Newcastle United football director Dan Ashworth’s first remarkable Here We Go of the summer came yesterday as the deal for Italian international Sandro Tonali was finalized, pending a physical and the official announcement by NUFC.
Almost immediately, several fresh Serie A reports linking the club to other players from Italy's top-flight división started to emerge. While there was some noise regarding Juventus forward Federico Chiesa, the spotlight seems to finally be focused on one of the primary weaknesses of this Magpie squad moving into next season: the left-back position.
When Dan Burn was purchased from Brighton in the January window of 2022, the Blythe-born giant performed admirably, partnering with Fabian Schar, Matt Targett, and Kieran Trippier on defense to catapult Newcastle out of the relegation zone.
Many (like me) assumed that Sven Botman’s arrival would shift the 31-year-old into a relief role and create the perfect rotating triumvirate of CBs Howe wanted to anchor the defense.
January reports of a lengthy heel injury deflected some of the controversy, but it’s clear that the 27-year old’s spot is no longer safe. Alongside Chiesa, Newcastle are reportedly exploring moves for Tonali’s AC Milan teammate Theo Hernandez and Inter Milan’s counter-attack threat Federico Dimarco.
Hernandez is a France international and still a young 25-year-old defender. He was purchased from Alaves by Real Madrid at just 19. While his time at Real Madrid was marred by controversies, his career blossomed under the leadership of the recently departed Paolo Maldini at Milan. Many believe that Maldini’s sacking is what opened the door for Tonali to leave, and what ultimately is fanning the flames for a Hernandez escape. Hernandez’s arrival at St James' Park would mark the arrival of another premium star that would transform the starting lineup.
Defense in Serie A is always depicted as the strongest in the world, and while I personally believe that much of that reputation is due to a style that is markedly slower and punctuated by a lot of long breaks when players are grounded or surrounding the ref, the defensive performances of both Milan clubs deserve legitimate acclaim. AC Milan were the ones who knocked out a Napoli side (who were crowned Serie A champs by 16 points) from the Champions League, wrapping up the second leg 1-1 without highly rated CB Kim Min-Jae (set to join Bayern Munich next season.)
It was Dimarco’s Internazionale who eventually knocked out AC Milan in the UCL semi-final, and later took Manchester City closer to the edge of defeat than anyone predicted during their narrow 1-0 loss in the final.
If you were to harness the heart and tirelessness of Miguel Almiron and blend them with a fearless defender capable of shutting down the attack of Manchester City, you would pick Dimarco. While it’s a longshot, Dimarco is the apex among all the LBs Newcastle are rumored to be considering.
Outside of Italy, Fulham’s Atonee Robinson has a very affordable £1.3m/yr contract that expires after next season. Robinson is well known stateside as one of the mainstays in a strong American defense that has succeeded by utilizing strong d-men and midfielders to mitigate the lack of a true striker. Strong on the ball, with the ability to get forward and cross the ball from the left, he would certainly be an upgrade offensively for the Toon. Whether it’s his recent performances or his contract, the 25-year-old is linked to a number of squads throughout Europe at reported £35m price tag.
Finally, the initial speculation early this summer window painted 26-year-old Kieran Tierney as the most likely Eddie Howe recruit at the position. The Scottish international had a season-ending knee injury in March of 2022, and the majority of his minutes at Arsenal FC were absorbed by Okelsandr Zinchenko this season following his arrival from Man City last summer.
Tierney’s still linked as a potential target for Newcastle, but some Arsenal-related outlets have been vocal in their desire to retain him next season. Zinchenko plays central midfield internationally for Ukraine, and while at LB he remains a valuable offensive weapon, he is a serviceable defender at best. During Arsenal’s fall from the top at the tail end of this season, Zinchenko’s recurrent defensive mishaps saw Tierney make a return to the lineup as Arteta attempted to salvage as many points as possible.
All points lead to a competition between Targett and a new face this fall for the starting role at the LB, so... who do you think will come out winning the nod?