It’s no secret that Rafa Benítez wasn’t overly happy with Newcastle United’s business during the summer transfer window. Of the list of positions he hoped to strengthen, few were completely checked off.
Newcastle sit 16th in the top flight after taking 15 points from their opening 17 Premier League games. A disappointing recent run of form aside, it has been a solid start and one that should ensure the North East club are well clear of any relegation battle come May.
Rediscover that good early season form, however, and once that 40-point mark is reached, Newcastle could modify their targets for the campaign.
A push for Europe? Perhaps at a stretch. An FA Cup run? Why not, the Magpies certainly have the defensive shape to frustrate any side.
Benítez is an ambitious manager. A pat on the back for keeping Newcastle in the top flight is unlikely to be enough for him. But his squad is lacking quality in key areas.
In attack they’re light, as discussed here. While another top central midfielder wouldn’t go amiss. However, it is at left-back where the biggest problem lies.
Javier Manquillo has often started on the left-hand side of Newcastle’s back four and, while he hasn’t disgraced himself by any means, it isn’t a natural role for the Spaniard.
Chancel Mbemba was Benítez’s first-choice left-back before an injury sustained against Brighton and Hove Albion ended his run in the side. However, the 23-year-old is a centre-back by trade and was plugging a gap for Newcastle.
Paul Dummett, meanwhile, has just seven minutes of Premier League action to his name this term, largely due to injury.
So when the transfer window opens in January, a new left-back, if not two, should be top of Benítez’s wish-list. And we here at Football Whispers have picked out five players the Magpies should target…
Matt Targett (Southampton)
The Southampton full-back was a Newcastle transfer target in the summer and the Magpies attempted to strike a deal on deadline day, but the loan fee demanded by the Saints scuppered any move.
Several months on and nobody has benefitted from the failed loan deal. Newcastle are still without a left-back, Targett hasn’t played a single minute of first-team football for Mauricio Pellegrino and the Saints missed out on bolstering their coffers.
The England Under-21 international has the necessary experience to go straight into the Newcastle side if required. He has played 40 senior matches for Southampton, 25 of which have been in the top flight.
Targett did only feature in five games in the Premier League last season under Claude Puel, but averaged a similar amount of tackles as Mbemba has registered this term (2 to 2.1) and also averaged far more interceptions per game than Manquillo (2 to 0.9).
A short-term loan deal would suit all parties, as long as the money is right for the Saints.
Jonny (Celta Vigo)
If Benítez wants to raid La Liga – a market he knows better than most – for a left-back then near the top of his list would be Celta’s Jonny, who won 18 caps for Spain’s Under-21s.
Jonny is a cultured defender who came through the youth ranks at Celta before making his debut for the club in September 2012. But it was the following season that he truly established himself in the side under the guidance of future Barcelona boss Luis Enrique.
He has since been Celta’s first-choice left-back and has played almost 200 games for the club despite only being 24 years old.
He is comfortable with the ball, averaging 47.4 passes a game this season, a far higher figure than Mbemba and Manquillo, while his average tackles (2.6) and interceptions (2.6) per game exceed the Newcastle duo. He can also, if needed, fill in at centre-back and right-back.
In quotes given to Estadio Deportivo last December, Jonny admitted he may have to leave Celta in the future if he is to fulfil his ambitions of challenging for honours.
His current contract runs until 2019 and has an €18million release clause, although it is thought an offer of around €15million could tempt Celta into selling.
If Benítez wants a long-term solution to his left-back problem, Jonny may be the answer.
Jérôme Roussillon (Montpellier)
But that shouldn’t put the Magpies off. One of their big issues in the early weeks of the season has been their lack of creativity and while Roussillon isn’t going to be carving open defences on a regular basis, he can make a telling impact in the final third.
This season in his 13 Ligue 1 appearances, the former France Under-20 international is averaging 1.2 key passes, 1.5 dribbles and 0.9 crosses per 90 minutes. While they aren’t statistics to raise the eyebrows of European football’s elite, they are far better than Newcastle’s current options at left-back.
However, the left-back has continued his impressive form this season and with a price-tag of under £10million, Newcastle would be wise to pursue a deal in January.
Antonio Barreca (Torino)
However, Spurs’ interest is a mark of Barreca’s quality. Over the last two seasons he has established himself as Torino’s first-choice left-back and has produced a number of assured defensive displays under Siniša Mihajlović
Unlike many a modern full-back, he is better in his own half than the opposition’s, something you sense a manager of Benítez’s ilk would appreciate.
Barreca has made only five appearances this term due mainly to injury and suspension, so his statistics can’t be matched to that of Manquillo and Mbemba.
But last season he averaged 1.5 tackles and interceptions per game in Serie A, more defensive actions per 90 minutes than the Newcastle duo have managed in the Premier League.
And Barreca would also have room to develop at St James’. The 2016/17 campaign was his first in the Italian top flight but he impressed and was on the verge of a call-up to the Italy squad.
While he has yet to hit the same standards in his limited game-time this season, his potential is undeniable and, for the right price, Newcastle could get a Premier League ready left-back.
Luke Shaw (Manchester United)
Undoubtedly the most ambitious name on our list, but one with the biggest upside by some distance.
It seems a harsh way to treat a 22-year-old who has already come back from one serious injury in his career, but once Mourinho has made up his mind, it’s almost impossible for a player to change it (Kevin De Bruyne will confirm that).
So Shaw’s time at Old Trafford appears to be all but over and the club could allow him to leave in January if the right offer is made. Shaw wouldn’t come cheap –United paid £30million to sign the then 18-year-old and wouldn’t want to make a dramatic loss – but his potential is worth it.
Shaw has almost 100 Premier League games under his belt and has competed in the Champions League. He has also been capped seven times by England; his experience belies his age.
Business is business, however, and Newcastle, who may be under new ownership, could make an approach for Shaw, either on loan of permanently. It would be a coup if the Magpies could land a left-back with such potential.