Who are the six most important Newcastle players this season?

Answering that and a host of other questions about our Championship challenge, we have writer Jack Lacey-Hatton giving his thoughts on Newcastle United and how ready they are to do the business in the next nine months.

The players that have come in

I thought we were already fairly strong in the goalkeeper department, so the signing of Matz Sels was not exactly the most exciting, but a bit of extra competition can’t hurt, particularly if Krul leaves.

Ritchie and Gayle are shrewd deals on paper and add pace and skill that will be much-needed after Townsend’s departure.

Jesus Gamez and Issac Hayden are less well-known quantities, but with both highly rated we should be optimistic.

It looks like Hanley won’t be first choice with Lascelles and Mbemba still at the club, but centre-half is undoubtedly an area where another body is needed. A good start with work to go, would be my assessment

The players who have left

Gutted over both Townsend and Gini, as I recently covered for The Mag. As for the others it was more a case of being pleased to see them finally go. I had a celebratory pint the day it was announced Steven Taylor was finally leaving the club.

This first team compared to Championship one of 2009/10

It depends how we line up obviously, but for me it looks like we will have more pace and skill than in 09/10, but a lot less of a physical presence, which made a huge difference last time out. I don’t think anyone should underestimate how effective it was to play Andy Carroll and Shola Ameobi (when fit) up against battle hardened Championship centre-half’s.

We should go in with a much stronger back four this time. I would say the best starting XI of that season will be hard to match this time round.

Current squad v 2009/10 one

Up until the January transfer window in the last promotion season, the squad was actually thin, even if it was high on quality.

A great example of this was an early season game against Leicester at home, Danny Simpson played at centre-half, Joey Barton wide left and Nile Ranger was up top on his own. Even the likes of Tamas Kadar got a run-out at some stage. Chris Hughton certainly didn’t actually have many options in the defensive department.

Provided we sign another centre-half, this time we will have a squad with a lot more depth, and some genuine tough choices for Rafa to make before the first game.

newcastle players

Mike Ashley turns over new leaf or simply desperately realising he had to agree to Rafa’s demands to prevent total disaster?

The arguments of Ashley’s morals in this particular situation are somewhat irrelevant.

It is obviously in his best interests that we are a Premier League club, down to television revenue alone. As he said in that televised interview, if he could spend an amount to guarantee promotion he would, but also seemed to doubt if that was possible.

I don’t think he was being hypothetical, in the relegation scenario Ashley knew he had to do everything in his power to get us back up. Giving Rafa Benitez ‘keys to the castle’ and not forcing him to sell any player, is as good an option as any, and on paper at least should get us pushing for promotion.

Six key Newcastle players this coming season?

Mbemba is by far the most important player in the squad  for me. I think he has the potential to be the best centre-half to play for the Toon since a certain Jonathan Woodgate, and it is fundamental to still have him after the window shuts.

After him the next five would probably be: Mitrovic, Gayle, Lascelles, Ritchie and Perez. Every striker needs to get 10 goals minimum.

Other Newcastle players you’d still like to see leave?

Basically anyone who is not up for the fight (and let’s be clear, it will be a long, hard scrap this season) should be allowed to leave.

It’s hard to say from outside the club, but I would guess this would be Cabella, Thauvin, De Jong and possibly Janmaat. Ability wise everyone should be fine, but you need to desperately want to get back up in the first instance. That’s why it was a smart move to flog Beye, Martins and Duff last time round. Controversially, I actually think Gouffran may do quite well in the Championship, although I’m not sure why.

How would you rate your enthusiasm as a Newcastle fan at this moment (especially compared to the last few years) and are you planning on going to matches?

I have not renewed my season ticket, but that is more due to potentially no longer living in Newcastle rather than being a ‘premier league only’ type of fan. Even if I don’t still get one, I will still make most of the home games.

In a weird way I am more enthusiastic than this time 12 months ago, having said that I find it hard to believe the championship will be as enjoyable as it was last time. We belong in the top flight and I will never be that enthusiastic while we are not there. Out of 10, I am probably a 5 on the enthusiasm scale.

Any positions that Newcastle still definitely need to strengthen in transfer market?

As I have already said, another utility defender is needed, preferably someone who could play centre-half and left-back. Both positions are crucial. As long as Mitro and Perez can adapt to life in the second tier reasonably well and are not sold, then I think we are sorted, striker-wise.

Survive in Premier League with McClaren or Championship with Rafa?

Tough one. You always want to be in the Premier League, but McClaren was so spineless and incompetent it was almost painful.

Percentage chance of finishing as Champions this season and percentage chance of simply getting promotion?

Champions- 30% (I think Sheffield Wednesday and Norwich will be strong)

Promotion- 50% – surely the top six at least will be in our grasp whatever happens?

Rafa Benitez?

Simply the best manager the club have had since Sir Bobby Robson.

The big question is whether the Championship will be his sort of job, I have some doubts.

It’s just great though to have someone in control of the big decisions at the club, who is genuinely creating a feel-good factor around the place. I hope this is reflected in the atmosphere at home games, which were incredible once he was appointed.

I place myself in the less optimistic of Toon fans and I still think he will eventually bring back the good times!

Here’s to a great season – Howay The Lads!

You can follow the author on Titter @JackLaceyHatton