Three potential Sandro Tonali replacements for Newcastle United

The Hard Tackle lists three candidates Newcastle United could consider to replace Sandro Tonali, who faces an uncertain future after his involvement in a public betting scandal.

Fate can twist like a winding road. One moment you’re on top of the world, and the next you can’t catch a break, feeling lost and alone. Sandro Tonali is learning this the hard way after seeing his fortunes plummet in the last few weeks.

When Tonali joined Newcastle United last summer, it was seen as a blockbuster move, signalling the strong intentions of the PIF-backed owners. The £55 million midfielder’s arrival at St. James’ Park came about with the Magpies’ preparations for their first Champions League campaign in two decades, with their new Italian stallion having reached the semi-finals only last term.

Yet three and a half months on from that moment, he is in danger of turning into a very expensive flop, with the Magpies reeling from the fact that he could be unavailable for the foreseeable future.

Tonali left the northeast following the Premier League 2-2 tie with West Ham United to travel and represent his country, Italy, for their two Euro 2024 qualifiers over the break, but he was sent away from their training base after being one of two players identified in a football betting probe, and the findings since has sent shockwaves around Italian football.

The Italian international recently admitted to betting on AC Milan to win matches whilst he was still a player there, and his situation hasn’t yet started to get any easier.

The Magpies star’s agent has also come out to state his client has an addiction to gambling, and whilst that isn’t the news that supporters will want to hear, his honesty could certainly help his case when it comes to key figures deciding on the length of his ban.

He could be slapped with a FIFA ban of up to three years. The 23-year-old is likely to get a lesser sentence for pleading guilty and helping with the investigation.

Following this update, Newcastle are just playing a waiting game now to see how long that ban will be and what the English FA’s reaction to it will be, but considering the hugely positive impact Tonali is able to make on the pitch, it would certainly be a blow for Howe if he were to lose his services for any significant length of time.

The 23-year-old is also a versatile operator, having been deployed in four out of the five positions in the midfield, though if he’s found to be guilty of everything that he’s admitted to, the boss is set to be without that quality for potentially at least a year at St. James’ Park.

As per recent reports, Newcastle United are weighing up the possibility of bringing in a new quality midfielder, especially if Tonali is handed a major ban. With that in mind, The Hard Tackle lists three players the Toon should consider to further bolster their midfield department.

Manu Kone

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It’s noteworthy that Newcastle’s midfield is their strongest area of the pitch, stacked with both quality and depth. In Joelinton, Sean Longstaff, Joe Willock, Elliot Anderson, and teenage sensation Lewis Miley, they have enough options to compensate for Tonali’s absence. What they do lack is another natural holding midfield alternative to maestro Bruno Guimaraes.

Longstaff is the best of the rest for defensive actions and ground coverage. He leads the way in tackles won, pressures in the defensive third of the pitch, and pretty much all of the other defensive stats.

But there’s no doubt that his best form at Newcastle has come when he is afforded the opportunity to break forward from a right-sided midfield position, while he lacks the guile and technical composure to turn under pressure when slotted in the middle of the park.

To that end, Borussia Monchengladbach’s Manu Kone could be an interesting option that Newcastle should definitely explore in the upcoming January market.

Like Guimaraes, Kone likes to play in the box-to-box role but can also be deployed in the defensive midfield position. He is technically sound, can dribble past opposition defenders in tight spaces, has the efficiency to play threading passes between the lines, and can contribute defensively as well.

The 22-year-old possesses the necessary qualities to play in Howe’s high-pressing system, so he could be a shrewd signing for the Tyneside club if they opt to secure his signature.

With Bruno Guimaraes playing—quite brilliantly—the pivoting role at St. James’ Park, Kone could thrive as his alternative, which is vital given the increase in competition that comes with their Champions League exploits or as a box-to-box presence on his preferred left-side of the midfield.

However, a potential January pursuit comes with its fair share of complications. The 22-year-old is thought to have attracted the interest of several top European teams. Liverpool were tipped to bring Kone to Anfield as part of their summer midfield reshuffle, while Bayern Munich and Juventus are also believed to be keeping a close eye on his progress.

Furthermore, Monchengladbach have triggered an extension in the Frenchman’s contract, and he is now tied down to the German outfit until the end of the 2025–26 campaign.

Kone’s extension is unlikely to deter his suitors, who could have been available for as little as £25–30 million this January, but they will now have to pay a premium to secure his services.

Amadou Haidara

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A wildcard option to replace Tonali, Amadou Haidara is not a like-for-like substitute, but the RB Salzburg Academy graduate could still prove a useful option. Crucially, the 25-year-old would also be able to play alongside Tonali when the Italian international returns from his ban.

Haidara has been part of the Red Bull system since 2016 when he joined RB Salzburg from Malian outfit JMG Bamako. He subsequently moved to Leipzig for a fee of £17.1 million in the winter of 2019 and is under contract until 2025, which means he should be available for a reasonable price in January.

Haidara is an energetic, box-to-box midfielder. He loves to tackle and has strong defensive qualities, but he is not necessarily a defensive midfielder. He has operated best at Leipzig when given the freedom to charge around the pitch and combine with wide attacking players, very similar to Willock.

The Malian midfielder, who was heavily linked with a move to Manchester United back when Ralf Rangnick was in charge, is a capable passer, a decent finisher, and likes to run with the ball, though his best quality is his ability to press the opposition relentlessly and win the ball back high up the pitch.

In a competition increasingly shaped by the high-intensity pressing game, he has all the attributes to thrive in the Premier League, which is exactly why Newcastle should pursue his signature. What’s more, he boasts vital experience of playing in the Champions League, having made 25 European top-tier outings throughout his career, including seven last term.

At 25 years old, Haidara still has untapped potential, and the Magpies could swoop in. One potential area in which Newcastle should do their due diligence is his concerning injury record, having already missed eight games this season due to a muscle tear.

Kalvin Phillips (loan with the option to buy)

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Manchester City outcast Kalvin Phillips is probably the most likely of the three players on our list who could end up joining Newcastle as a stand-in for Tonali and could prove the most cost-effective option.

Had things worked out slightly differently for Kalvin Phillips this summer, the England international might’ve already been lining up in the Newcastle starting XI. It was reported at the back end of last summer that Newcastle were eyeing up a move for the former Leeds star, but the player stuck around for a second attempt at proving himself to Pep Guardiola, even if he could have had opportunities to leave in the summer.

The England international left Leeds United for the Etihad for £42 million in July 2022, but due to injuries and competition for starting spots, he has made just 26 appearances for Manchester City, only four of which have been starts.

Rodri is established as the main defensive midfielder for the Cityzens, who strengthened their engine room in the summer with the signings of Mateo Kovacic from Chelsea and Matheus Nunes from Wolves, compensating for the release of Ilkay Gundogan to Barcelona and an injury to Kevin De Bruyne.

Concerns over the player’s fitness were publicly raised by Pep Guardiola. Furthermore, when the Spaniard has switched his tactics and implemented his 3-2-4-1 formation, it’s usually John Stones or Rico Lewis who partner Rodri in the engine room.

With Euro 2024 on the horizon, Phillips will not want to spend too much time on the sidelines in the build-up. Speaking during the October international break, the former Leeds midfielder claimed he has a “decision” to make over his future at Etihad in the coming months.

While some may argue after watching him recently that he lacks the legs required to be on the Eddie Howe side, that can always be worked around, and people often forget he was a vital part of the heavy-metal Leeds United side under Marcelo Bielsa.

Aside from Guimaraes, Newcastle lacks a midfielder with a similar passing range as Phillips, who was dubbed “The Yorkshire Pirlo” for his Hollywood passing. During his time at Leeds, the Englishman was more often than not used as a single pivot at the base of a midfield, from where he would withdraw into deeper positions to help the team build possession in the defensive third.

The 27-year-old was also known for his excellent defensive work rate, energy, and ability to snuff out any potential danger during his time in Yorkshire. Eddie Howe has transformed the careers of Miguel Almiron, Joelinton, and Sean Longstaff, among others, at Newcastle, so there’s a good reason to believe the Bournemouth boss will get Phillips performing back to his best.

To be on the safe side, Newcastle could go with an initial loan deal with an option to buy. However, the Magpies will face stiff competition from the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United, and Bayern Munich, the latter of whom have even reportedly “made contact” with Manchester City over bringing Phillips in once the January transfer window opens.

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