Danny Higgingbottom, former Stoke City defender, has this week stated that he believes Newcastle United WILL spend big money in the upcoming transfer window. Whilst we all crave that feeling we get when a new player walks in through the door, it could be argued that quality, not quantity, should be the ethos the club abides by this winter. So, do we need to spend big once again? Or are we fully stocked to see out this season at the top of the pack?
Looking at the squad Rafa Benitez has built, it is clear to see that the strength in depth Newcastle possess is unrivalled by any other in this division. From back to front, and front to back, we have the most talented team. Going forward, the team have found the net no less than 34 times, whilst from a defensive standpoint, they have only shipped 13 goals, a quite remarkable considering the last two seasons have seen the opposition score 128 times against the Magpies. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that defenders that can't defend were replaced by defenders that can defend…? Fabricio Coloccini was replaced by Ciaran Clark, who has been magnificent over the past few months, and Daryl Janmaat was replaced by DeAndre Yedlin, who has just finished half a season under the defensive tutelage of Sam Allardyce. It has worked wonders.
At the other end of the pitch, two summer captures have given the side something that they have not had in years. Matt Ritchie, who’s last season in the Championship (2014/15) seen him score 15 times and assist a further 17, was signed from Bournemouth, that was a no brainer. Also, the club decided to sign a striker that would guarantee goals (finally). Dwight Gayle, not rated by Alan Pardew (that rings a bell) joined the club and has rewarded that belief with 11 league goals already. These two, as well as the progress Aleksandar Mitrovic has shown and the emergence of Yoan Gouffran, have made Newcastle a much more potent attacking force.
If there is any department that could be deemed slightly short, it is those operating behind the strikers. Ayoze Perez has been impressive in stages, but has overall flattered to deceive thus far. Mo Diame, perhaps the “biggest” signing of the summer, has also floundered. If neither of these two can find their best form and add further creativity to the team, you can bet that Benitez will look to address this. A move for Alan Judge was apparently close to completion in the summer, but concerns over his broken leg ultimately blocked the move. Rafa could well return for the Irishman, especially considering he is due to come back into action relatively soon.
Jonjo Shelvey, the man of the moment, has undoubtedly been a revelation so far this season. His passing ability is far beyond Championship standard, making him a key figure for Newcastle. One issue with him though, aside from the fact that a likely suspension looms over his head, is that he is currently being asked to play almost every game from the start, something which will eventually have an effect on the midfielder. Lee Charnley may be asked to find a player with similar traits to that of Shelvey, just to slot in and ease the burden on him. After watching him recently, maybe a loan move for Man City youngster Aleix Garcia would be suitable.
It is easily forgotten that Newcastle have a couple of players out injured, who are reportedly very close to returning to the fray. Jesus Gamez, Achraf Lazaar and Massadio Haidara are apparently building match fitness and could offer very adept options at full back (both sides). Rob Elliot is also close to returning to action and last year’s player of the season could recapture the number 1 jersey. Daryl Murphy, who is yet to appear in the league for his new club, can also come back and add vital experience in matches that Gayle/Mitrovic may not be available for.
Rolando Aarons...Yes, the popular winger should be back soon. The question is, for how long? It seems that every time the Jamaican-born player is given a run in the team, he is always shot down by injury. He last appeared for the club in the EFL Cup match against Cheltenham, a match in which he fractured a bone in his foot. He is a player who has promised a lot, and shown a few glimpses of his pace, trickery and crossing ability, but has also often looked out of his depth. To be fair, he was asked to play a lot of his matches at left-back, but did come up woefully short, especially at Stamford Bridge. Before the season commenced, some argued that he should have been sent out on loan, either to a championship club, or even a club in the tier below. With Gouffran playing so well, right now, there is no place for Aarons in the XI. Should the former succumb to injury though, Rolando may be called upon. This is the season that he really has to cement himself at Newcastle, or face being totally forgotten like many before him e.g, Sammy Ameobi. Should Aarons not live up to expectations, or get injured again, this could make the wings a problem position for Newcastle. Atsu will be off to the African Nations cup of course, and there remains uncertainty over Yoan Gouffran’s future, with his contract set to expire at the end of the season. This could mean that the club need to dip into the market and add to the flanks. In terms of suggestions, highly-rated Irish wide man Daryl Horgan has recently been linked. Personally, I would suggest the name of Bakary Sako. He would not be too costly due to his age (28), and has proven his worth in the second division of English football while at Wolves.
So, do we really need to get out the wallet again? Let it not be forgotten that Florian Thauvin has already generated around £10 million, with his permanent move to Marseille all but confirmed. This could be used to buy an accomplished “number ten” as well as a back-up option for Jonjo Shelvey, and money could even be left over to make the loan of Christian Atsu from Chelsea a permanent one. Buying an additional winger on top of that all depends on Aarons.
This January has no doubt been made much easier for Benitez due to Newcastle blowing away the rest of the Championship, at least so far anyway. Any incomings cannot be allowed to unsettle the group, too many new players is something that should be avoided. Like I said before, quality, not quantity is the way to go.
All being well, next Summer will be massive as we prepare for our return to the promised land.