Three central defenders Newcastle United should target this summer | THT Opinions

The Hard Tackle lists three central defenders Newcastle United should look to sign, despite the impending arrival of Sven Botman.

The winds of revolution are blowing in full flow at Newcastle United. There was an air of pessimism and desolation surrounding St James’ Park only nine months ago, what with the club sleepwalking towards another relegation with no points in the first seven games of the season.

Life under Eddie Howe did not start off well either, and a humiliating defeat to League One Cambridge United was another indication of their looming drop to the Championship despite all the riches of the new owners. However, the turn of the year gradually brought about a sense of optimism at Newcastle as results began to fall in their favour.

The stigma of disgraced former owner Mike Ashley and manager Steve Bruce has vanished altogether from the town, with the Saudi-backed consortium led by Amanda Staveley now at the helm of the club. Howe started to prove the naysayers wrong and already earned Toon hero status thanks to a refreshing brand of football that saw Newcastle become the form team in the English top-flight since the start of 2022.

Having comfortably avoided relegation, Newcastle emerged as one of the clubs projected to spend heavily in the summer transfer window, with the wealthy owners wanting to continue the progress of the last five months and likely to bankroll another big transfer window after splashing in excess of £90 million in January as they strive for a top-half finish next season.

Howe & co. have targeted quality future prospects in Lille’s Sven Botman and Reims’ Hugo Ekitike, but have not managed to get either deals over the line, despite being linked for the best part of this year. While it’s still early doors in the summer window, considering they aim to strengthen all over the pitch, it would be ideal to wrap up the deals early for their top targets.

Lille’s Sven Botman has been identified as a priority signing. The Magpies’ strong interest in Botman first surfaced last winter, when they attempted to sign the Lille defender in January. Despite two bids, they weren’t able to get the Netherlands Under-21 international.

With the summer transfer market reopened, there was a sense of déjà vu as the Tyneside-based outfit seemed to have reached another potential roadblock with the Ligue 1 club haggling over a transfer fee for Botman, despite Newcastle having a £30 million bid accepted for the Dutch defender earlier this month.

Italian reports previously claimed that the Dutchman himself is not keen on joining the Premier League club and is favouring a move to reigning Serie A champions AC Milan. But, according to the latest reports, Milan have backed out of the deal after failing to reach Lille’s asking price for the Dutch centre-back, clearing the way for Newcastle.

Indeed, the Dutchman is now just ‘one step away’ from completing a move to St James’ Park after the Rossoneri took too long to submit an improved bid. These reports have now been reaffirmed by the local English media and transfer guru Fabrizio Romano.

Newcastle look to have increased their bid for Botman to around £34.5 million with add-ons, which was proving to be a sticking point previously. Lille are said to have accepted the offer, and contracts are currently being drafted. That would imply that Botman has agreed to the transfer.

This update comes as music to the ears of the Newcastle faithful as Botman is seen as a player capable of taking the Magpies’ defence to the next level. With Newcastle being a club in transition, the Dutchman has all the elements to be a world-class centre-half and can be for the Magpies what Vincent Kompany was for Manchester City after their takeover – a potential era-defining statement signing in all regards.

Having said that, the Toon army will be extra careful this time around considering they have seen it happen all before and will not be drawn into celebration mode until they see Botman pulls on the Black-and-white stripes in an official club reveal.

Even then, with Newcastle skipper Jamaal Lascelles also rumoured to be on his way out of St James’ Park, there is a possibility that the Magpies may need to bring in two central defenders this summer. With that in mind, The Hard Tackle scouts three such options that they could pursue in the coming weeks.

Evan Ndicka (Eintracht Frankfurt)

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The first name on our list will not come as a surprise to many Newcastle supporters, considering the player has been on the club’s radar for a while now. Of course, we’re talking about Evan Ndicka, the reigning UEFA Europa League winner who is set to leave Eintracht Frankfurt this summer and has already been closely monitored by the Magpies.

Although on paper, Ndicka may not be the type of statement, high-profile acquisition like Botman, the Frankfurt centre-half is on an upward trajectory in his career. The 22-year-old defender made 41 appearances for Frankfurt in all competitions this past season, including ten in the Europa League.

Needless to say, Ndicka performed admirably for Frankfurt, leading to speculation of a move away. This is exacerbated by the fact that his contract at Deutsche Bank Park expires next year. The German side may have to cash in on their prized asset this summer or else they will risk losing the defender for free next year if he doesn’t put pen to paper on a new deal.

As such, a fee of as little as £17 million is said to be enough to secure his signature this summer, which is a certain bargain given he is marked at £29 million by Transfermarkt. Ndicka is a strong, athletic, towering, left-footed centre-back who not only has a great ability in 1v1 duels but also has exceptional pace to keep speedy attackers in check.

Ndicka is most effective while operating as a left-sided centre-back in a back-three, where he can have the freedom to drive and underlap his wing-back, but also has all the necessary defensive tools to play in a back-four. His versatility means he would offer another option to January addition Dan Burn, who has been a colossus for the Magpies since he joined the club from Brighton earlier this year.

The former France Under-21 international has also chipped in with four goals and delivered four assists in 32 Bundesliga games, showing that he can be rather useful at both ends of the pitch. 2.45 blocks and 4.33 aerial duels won per 90 puts him right up there with the top 5% of centre-backs in Europe’s top-five leagues, and he stands out in all defensive categories.

Ndicka checks all the boxes for an all-around centre-back, and the fact that he is just 22 years old means he can still develop further into a world-class central defender. Having said that, Newcastle will have to beat the significant competition to lure Ndicka to Tyneside, with several other Premier League clubs, including Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United, set to rival for his services.

Benoit Badiashile (AS Monaco)

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The next name on our list is another very familiar name to Newcastle radars. After facing defeat in their Botman pursuit in the January window, the Magpies had a €40 million bid rejected for AS Monaco’s Benoit Badiashile before they eventually signed Dan Burn from Brighton, but their interest in the player has since cooled until now.

Newcastle remain interested in Badiashile, who is expected to cost any potential suitor in excess of £40 million. Like Botman, he is an exciting target with stacks of potential, and could, in fact, be an upgrade, considering he is very much a ball-playing centre-back in every sense of the term. Furthermore, the Frenchman aspires to play in the Premier League, and Newcastle may benefit from making that happen.

Physically, the 21-year-old is everything one could desire in a central defender. The 6ft 4in Frenchman has a muscular build to complement his aerial presence and a decent turn of pace when racing back towards his own goal. He is also fairly agile and capable of keeping up with the runs of the attacker, but he may need to work on improving the speed of his direction shift and can be error-prone in rare instances.

At just 21, one can rely on his potential to minimalize his weak links and refine his skills with more experience under his belt, as he demonstrated that with consistent stellar showings towards the end of last season, helping his team surge up to third in Ligue 1.

In possession, Badiashile has proven himself to be a comfortable and competent customer, displaying exceptional levels of composure despite his young age. But it’s his vision and ability to step out of defence with the ball at his feet that would make him a valuable addition to a team like Newcastle, who are trying to play out from the back under Howe.

According to FBRef, Badiashile has ranked in the 93rd percentile for progressive passes, the 92nd for interceptions, and the 88th for aerial duels won amongst his positional counterparts in Europe’s top-five leagues over the last year. That said, his price tag seems a bit hefty and, having already sold Aurelien Tchouameni to Real Madrid for €100 million, Monaco are under no pressure to sell their prized asset and are unlikely to give Newcastle any discounts.

Konstantinos Mavropanos (VfB Stuttgart)

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This option might be a little left-field as compared to someone like Evan Ndicka or Benoit Badiashile since he has seldom appeared in the rumour mill as a target for Newcastle. Considering they already have a top-flight level left-sided centre-back in Dan Burn and are closing in on Botman, they could benefit by upgrading his partner Fabian Schar and bringing in a ball-playing alternative to the Swiss international.

In that regard, former Arsenal centre-half Konstantinos Mavropanos, who recently converted his loan stay into a permanent one with German outfit VfB Stuttgart, would be an excellent low-cost pick-up for the Tyneside-based outfit. The 24-year-old has excelled massively in the last two seasons on loan at Stuttgart and helped the side dramatically avoid relegation on the final day of the 2021/22 season.

Mavropanos has been a standout performer for Stuttgart this term, not only offering defensive solidity but also adding attacking actions to his bow. Despite being a central defender, he ended the campaign with the second-highest number of goals in the squad with four, demonstrating his usefulness at the other end of the pitch.

A progressive defender renowned for his ability to advance the ball up the pitch, Mavropanos ranked in the 87th percentile (3.89) for progressive passes and the 92nd for touches in the opposition penalty box (1.43) per 90 minutes last season. With his mobility and passing, he allowed Stuttgart to initiate counter-attacking transitions and assisted in distributing the ball into the final third successfully.

Defensively, the Greek international is an aggressive tackler with strong anticipation skills to make interceptions thanks to his constant awareness of the ball movement as well as the opposition player’s positioning. He also has quick feet to get out of tight situations, a tremendous recovery pace, and a natural tendency to drift into the right-back area courtesy of his early allegiances to the full-back position.

This would also free up the defensive workload on Newcastle right-back Kieran Trippier, who could then make a more decisive impact in the final third with his deadly crosses. Mavropans averaged 2.4 tackles, 3.2 interceptions, 2.8 blocks and an astounding 5.3 clearances per 90. The Greek ace has also won an average of four aerial duels per 90, demonstrating his dominant presence at the back.

Mavropanos can only get better with better-quality personnel around him since the Greek defensive powerhouse at Die Schwaben is a one-man army covering for his teammates. All in all, the former Arsenal ace brings a complete package to the table and has all the attributes to change the dynamic of Newcastle’s backline.

While he may just have signed on a permanent basis, there is a general understanding that Stuttgart will be receptive to the idea of selling him around the €20 million mark in order to make an immediate hefty profit as they only paid £4.5 million to Arsenal to make his services permanent.

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