Transfers

Five positions Newcastle boss Steve Bruce must strengthen

 • by Tom Bodell
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It comes to something when the most shocking news out of Newcastle United this week isn’t the appointment of an ex-Sunderland boss as the club’s new manager.

No, the real knock-me-down-with-a-feather moment followed the arrival of the softly spoken Northumbrian: Mike Ashley will, according to Sky Sports Newsequip his new manager with a transfer budget in excess of £90million this summer.

Long-suffering Newcastle supporters will rightly be skeptical. It was only in January that the Magpies broke their transfer record of 14 years to sign Miguel Almirón from Major League Soccer‘s Atlanta United.

But after losing Ayoze Pérez to Leicester City, seeing Salomón Rondón follow Rafa Benítez to Dalian Yifang and allowing Joselu to move on too, reinforcements are needly. Badly.

With that in mind, we’ve put ourselves in Bruce’s shoes to identify five areas where the Magpies must strengthen this summer.

Striker

Already this summer United have lost 23 goals from their attack. That’s more than half their 42-goal total in the Premier League last term.

Pérez (12 goals) has joined the Brendan Rodgers revolution at Leicester, former West Bromwich Albion loanee Rondón (11) has is heading to the Chinese Super League and even the much-maligned Joselu has left Tyneside to sign for Alavés.

All of which means Yoshinori Muto, who scored once in just five starts and 11 substitute outings last term, and Dwight Gayle, who spent the season on loan at West Brom and is expected to leave permanently, are the club’s only senior strikers.

Stats for Hoffenheim forward Joelinton in the Bundesliga in 2018/19

Hoffenheim‘s Brazilian forward Joelinton, likened to Roberto Firmino and Raul Jiménez, looks most likely to sign with the German side confirming ‘concrete talks’ with a Premier League club. The Chronicle say that is the Magpies.

The 22-year-old scored just seven Bundesliga goals in 25 starts last season – his first campaign since moving from Rapid Vienna – and Bruce will want more than one senior forward arriving at St. James’ Park this summer.

Charlie Austin, exiled in Southampton’s Under-23s, is another – very underwhelming – name being touted.

Attacking midfield

Newcastle United attacker Miguel Almiron's stats for the 2018/19 Premier League season

Paraguayan playmaker Almirón made an encouraging start to life in the Premier League during his first six months on Tyneside but with Pérez gone he can’t carry all the responsibility for being Newcastle’s attacking fulcrum.

It’s hard to draw too much from the 25-year-old’s ten top-flight appearances following his January switch but, despite plenty of highlight-reel moments, he failed to score or register an assist.

Having a full pre-season behind him and eight months to adapt to life in England should ensure he goes from strength to strength, however.

One player who has previously been linked with a switch to the North East is Lille‘s Jonathan Bamba. The 23-year-old Ivorian, who can play as a winger or through the middle, impressed in his maiden season with LOSC, netting 13 Ligue 1 goals from 35 starts.

A more left-field alternative could be former Magpies favourite Hatem Ben Arfa. Now 31, the troubled Frenchman is free after leaving Rennes and having played arguably the best football of his career on Tyneside, could a romantic return make sense?

Left-back

Benítez tried and failed to solve Newcastle’s troublesome left-back spot in January.

First with an offer for Lazio‘s Jordan Lukaku – brother of Manchester United forward Romelu – before signing Monaco‘s Antonio Barreca on loan at the 11th hour.

Former Newcastle United defender Antonio Barreca's stats for 2018/19 with Monaco

The Italian made just a single substitute appearance, though, after failing to impress Benítez and used Instagram to remind his temporary employers of his availability in April. His Newcastle career totalled just four minutes and three appearances in the matchday squad.

Whoever comes in will almost certainly find themselves behind the much-improved Paul Dummett in the pecking order. But with former Liverpool defender Javier Manquillo looking uncomfortable at left-back, there is an opening for someone to come in and rival the Welsh international.

A versatile winger

With Kenedy’s second loan spell from Chelsea failing to hit the heights of his first, the Brazilian’s return to Stamford Bridge won’t be felt too badly. But it leaves the Magpies with a paucity of options in the wide areas.

Matt Ritchie has become an increasingly important member of the side on the right-hand flank and no-one created more big chances (8), supplied more assists (8) or had a higher xA (4.5) than the Scottish international last season.

Stats for Newcastle United midfielder Matt Ritchie in the Premier League in 2018/19

On the opposite flank, Jacob Murphy has flattered to deceive since his switch from Norwich City in 2017 and spent the second half of last season on loan at West Bromwich Albion, scoring twice in 13 games. It will be a clean slate for the boyhood Newcastle fan under Bruce, but he has ground to make up.

Christian Atsu assumed the role of first-choice left winger last term but with one goal and no assists in 31 appearances, the Ghanaian needs to drastically improve his end product if he is to become the prospect Chelsea hoped he would when they took him from Porto in 2013.

A creative midfielder

Much hinges on whether Jonjo Shelvey can force his way into favour under Bruce and whether the former England international has finally put his disciplinary issues of the past behind him.

On his day the ex-Liverpool playmaker can be Newcastle’s difference-maker, someone who can carve a chance out of nothing which his vision and passing range. He was used sparingly by Benítez in his final season at the club, making just ten Premier League appearances.

Marseille midfielder Morgan Sanson

But the 27-year-old wants to remain at St. James’ Park, saying: “I won’t be leaving the club. I don’t know who wants me to leave or stay but as far as I am concerned I am at Newcastle United. I am not looking to go anywhere.”

However, he is the Magpies’ only real midfield creator from deep which places a lot of responsibility on his shoulders. Things could be exacerbated if Manchester United finally make good on their reported interest in Sean Longstaff too.

It’s been a few years since Ligue 1 was Newcastle’s go-to-market of choice but another player plying his trade in France who has regularly been linked with the Magpies is Marseille‘s Morgan Sanson. After failing to qualify for Europe, OM must sell and the 24-year-old could be just the ticket.

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