens...
3. Solidify the center of the defense
The middle of the defense fell through after Steven Taylor's surprising form was ruined by a season long injury back in the beginning of January. Mike Williamson's form last season was a revelation, but that appeared to be some sort of Cinderella stint because he has been putrid this season.
Fabricio Coloccini has his weaknesses and keeps getting older, but the club isn't going to do much better than him. They would be better finding him an ideal partner and maybe that's Jamaal Lascelles. Lascelles was purchased from Nottingham Forest last season and was loaned back for the season, which appeared to be a massive mistake despite him being only 21 years old. He's big, strong, and fast. Whether he is good enough to start next season will take more of a full evaluation remains to be seen, but he was a solid purchase and will at least be a rotation centerback alongside Taylor.
If it's not Lascelles, the club has to make up ground from the awful Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa scenario. MYM was signed for around $12 million in the January 2013 window when Carr went crazy on Frenchmen. MYM was inconsistent, but the club inexplicably loaned him out to Roma with a chance for a permanent buy at $6 million. As it turns out, MYM has turned into a first-team player for one of the best clubs in Italy and Roma bought him back, which resulted in Newcastle somehow losing $8 million on a player they could have desperately used this season.
The fullback situation has cleared up with potential future captain Daryl Janmaat on the right and the duo of Paul Dummett and Massadio Haidara on the left. Janmaat shows consistency in his defensive instincts on while being the best wide threat as an attacker this season. Dummett is very inept with the ball on his foot and only succeeds with the more straightforward and basic football play, which is what makes Haidara so much more dynamic on the ball. The Frenchmen has confidence on the ball and has the athleticism and ability with his left foot in order to create opportunities on the left. Dummett is the slightly better defender, but he makes so many mistakes that it makes the race that much easier to pick.
That leaves a spot open in the starting XI if Lascelles isn't ready. Taylor was decent enough to start at some points in the season, so maybe a rotation between the two alongside Colo wouldn't be a horrible scenario. If Newcastle is truly going to spend though, they need to clean up their weakness and we can agree it is on the defense where they gave up the most goals in the Premier League.
4. Develop the correct midfield combination
This has been the strangest part of the field to look at over the course of the season. The team has one solid player in this area who fits the bill of a mid-table team, while the rest have either been injured, playing out of position, or have had too much shuffling to succeed.
Jack Colback is that solid player and he needs an ideal partner next to him. He's good on defense, he can actually play possession unlike every other midfielder on this team, and has just enough technical prowess on the ball to help out in the final third. There's nothing special about Colback, but that doesn't mean he's not a good player.
That player could come in on transfer this summer or it could be someone already on the roster. Cheick Tiote is a madman with his work rate and recklessness in defense, but you cannot deny the impact of his energy and how much better he would look if he didn't have to worry about being responsible for possession like he was in the past. Colback would be able to help him there and we never got a good look at that combination with only 10 starts for Tiote this season.
Mehdi Abeid is another possibility, but the large physique of the Algerian was the only impressive thing about him in his starts. However, the flashes of great play from him makes you think that he was just a young player lost in the whirlwind of a tumultuous season. That doesn't make him dependable though.
Vurnon Anita has consistently been one of the worst players in the squad, proving that he cannot make an impact when he is given the occasional start and even worse, he cannot be a temporary placeholder while other players are injured. He has been decent defensively as a fullback, but he has absolutely no shot as an attacker on that side and with how poor he was in the midfield it feels like his time at the club is done.
The gem of this entire side talent wise has always been Moussa Sissoko and the club has now gone through two managers who just have no idea how to use him. He's a tremendous counter attacker with an extremely rare package of speed and strength when he's on the ball. He has good quality on the ball all over the pitch. However, his somewhat inconsistent play in possession and turnovers in bad areas has him on the bad side of a good chunk of supporters. It seems like all he needs is a manager to tell him THIS is the position you will play and THIS is what I want from you for the next 9 months. He's played in a holding role, a roaming role, an attacking mid role, and a wide role. He just needs to find a good position to reach his full potential, but that's probably going to be on another club next season.
The lack of depth in the holding midfield as you can see is where Newcastle could afford to pick up at least one more player. The place they don't need more bodies, but more quality is out wide.
Gabriel Obertan, Yoan Gouffran, and Jonas Gutierrez are all on the wrong sides of their careers and simply look like they need a new change in their career. All three show the intent to attack, but all three struggle with the consistency of quality on their balls in the final third. Gouffran in particular has been absolutely awful since Yohan Cabaye left. Gouffran and Guttierez are both okay as sporadic rotation players because of their workrates - Gouffran in particular on defense - but they should not feature in 36 starts combined from the three.
The breath of fresh air in the wide areas has come from the youth. Sammy Ameobi was a player we barely saw before this season and never showed anything real, but he's arguably been Newcastle's best player in front of the holding midfield. He's a big dude who is very fast and has a natural understanding of how to occupy space with the ball when he's on the sidelines. If he was surrounded by more technically proficient players (he had a wonderful give-and-go assist with Sissoko this year) and a better target at striker he could look very good. That might come on another team though, as the club looks ready to let him go on a free transfer with his contract set to expire in the summer. Ameobi wants more first-team football and has rejected contracts according to reports so it looks like Newcastle are in a bind. He's still very young and inexperienced and he showed enough this season to warrant at least a spot in the rotation for next season. If he wants guaranteed consistency in the starting XI however it might be time for him to move on. It's unfortunate that Newcastle won't be able to make money on it though.
The most exciting player out of this whole season however has been Rolando Aarons. He only made three appearances, but his game in particular against Crystal Palace showed the amount of talent that this club rarely sees. He looks like an absolute dynamo on the ball who is bursting with confidence. It's a wonder as to whether or not he can retain the brilliant form he had in such a short amount of games, but he's one of the players that supporters are eager to see more of before the end of this season and for next season as well.
The center attacking area of the midfield is where Newcastle spent a lot of money this offseason and it didn't have any impact whatsoever. Remy Cabella was played wide because of his tremendous dribbling ability that made him the most successful player as a direct attacker and would consistently draw fouls. Yes, he turned the ball over a lot, but that can't be put against him when he's the only player with confidence attacking the defense. His play wide however detracts from how good of a goal scorer and provider he can be in the final third and a much more centralized offensive role suits him better. This team desperately needed a commander who could be a playmaker offensively and Siem De Jong's injuries left the club without that guy even if they bought him. He needs to be that guy next season. This is the one area of the park where I don't think Newcastle need to spend.
5. Spend big on a striker
Andy Carroll, Leon Best, Demba Ba, Loic Remy, Pappiss Cisse, and Ayoze Perez. In the past five years this club has been a staple for producing something out of nothing up front. Carroll came through the systems and then was sold for a club record fee, Best was bought for 2 million euros and sold for 3.5, Ba was a free transfer who was bought by Chelsea, Remy was loaned from QPR and was one of the best striker in the Premier League during the first half of his season, Cisse was the big spend who has had inconsistent runs of goal scoring, and Perez might be the most heralded player for the club while being bought for only 2 million euros.
Cisse was a 10 million euros spend, but this team has still not committed to a big name that they are capable of getting if they truly splash the cash. Despite his goal scoring record, Cisse is a useless player outside of the box who looks lost unless he has the ball on his foot in a goal scoring area. That makes his reliability as a finisher so much more important because of the lack of anything else on the pitch. That's why he falls in scoring ruts and why Newcastle should look for another man. That might have to happen regardless because Cisse has interest from clubs in the Middle East and might have seen his last time in England.
That other man was supposed to be Emmanuel Riviere, but this looks to be a complete swing and a miss from the club. He has no confidence at all on the ball and has never come close to scoring in league play. He screws up chances all the time and looks too scared to try to move the ball with conviction when he's outside the box. He works hard as a presser though and just because he can do that is why he's started so many games towards the end of the season.
Ayoze Perez is that extra technical player I talked about earlier, but like Sissoko he has been all over the place this season and just needs to be the isolated striker. He has been a wide player who has focused on extreme pressure defensively, a wide player to control possession offensively, and even an attacking midfielder who is reponsbile for some of the advancement of the ball from the center of the pitch. He's another player who has been ruined by whatever Pardew and Carver thought they were doing. Like Ameobi, Aarons, Sissoko, and Cabella, he will highly benefit from a confident manager who knows how to manage offensive talent.
However, Perez might regress back to his foreseen role on the team before this season with the rumored $17 million fee for Aleksandar Mitrovic only awaiting the club's Premier League status. Mitrovic is 20 years old and currently plays for Anderlecht in Belgium. The 6'2" striker is going to be most recognized for the ability to be effective both in the air and in the ground, but what I see when I watch Mitrovic is a player that has an extra sense on when to make the extra effort for a scoring opportunity. A lot of his goals are him stepping up on poor passes, being in the right place for deflections, and hustling down loose balls and being ready to shoot right away. The guy doesn't score too many identical goals and you have to absolutely love that. This poacher aspect of his game is deadly considering the athleticism he has for being that big. He's pretty good in the air and the poise he shows as a goal scorer is the sort of confidence this team is dying for.
The pace he plays at looks like a great fit for the Premier League. Unfortunately, this is a player like Cisse that needs to be fed the ball around the area. He's not going to make the rapid runs on his own, but you can bet that he will be in the right position once the attack arrives around the box. This is where those attacking players I mentioned earlier will be crucial for NUFC and even more so the other players they will look to buy.
That need may have already been filled, as it's been reported by Marca in Spain that one of Barcelona's young talents Sandro Ramirez will be joining Newcastle on loan for the next season. Sandro can play on either wing or in the center of the attack and is exactly the type of player that Newcastle need. To put it simply, he's really talented and skilled with the ball. He's the type of player that can take on a defender in the box, beat him, and score. How many of those guys does Newcastle have? There's no need to go in-depth on Sandro because he plays for freaking Barcelona. He is also dependent on staying up, but so is this entire post. He'd be a fantastic signing.
Beyond Mitrovic and Sandro there isn't more than rumored enquiries out there. Business will surely pick up in a few weeks and it's clear for where the team needs to improve. It's all about finding a manager first and foremost, but if these reports are true about the first two players it's a relief that at least the aggression in the transfer market is there.
We never talk about a relatively healthy Newcastle side never being in this position, but it's rightfully ignored because of the abysmal job by management and the players. These rotation players forced into regular starting XI roles are supposed to be ready for these situations and those regular starting XI players left are supposed to be able to step up when the club needs them the most. This humongous weight of stress on the club's shoulders will hopefully go away over the summer and will be refreshed with new energy brought by the acquisitions and the new manager.
That's not even much of an entirely optimistic thought to have and that shows the potential this club has. it feels like the pessimistic mindset is like a switch you can't turn off for this club and you can you really blame them after this type of relegation battle? It appears the club got away with it for now, but they won't again next year if they fail to address these needs and that will perhaps be the most nerve-wracking thing to watch for Newcastle this year.