With Champions League-chasing Newcastle United set to be active in the upcoming summer transfer market, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at three key areas the Magpies must strengthen in the off-season.
Newcastle United have revived their top-four bid with back-to-back victories over Wolves and Nottingham Forest. As a result, they have not only changed the mood after a disappointing run of results but have also put themselves firmly back in the mix and are now well-positioned to take the race for Champions League qualification down to the wire.
The Magpies are just two points adrift of Tottenham in fourth place with two games in hand. And they return to action after the international break against third-placed Manchester United, who are only three points above the Magpies. If they can carry on in this form, they have a great chance of finishing in the top four.
However, it has been widely accepted that the squad lacks the strength and depth to sustain that level of competency for the entire season, given that every member of the cartel’s big six are having a decent enough season.
That is something they have seen already with dips in form in the league as well as another early FA Cup exit at the hands of lower-league opposition in Sheffield Wednesday, while there was a clear difference in quality between eventual winner Manchester United and the Magpies in the EFL Cup final.
That is expected given the fact that the Red Devils spent north of £200 million this summer and have invested heavily over the past few years, just like other sides in the traditional top six.
Also, the sharp turnaround in recent times that has seen the Magpies go from relegation candidates to Champions League contenders and make their first major cup final appearance in 22 years within one season has left them short on the quality required to be able to compete aggressively at the top end of the table.
Therefore, Eddie Howe is expected to be very busy in the transfer market this summer as Newcastle United look to build a squad capable of competing in all competitions next season. And there will be a huge shake-up on Tyneside this summer with plenty of incomings.
Having spent heavily in the last two windows, the Magpies may also have to work under FFP restrictions. So they have to be smart with their recruitment.
Newcastle’s recruitment so far under the Saudi-backed owners has been pretty much perfect. Nick Pope has been a bargain acquisition, Sven Botman and Dan Burn excellent, Kieran Trippier superb and Bruno Guimaraes has proven himself to be one of the Premier League’s best.
Alexander Isak and Anthony Gordon may need more time to establish themselves as regulars. But the indicators are that they can help the Magpies go to the next stage, with the former leading Newcastle’s charge for the top four with vital goals at the moment.
With that in mind, The Hard Tackle analyses three areas where Newcastle United must go shopping in the summer if they want to become a bonafide top-four side, as well as our preferred pick to fix problems in that area of the pitch.
Newcastle United could do with a left-sided defender despite having several options on the books. Dan Burn, who is naturally a centre-back, is currently the first choice. Matt Targett is the backup to Burn, while Jamal Lewis remains on the roster.
Burn, for one, has proved that he’s very capable of playing for a top team in the Premier League. And the Geordie defender has been an excellent buy from Brighton. Despite being a natural centre-back, he has been playing at left-back this season to decent success. But going forward, Howe could soon look to bring in a more specialist, natural fit in that position. However, if the Magpies are to stay in the top four and begin fighting for titles on a regular basis, he may need to be replaced.
That is not to say that Burn would have to be offloaded. There is perhaps still a role for him in the squad, as Howe clearly rates the defender highly for his footballing ability and what he brings off the pitch, with him being a well-liked member of the dressing room. But that should be nothing more than a backup for centre-back positions.
The 30-year-old is indeed a huge centre-back playing out of position. For all the aerial supremacy, defensive prowess, and passion he brings to the defence, he rarely offers anything on overlaps or underlaps in forward areas and requires additional protection from midfielders when up against a nimble-footed winger.
As per FBRef, his progressive carries, dribbles, and passes into the opposition’s penalty area this season have been woeful. And to have someone who can operate effectively as a more attack-minded and creative left-back could be something Newcastle look to address in the summer.
THT Pick: Kieran Tierney
Fulham’s Antonee Robinson is one of the names to be linked with Newcastle United earlier this season and has been under Howe’s watch for a while now. With his deal ending in June 2024, the Toon may make a move for him this summer.
The 33-time capped USMNT has impressed in the Premier League and at the recent World Cup in Qatar. He has now started 24 of Fulham’s 27 Premier League matches and is well-known for his incredible pace and aggression. But he only has one assist all season to show for his marauding forward runs. While Robinson could be a good option, our preferred pick for the position is recently-linked Kieran Tierney.
The Scotsman would be a superb signing for Newcastle. He ticks all the boxes. Still relatively young, he has plenty of experience and has been very much proven in the league, with exceptional leadership qualities. Willing to attack, creative, aggressive, but equally sound in defence. He also possesses genuine quality on his left peg.
Simply put, he is a left-footed Trippier. And we are not saying so because their exactly the same first names, but because of their similar style of play. The 25-year-old is understood to be open to a move away from the Emirates after a difficult campaign at Arsenal.
Tierney has started just four Premier League games this season after being relegated to a bench role by Oleksandr Zinchenko. The lack of first-team action is not enough for him and may mean Tierney seeks a summer move away. It looks like his agents are already trying to engineer a move, with him linked to several Premier League clubs lately.
He will also not cost top dollar. If Eddie Howe can get him for less than £30 million, then Tierney would be deemed a top Toon signing, albeit his injury history may be a point of concern.
Eddie Howe has shown flexibility with his formations since arriving at St. James’ Park, mainly playing with a 4-3-3 but also playing variations of a back five and a 4-2-3-1. Bruno Guimaraes, Joelinton, Sean Longstaff, and Joe Willock have been the main men in the heart of midfield this season, while Elliot Anderson and Anthony Gordon also offer versatility to fill in those spots.
While midfield should not necessarily be an area for concern, the shortfall of quality if you take Guimaraes out of the fold is alarming. The fact that Newcastle United have yet to win a Premier League game in the Brazilian maestro’s absence tells the tale of the lack of genuine depth in midfield.
Eddie Howe has publicly said that they want and need another central midfielder. A defensive midfielder, or No. 6, and all of this was before playmaker Jonjo Shelvey left for Forest in January. It was thought this new player would allow Guimaraes to return to his preferred role as a No. 8. But despite numerous links to numerous players, it never materialized.
The truth is that finding an elite defensive midfielder with similar qualities to Guimaraes in the market is difficult and extremely expensive. While Newcastle may benefit from his playmaking, technical brilliance, vision, and passing ability to unlock teams in advanced areas, getting the wrong player in his stead could easily derail the defensive balance of the side.
Longer-term, the plan to invest in the midfield is clear, with European football on the checklist and challenging for Premier League titles. But they wll need to address only the key areas in the summer. Even in Guimaraes’s absence, Longstaff and Joelinton have performed well defensively. It is the creative area where they have left a lot to be desired.
In Guimaraes, Newcastle boast one of the most press-resistant midfielders in the world with a wonderful array of passing. But a lot of the times, he is forced to shift the ball out wide due to the absence of a line-breaking midfielder in front of him.
The Magpies lack dynamism in the No. 10 spot, which at times has forced Howe to use Isak as the second striker behind Wilson. They need a player who can create chances consistently from open play and who is not named Kieran Trippier or Guimaraes. They are missing a player in the No. 10 role, which is a certain area to sort out for the summer.
THT Pick: James Maddison
As far as creative midfielders go, they do not come any better than Maddison. Newcastle United continue to be linked with the Leicester City talisman ahead of the summer transfer window. The Magpies failed with two bids for the England international last summer. The Foxes instantly rebuffed offers reportedly worth around £35 million and £45 million.
However, with Maddison’s contract running out in 2024, the relegation-threatened Midlands club may have to consider a big offer this summer, should one come in, even if they secure Premier League survival this season. The 25-year-old was in fabulous form for Leicester City last season, registering 18 goals and 12 assists in 53 outings in all competitions, firing his side to the UEFA Europa Conference League semi-finals.
While Leicester are going through a rough patch, the immensely-talented star has carried that form into the current campaign too, finding the back of the net on nine occasions in 20 Premier League outings, setting up six further strikes for his teammates.
As per FBref, Maddison has ranked in the 99th percentile for total shots, 98th for non-penalty expected goals and progressive passes received, 99th for touches in the attacking penalty area, 97th for shot-creating actions, and 99th for expected assists amongst the central midfielders across the top-5 leagues over the last year.
Basically, he is an elite chance-creation machine. And the idea of Bruno Guimaraes and Alexander Isak striking up a partnership with James Maddison could prove to be deadly for the low blocks that Newcastle United are struggling to break down in their recent games.
Newcastle are currently exceeding all expectations by challenging for a top-four finish. And adding Maddison’s quick thinking into the mix will surely aid Howe in seriously cooking things at St. James’ Park. That is if Newcastle can win his signature because many, many teams will be after him.
As the old saying goes, goals win games. And goals have dried up for Newcastle United lately. The attacking areas need the most attention. At Wembley, three players from the pre-Saudi era started up front. And all three were not up to the races.
Allan Saint-Maximin was entertaining with the ball at his feet, as he always is. But his end product still is not good enough. Meanwhile, Miguel Almiron, who was at the forefront of Howe’s attack earlier in the season and who has scored an admirable 11 goals this season—only seven players in the league have scored more—has seen his goal-scoring form nosedive in 2023.
Newcastle’s second top-scorer, Wilson, has been utterly spectacular this term in black and white in the past but has been anonymous since the start of the year.
Inconsistency up front has become a big problem. Seven teams have scored more goals than Newcastle’s total of 38, including Brighton and Brentford. Since the start of 2023, they have scored the second-fewest goals of any team in the league — seven goals in nine games — which has played a big part in the decline in form.
The return of Alexander Isak from injury has sparked life back into their stale attack. He is a signing for the future but is already having a huge impact at St. James’ Park, scoring decisive goals. His goals are propelling Newcastle back into the race for the Champions League. And he has a big role to play between now and the end of the season.
The exciting thing is that he is only 23 years old and can still get even better. However, the Tynesiders could benefit from boasting additional firepower in their ranks, especially after recouping nearly £20 million in January for the transfer of Chris Wood to Nottingham Forest.
Furthermore, a marquee striker is usually a huge lift to the supporters, making things even more exciting ahead of maybe your first season back in Europe after nearly a decade.
THT Pick: Jonathan David
The most recent name in the Newcastle United rumour mill is that of Atalanta prodigy Rasmus Hojlund, who has been a revelation in Bergamo since arriving from Austrian side Sturm Graz late in the summer window in a €17 million deal. However, we have gone with a more established name here in LOSC Lille’s Jonathan David, whose form in France this season suggests that he has the potential to be an elite striker in the near future.
The 23-year-old has netted 19 goals from 27 appearances in the French top flight, after managing 15 in 38 outings last term. And he has hit double figures for goals in each of his last four campaigns for Lille and Gent.
Like Alexander Isak, David is versatile and possesses experience playing as a second striker. But this season for Lille, he has been deployed as an out-and-out forward. And only the sight of David and Isak pairing up in a front-two strike force might be enough to make the defenders scream for their lives.
With his electric speed and composure in front of goal, David can be an extremely difficult player for opposition defenders to play against thanks to his movement and awareness of space.
In addition to his goalscoring ability, David’s link-up play is superb. And he is capable of handling the ball extremely effectively due to his excellent technique. David is also eager to help defensively, which makes him a perfect piece for Howe’s system. FBRef approves our statements, with him ranking high in terms of pass completion, shot-creating actions, and progressive passes received among his positional peers.
He won’t come cheap by any means owing to Lille’s history of selling attackers for sizeable fees, but this is the sort of statement Newcastle United will need to make in order to take a giant leap toward becoming a European giant in the future years.
Leave a Reply