This may seem a little unfair on Jamaal Lascelles and Ciaran Clark, who have been excellent for the majority of the season. However, mistakes have begun to creep into Lascelles’ game in particular and Clark’s last showing in the Premier League was totally horrendous. Yes, they may deserve a chance, but if this club has shown us anything in the last decade, it is that you simply cannot afford to take risks. That is why, in my opinion at least, fresh blood is needed.
One name that has been mentioned lately is that of Harry Maguire. The Hull City man has been a revelation since the arrival of Marco Silva and has caught the eye of a host of clubs. Newcastle could and should be one of those in the running.
There are others based on England I feel should be looked at. Whilst it may seem ambitious, I would be very happy to see Ryan Shawcross in a black and white shirt.
As for those from overseas, the likes of Nicolas N’Koulou and Aymen Abdennour spring to mind.
Ryan Shawcross (Stoke City)
Aymen Abdennour (Valencia)
Harry Maguire (Hull City)
Nicolas N’Koulou (Lyon)
Armando Izzo (Genoa)
This may well be a problem position, which seems strange given that Paul Dummett has actually played relatively well lately. The issue is that even the most die-hard Geordie can see that he is not up to standard for the Premier League level. Achraf Lazaar has come in and, for whatever reason, has hardly featured. When he has played, he has looked very impressive going forward, but not so great coming back the other way. Whether or not he has a future on Tyneside remains to be seen. Massadio Haïdara is another option, but I really struggle to see him still being a Newcastle player come August.
Good full-backs aren’t normally difficult to find. The signings of Mathieu Debuchy, José Enrique and DeAndre Yedlin in past years have shown that.
The first name almost every supporter will think of is Arsenal man Kieran Gibbs. The talented Englishman has barely had a look in in recent seasons, but is undoubtedly an upgrade on any full-back currently on the Newcastle books.
Another interesting option could be Real Madrid’s Fábio Coentrão, who will be desperate for a home after years of uncertainty in his career.
Kieran Gibbs (Arsenal)
Fábio Coentrão (Real Madrid)
Alex Telles (Porto)
Ben Davies (Spurs)
In January, Rafa Benitez wanted a central midfielder. He knew just as well as everyone else that Jonjo Shelvey is the most integral cog in the Newcastle machine. Without him, the team lack guile. Jack Colback and Isaac Hayden were tasked with opening up Championship defences in Shelvey’s absence. They couldn’t. It makes you wonder just how difficult they would find it at the top level. As much as they offer a good foil for the ex-Swansea man when playing alongside him, that may also prove more testing in the Premier League. With more intelligent, creative attacking midfielders buzzing around, it is clear that Newcastle will need an enforcer of a higher standard. This is in addition to adequately cover for Shelvey.
A name I have seen mentioned today is Giannelli Imbula of Stoke. It is easy to jump to conclusions about this lad and say that he has flopped in the Premier League, but the fact of the matter is that until you are given a proper chance, the jury will always remain out. He is a good player, a poor man’s Geoffrey Kondogbia if you like. Very powerful and dynamic and better than what Benitez has at his disposal. This could be one to watch.
If it were up to me, Francis Coquelin would be at the top of the list. The Frenchman has fallen out of favour with fans this season and may well be available in the summer. Nobody can say he is a bad footballer. He isn’t. He is simply not good enough for Arsenal. That isn’t something to be too down-hearted about. He would be an excellent signing for Newcastle. His athleticism and aggressive approach is something the team has not had since the best days of Cheick Tioté.
Other players like Kwadwo Asamoah from Juventus or Sevilla’s Vincente Iborra would be a good shout too.
Francis Coquelin (Arsenal)
Giannelli Imbula (Stoke City)
Kwadwo Asamoah (Juventus)
Vicente Iborra (Sevilla)
Josuha Guilavogui (Wolfsburg)
James McCarthy (Everton)
Newcastle need flair. Someone to get the fans off their seats and scare the opposition into backing off. Players capable of beating players with skill, finding little spaces in the defence or sending a dead ball into the top corner are desperately hard to find. They are even harder to manage (just ask Alan Pardew).
Ayoze Pérez is very good technically, but lacks the pace and precision to become a top, top playmaker.
Mo Diamé has his good days and his bad days. The former Wigan man has played in the Premier League before and done relatively well. He will be a good option away from St. James' Park, as he has been this season. Rafa likes him a lot and he could even be comfortable with him and Pérez next season. Some will argue that is fair, but to others this will be alarming.
There is an obvious choice. Premier League teams will no doubt be circling for Gylfi Sigurdsson in the summer, but Newcastle should go all out and make a massive statement by securing his signature.
There are other options. As crazy as it may seem, Shinji Kagawa has found game time hard to come by this season at the Westfalenstadion. The Japanese star could be available for a return to England and the Magpies should make that happen if they can.
The wild card option, which would go down a treat with fans, would be Hatem Ben Arfa. Yes, it is hard to see him as a Benitez-type player, but it is nice to dream about a sensational return for the immensely talented Frenchman.
Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea City)
Shinji Kagawa (Dortmund)
Ryad Boudebouz (Montpellier)
Hatem Ben Arfa (PSG)
Sofiane Boufal (Southampton)
Instantly, Andros Townsend will be suggested. That is all well and good, he was excellent during his short stint on Tyneside and is apparently open to a return. I feel we could go even further though.
Remember Carlos Vela? The man that left Arsenal back in 2012 has cemented himself as one of La Liga’s most impressive wingers at Sociedad. Following a less than productive 2015/16 season, the Mexican has recaptured his form this campaign. At the age of 28, now is the time to strike. Benitez will know of him and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that he will make a move in the summer.
A personal favourite of mine is a name not many will be familiar with. Porto youngster Otávio has really broken onto the scene this season. Sadly, he picked up an injury towards the end of 2016 and is only getting back into action now. His slight frame may be concerning to some, but the likeness to Philippe Coutinho is understandable. This would be a real left-wing (pardon the pun) signing if it were to come off, but one that will not be regretted.
Some other names to consider may include the likes of Adem Ljajić, who has been excellent at Torino, or even someone like Nolito from Man City.
Georges-Kevin N’Koudou (Spurs)
Nolito (Man City)
Andros Townsend (Crystal Palace)
Adem Ljajić (Torino)
Jesé Rodríguez (PSG)
Carlos Vela (Real Sociedad)
The first order of business for Mr. Benitez will be to buy someone that he feels will guarantee the team 15 goals in the Premier League. The Spaniard has always favoured a more mobile type of centre forward, one that runs the channels and gets in behind defences. Hence why Dwight Gayle has been his man all season long. In his previous three seasons at Palace, Gayle's best tally was 7. When you consider the fact that Mitrović bagged 9 in a relegated side last season, that is worrying. There is no way anyone can guarantee that Gayle will get the goals in the Premier League. It may seem harsh because of how brilliant he has been this campaign, but it is the honest truth.
So, who can guarantee those goals? That is the question. To say Newcastle have had an up and down track record of buying strikers is one hell of an understatement. For every Demba Ba, there has been a Xisco. For every Loïc Rémy, there has been an Emmanuel Rivière. The truth is you cannot guarantee goals, you can simply make calculated judgements on strikers and hope they pay off.
There are a handful that should be considered. Some will say Daniel Sturridge straight away. Injuries aside, he is as close as you could get to a goals guarantee. He will have suitors though, and major ones at that.
One I would push for is Ciro Immobile of Lazio. This season, the Italian has recaptured his best form. Already notching up 18 goals with Lazio, regaining his confidence after a stagnant couple of years. Definitely another ambitious one, but Benitez knows the Italian market and will have his contacts. He could make it happen.
Cédric Bakambu of Villarreal is exactly what Benitez likes, or if you want to look closer to home, Michy Batshuayi will be eager to leave Chelsea after a season of struggle.
Ciro Immobile (Lazio)
Cédric Bakambu (Villarreal)
Andre Gray (Burnley)
Michy Batshuayi (Chelsea)
Anthony Modeste (Cologne)
Salomón Rondón (West Brom)