Well, Newcastle United did it. We survived the championship and, in my opinion, clinched a well-deserved title and what an end to the season it was. It’s moments like that which live long in the memory, especially for our younger supporters, and one I was sat near had tears in his eyes he was so overcome with the emotion of it all. More…..much more would be very welcome and has been missing for far too many a year at St James.
For me it was a very workmanlike performance throughout the season, a real sense of just getting the job done. Yes there were flashes of brilliance and the odd emphatic win here and there but on the whole, it was a means to an end type performance that saw us get back where we belong.
That type of performance and team ethic should stand us in good stead going into our first full Premier League season under Rafa Benitez. There is talk of significant changes to playing staff, both incoming and outgoing, but as is so often said by many a Toon supporter “In Rafa we trust” – and I have to confess I do.
One or two astute signings, coupled with a few experienced acquisitions, could be all we need to compete comfortably at the top table of English football and under a manager who is undoubtedly a composed, relaxed and confident tactician, who knows where we may end up?
He’s a winner and that’s a fact. One full season with Newcastle = one trophy.
We all know the quality in the premier league is vastly superior to that of the championship but competing with the elite top six or seven should not really be our focus for our first full season of premier league football under Rafa, save that for season two!
It should be about ensuring we are better than those bottom half sides and let’s face it, we should be given our manager, finances and support. We should have nothing to fear and I feel a positive summer recruitment will only serve to enhance that.
I’ve seen the links to the likes of Yaya Toure etc but what I feel we need is similar to those that got use promoted, just better versions. We have a style and a system that our manager likes but more importantly that our players have bought into. Yes it’s nice to be linked to the big stars again but players who will buy into the team ethic, Rafa’s vision, and to living in our football mad city, are key.
Here are the areas, for what it’s worth, I’d like to see improvements in:
- The goalkeeping situation is one area that clearly needs addressing. I’d sell Krul, Darlow and Sels but buy one top top keeper and have Elliot as back up, with Woodman waiting in the wings.
- Left-back is in dire need of strengthening. Dummett was a solid if yet uninspiring performer last season but let’s face it, the quality he will be up against this season is on another level and I feel he may struggle. A fresh left-back is a priority.
- When we have to defend and defend deep, that is when Lascelles comes into his own. However, as was often the case last season, when we have possession of the ball and are on the front foot he is susceptible to the ball over the top and is far from a composed looking footballer with the ball at his feet. Sell him….No, develop him….YES. That means a defender with premier league experience and a captain’s presence is needed.
- Yedlin is still a little raw as a right-back but I’d stick with him. He will learn and more often than not his pace will save him. Back up will be needed though if Anita departs.
- Atsu has potential but clearly another winger is required to support whoever plays left-back. A winger who opponents will fear would be my choice, never mind what they can offer defensively. We need to give premier league defences more to think about. Townsend is clearly a potential option there and, like Ritchie, having wingers who can play both sides is a real advantage.
- A number 10. As I’ve mentioned earlier, Newcastle were very workmanlike this past season and very pedestrian at times. A quality number 10 is a must. Someone who can unlock defences, take a defender out of the game with movement or skills and who can chip in with his fair share of goals. We have a finisher in Dwight Gayle but defences are going to be tighter and his chances will be limited unless this is addressed. Gayle is a predator and putting the ball in the back of the net is often something you just can’t teach. He has the knack but needs to be fed.
Another proven striker who offers something different to Gayle would be welcome and freeing up Shelvey to dictate games more with possibly the purchase of another holding midfielder would be perfect. Hayden has the potential to be a real star next season and could adapt his game to be more of a threat going forward if that defensive midfield slot is suitably filled.
The spine of the team is key so Goalkeeper, Central Defender, Holding Midfielder and Number 10 are the basis from where we should start, but who am I to tell a manager whose CV is up there with the best and whose career is littered with trophies.
There seems to be a real sense of building something special again at Newcastle and long may it continue. There is potential in the squad for sure and a complete overhaul is really not needed. Just fine tuning and tinkering here and there with a sprinkling of quality where necessary.
Yes it’s going to be a busy old summer at the gates of the Church on the Hill but a summer of real excitement it could well be.
Rafa Benitez is the man with the plan so let the window open and the transfers commence. I for one am looking forward to see just how far he can take us!
(All contributions from Newcastle fans welcome, send articles (as well as ideas/suggestions) to [email protected])