First things first, let’s get the obvious one out of the way. Jonjo Shelvey has done it in the Premier League before and the Championship has proven too easy for him. That isn’t arrogance, it is just a fact. He is the first name on the team sheet each and every week.
Any others? The three that come to mind are Karl Darlow, Matt Ritchie and Dwight Gayle.
Darlow began his Newcastle life in troublesome fashion and that mistake versus West Bromwich Albion will always be remembered. Since then though, he has gone from strength to strength. He has even gone as far as usurping last season’s player of the year, Rob Elliot, as first choice between the sticks.
Ritchie played reasonably well for Bournemouth last season, has been brilliant this season and will surely be a shoe in next season.
Gayle differs slightly. Yes, he played in the Premier League with Crystal Palace and scored some goals, but his best tally was 7 and he never really nailed down a starting place at the London Club. He has scored 20 goals this season already to be fair, which has earned him another shot at the big time.
Chancel Mbemba was easily the best defender at the club last season, but has somehow found himself behind Lascelles and Clark lately. An impressive AFCON showing for DR Congo, playing as a midfielder, just shows how much quality he possesses at such a young age. If it were up to me, he would be first choice in the Premier League.
Ayoze Perez is another who has found it extremely tough at this level. The Spaniard looked destined for big things when he first broke onto the scene, but has floundered for the last 18 months. Still a huge talent, next season will be do or die for him.
DeAndre Yedlin has been excellent this season and in the absence of Vurnon Anita, he has made the right back spot his own. Still young and with plenty of potential, he knows as well as everyone else that Rafa Benitez is the perfect manager to work under next season in the top flight. As he continues to develop the defensive side of his game, he will only get better.
If you look back a few months, you will remember the criticisms Mo Diamé was receiving each week. After being brought in from Hull, the big Senegalese midfielder was tasked with replacing the best player ever, Moussa Sissoko (I am joking). Aside from a brilliant assist for Gayle's Bristol City winner, he really didn't show much. A brace against Preston in the League Cup seemed to ignite something within him though, and by the time he bagged his first League goal for the club he had turned on the style. Fans realized what he was bought for. As he turns 30 in the Summer, he will be ready to give his peak years to Newcastle's Premier League cause, should they indeed get there.
Then, you have the big one. The man that has very much divided opinion ever since his arrival on Tyneside. Aleksandar Mitrović to some is slow, lethargic and ill-disciplined. To others, like myself, he is a rough diamond that simply needs polishing. Five goals this season is not great, but the fact that he is yet to get a real run in the team is a major reason for that. In his debut Premier League year, the big Serbian netted 9 times and also contributed 4 assists. At the age of 21, that is not a bad ratio at all. In fact, that is more goals than what Gayle has managed in any one of his top flight campaigns. There is ability there. Injuries and suspensions haven’t helped his cause this term, but he is worth persisting with. I feel that the club would seriously regret it if they were to let him go.
Premier League ready:
There are some that are much more difficult to judge. Ciaran Clark and captain Jamaal Lascelles have been impressive throughout most of the season, although Lascelles' form has dipped massively in the last few weeks. Clark has been one of the most consistent performers all season, but memories of his atrocious performances for Aston Villa linger over his head.
Others that have played at the top level before are Vurnon Anita, Rolando Aarons and Christian Atsu. Albeit, the latter two both only sparingly. Yes, Anita was good towards the end of last season as he filled in at right back, but up until that point, uninspiring would be an understatement.
Aarons and Atsu are similar. Both left-footed and equipped with blistering pace, but lacking in an end product. In both cases, they have never really got much game time on British shores. Atsu has been shipped out on loan to places like Everton and Bournemouth, but has never made the grade for whatever reason. Aarons broke onto the scene during the twilight of Alan Pardew’s tenure, but fell to injury countless times. In the Summer, he signed his new bumper contract, but his injury troubles then reared their ugly head once more. He will miss the rest of the season, so it will be an uphill climb for the young Englishman if he is to regain a place on the team sheet.
Two players on the other end of the scale, Achraf Lazaar and Isaac Hayden, have not yet tested themselves in the Premier League. Hayden has been absolutely crucial to Benitez’s plans so far this season, playing a whopping 32 games. For someone aged 21, that has never really featured in senior football (aside from a loan Spell at Hull last season) that really is staggering. He has been good, providing a nice foil for Jonjo Shelvey during crucial games. Whether he is ready for the step up though, remains to be seen.
Lazaar is a strange one. Signed from Palermo towards the end of the Summer, the Moroccan has proven that he can play anywhere on the left side. Going forward, he has looked extremely capable, but in terms of his defensive side of the game, he has much to learn. The only issue is that he has been restricted to cup games and appearances off the bench. The worrying part of it is that the man keeping him out of the team is none other than Paul Dummett.
During the Summer, if Newcastle do attain Premier League status, it is clear that some sort of overhaul is required. Quite frankly, there are some players in the squad that are barely even Championship ready, never mind the top tier. These are simple enough to identify. Massadio Haïdara, Paul Dummett, Sammy Ameobi, Grant Hanley, Curtis Good, Jack Colback and Matz Sels are just not good enough. I would be hugely surprised if at least five of those are still at Newcastle come September.
Two youngsters that are highly likely to be loaned out are Jamie Sterry and Adam Armstrong. Whilst some may claim Armstrong deserves his chance this season, and I am tempted to agree, the opinion that matters is the manager’s. If he does not see him as an option in the Championship, then the hopes of him being thrusted into Premier League action seem fanciful at best.
That leaves the likes of Daryl Murphy, Jesús Gámez and Yoan Gouffran. Gámez looked an ambitious signing at the time. A former Malaga captain and proven La Liga full back swapping the Spanish capital for promotion-chasing-Newcastle would not be deemed common. Sadly, a lack of fitness has meant he has barely featured, and when he has, he has looked no better than what the club already has. Murphy is similar in that he has suffered from fitness issues and nagging injuries, which have limited his time on the pitch. When he was called upon, he did exactly what was asked of him. He scored three in three in the new year. However, with Gayle on his way back and Mitrović working on match fitness, you get the impression that Murphy will return to the same situation as before.
If you told me after relegation that Yoan Gouffran would even have a future at the club, I would have laughed. Fast forward to now and he has been a key member of the team, scoring long range screamers and become the primary left winger. Wow. He really has turned his career around. Hats off to him. However, has he done enough to be given another crack at the whip in the Premier League? In essence, no. At 30 years old, he appears to have found his level. Besides an impressive start to his career in English football, he has never really looked quite good enough for the highest level. His contract will expire in the Summer and he will have gone out on a high, by helping Newcastle to a return to the promised land.