With Newcastle six points adrift from safety and only six games to play, relegation seems all but certain.
As the Magpies look set to be playing in the second tier of English football next season, the big question fans will be asking, is which of the current squad will hang around and who will jump ship at the first opportunity.
Last time the club was relegated to the Championship, there was a core of players who were able to drag Newcastle back to the Premier League at the first time of asking with relative ease.
time around, it does not seem as though Newcastle have that spine of players that would be willing to spend a year in a lower division to fix the mess they have created.
With that in mind, here is a potential XI that could grace St James Park next season.
Newcastle’s third choice keeper at the start of the season, is probably the only Newcastle player that can look back at this campaign with a sense of pride.
Adopted Geordie Tim Krul clearly loves the club, but would potentially have a lot of suitors across Europe, with the club likely wanting to cash in on the keeper who will be entering the final year of his contract.
Right back is a problem position for Newcastle. Daryl Janmaat is the only right sided full back at the club right now, and it seems unfathomable that the Dutch international will stay on Tyneside. Janmaat’s lack of defensive ability has been frightening but has often gotten away with it due to his attacking intent, but his performances have really gone under the microscope during Newcastle’s plight and most fans have finally seen past the curly haired defender’s bombing runs forward.
For Mbabu to play at Newcastle next season, he would need to sign a new contract, but a year in the Championship could really kick-start the 20 year old’s career. The Swiss defender has shown this season that he is capable of playing as a full back, and seems to be the most viable option out of the current squad for Newcastle next season.
One main that appears to be nailed on for a place in the back four is the former Nottingham Forest centre back. Lascelles has struggled at times this season, but looked fairly comfortable when playing alongside Chancel Mbemba in the Tyne Wear derby, which made it more shocking that the youngster was dropped in favour of Super Geordie Steven Taylor for the trip to Norwich.
Lascelles’ partner at centre back is quite the conundrum because all three potential options could potentially exit St James’ Park.
Taylor’s contract expires this summer, and it would be madness if he were to be offered a new deal following years of shambolic defensive displays.
Skipper Fabricio Coloccini stayed at the club last time they were relegated, but having appeared to have fallen out of love with the club, the Argentine may be looking for the first flight back to South America.
That leaves Chancel Mbemba, the stand out CB for Newcastle this season, although far from perfect. A year in the Championship could serve Mbemba well as he learns the English game, but he has shown enough so far in his career that he deserves to be playing at a higher level.
Newcastle must buy a centre back this summer, but for the minute, Mbemba takes his place alongside Lascelles.
A no-brainer at left back, Paul Dummett’s place in the side is safe. He has been Newcastle’s first choice left back this season, but has done nothing to suggest to other teams that his immediate future belongs in the Premier League.
Newcastle’s best player in recent weeks, it would be fantastic for Newcastle if they could keep hold of the England winger.
A banker in the middle of the park, Jack Colback’s form has been poor this season, having previously impressed in his first year at the club. Another player who probably has not shown enough to suggest his immediate future is in the Premier League, the Killingworth born midfielder could be a key figure in the hard-hitting Championship.
Current captain Jonjo Shelvey is a player that Newcastle need to keep, if they are to have any chance of success in the Championship. It won’t be what Shelvey had in mind when he signed for Newcastle, but he will be needed to drag the club back up in the same way that Kevin Nolan did last time round. According to reports in The Sun, the midfielder is willing to stay on Tyneside if they are relegated.
Another player whose position in the side will depend on whether or not he is offered/signs a new contract to stay at Newcastle is Rolando Aarons. The 20 year old winger has been a fan favourite since bursting onto the scene last season, but has struggled to nail down a place in the starting XI due to injuries. Aarons has been linked with a move away from Newcastle as his contract situation hangs in the balance.
Newcastle need to tie him down to a new long-term deal and give him the exposure to first team football that he needs to develop as a player. It would be crazy for Newcastle to let a talent like Aarons leave.
A fan-favourite since arriving in the summer, Aleksandar Mitrovic has not been as ruthless in front of goal as the Newcastle hierarchy and fans had hoped. The Serbian’s failures in front of goal could see him stay at Newcastle next season, with other teams potentially being unwilling to shell out for the relatively unproven striker.
A combination of poor finishing and lack of chances being created has been the downfall of Mitrovic this season, but there is no doubt that he and the fans have created a bond that could see him lining up for Newcastle next season.
The pint-sized striker has been a revelation in League One this season, scoring 19 goals so far for Coventry City. Armstrong looks ready for a step up to the Championship, which could coincide with Newcastle stepping down a division. This probably was not how Newcastle saw Armstrong’s development going, but a year leading the line in the Championship could work for both parties.
He is capable of scoring the goals that Newcastle will need to return to the Premier League, and in turn he will be able to develop into a key player for the Magpies and potentially a future number nine.
Whether this team would be capable of succeeding in the Championship is questionable, and whether it is a realistic line-up for Newcastle is another debate that will be had.
One thing that seems certain is that there will surely be wholesale changes at St James Park this summer, and most of the players who got us in this mess will be allowed to jump off the ship that they helped sink.
You can follow James on Twitter @jrutherford11