Rafael Benítez had his patience tested once again in January by the Newcastle United hierarchy, but in the final hours of the transfer window the Magpies entered the market and returned with two players.
Miguel Almirón arrived at St James’ Park from Atlanta United in a club-record deal. A reported fee of £21million, £16million of which has been paid up front, means the Michael Owen’s 2005 arrival from Real Madrid has, finally, been eclipsed.
Meanwhile, 23-year-old full-back Antonio Barreca joined on a six-month loan deal from Ligue 1 relegation battlers Monaco. The Magpies have the option to make the switch permanent in the summer.
So what can Newcastle United expect from their new recruits? We’ve delved into the numbers to find out.
In a word: excitement. During his time in America, few captured the imagination of the wider football – or to use correct parlance, soccer – community quite like the Paraguayan.
He was a whirlwind creator and an efficient scorer goalscorer. Without the ball, he did his fair share, too, which was commented on by Atlanta coach Tata Martino last season.
“Miguel has a commitment to the team, I’m talking about his commitment to winning the ball back, pressing, he’s a player that’s always working,” the former Barcelona boss explained.
“He’s an atypical No.10 because he gives you everything that a No.10 gives you but he then dispossesses players like a defensive midfielder. He always works hard, he’s never absent in a game, even a game where your team isn’t dominating the offensive facet of the game.
“I can’t find a game where his work rate isn’t showcased. Other players may play better than him, but for a coach to find a player who plays that position and that level of commitment, it’s very valuable.”
That defensive diligence is likely to have impressed Benítez, a coach who unquestionably values players with a strong work ethic.
But the Magpies are not battling relegation because they can’t keep sides at bay, only six Premier League have conceded fewer goals than Newcastle’s 32, they are five points above the drop because they struggle to score.
Almirón should certainly liven up Benítez’s attack – and Salomón Rondón will certainly benefit from his skill set – but it may take time for him to adapt to the pace of the English top flight. While MLS has improved considerably in recent years, there’s no denying the Premier League is a huge step up.
The same could be said for Newcastle’s other deadline day recruit, Barreca.
He remains something of an unknown at the top level. Monaco plucked him away from Torino last summer after just 37 Serie A appearances. In Ligue 1, he started the season as Leonardo Jardim’s first-choice left-back but soon lost his place in the side and was dropped from the first-squad entirely be Theirry Henry.
In his limited appearances for Monaco this term, Barreca proved he can be a threat going forward, as the graphic below highlights.
While he didn’t beat opponents often, he proved an effective passer of the ball from open play and set-pieces. His delivery from wide areas is something that, once again, should benefit Rondón.
“He has the attributes, he has the quality and he has the characteristics that we look for,” Benítez told the club website.
“Now we must see how quickly he can adapt, but we will try to help him and if he can give us more competition in this area, and more quality in the final third with his deliveries, the only thing I can see is a positive.”
As Benítez touched on, it may take time for Barreca to get up to speed at St James’ Park given he has only played 18 first-team matches in the last two seasons; he hasn’t been a regular starter since the 2016/17 campaign.
He should, though, be a strong alternative to Matt Ritchie, who has filled in at wing-back on several occasions this term.
Benítez had to wait and work extremely hard to bring in reinforcements this month. While both are wildcard additions, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Spaniard plays the hand he’s been given perfectly.