The balance is tipping all the time and time now really running out for Newcastle United to make signings who will go straight into the team to face Tottenham in only three weeks time.
By this time next weekend, if a potential signing hasn’t arrived at St James Park, then there surely won’t be enough time for Rafa Benitez to consider them for the opening match.
Previous managers would have done it without a second thought but Rafa won’t just throw somebody in after a few days of training, especially if arriving from abroad, without having given them time to settle and get to know their new teammates, as well as what is expected from the Newcastle manager.
Which leaves us now looking at what the likely side will be to take on last season’s runners-up on Sunday 13 August.
It is now 11 weeks exactly since the Championship season ended and the more I look at the new signings, I doubt very much if any new faces will be in the side to take on Spurs. Which I don’t think any of us were expecting when celebrating that dramatic last gasp second tier title win on Sunday 7 May.
Christian Atsu only started 15 of 46 Championship games, so his intended role this coming season must be mainly as an impact sub, to cover injuries, and play the odd game here and there when Rafa wants to rest players and/or mix it up.
Florian Lejeune was next in this summer and at the age of 26, last season was his first playing regularly in a top division, having previously only really had experience of the Spanish and French second divisions. I can’t see him getting a game ahead of Lascelles and Clark, at least in the early stages of the season.
Jacob Murphy is the most expensive signing to date at around £12.5m but he is on a steep learning curve.
A first full season on League One football at Coventry in 2015/16, then his first Championship one last season. I struggle to see him being thrown straight in by Rafa Benitez, with surely a need to come off the bench a few times to get adjusted to his rapid rise from League One football only 14 months ago.
Then you finally have Javier Manquillo, with Rafa saying yesterday that the 23 year old Spaniard has to play far better than last season at Sunderland to threaten the first team, the United boss making clear he’d signed him as cover, with the hope he can prove his worth in time.
Unless we (hopefully) bring in better quality signings in the coming days, I can’t see past this as the most likely starting 11 against Tottenham:
Whilst Christian Atsu was signed permanently this summer, he isn’t exactly a new face, so I would expect a team to start which at the minute would basically be our Championship side from last season.
In fact, the more I think about it, I think that the short-term deal offered to Yoan Gouffran could well have seen him starting the season if he had agreed to stay, Rafa Benitez potentially seeing him as a ‘safe’ and steady option to help defend that left side, as he did in the Championship.
Against tough opponents, Rafa could even play an extra midfielder like Colback instead of a winger like Atsu, but whichever way you look at it now, we are left wondering at just how capable last season’s Championship winners are, in terms of competing a division higher.
Despite the sheer number of players at the club, Rafa Benitez clearly does need to build a far better squad as well as first team, so you can only sympathise at the size of the job in hand and the problems when it comes to getting unwanted players out of the club.
Most of the really difficult ones to shift and most expensive mistakes, were brought in prior to Rafa’s arrival, with Mitrovic, de Jong and Riviere just three of them. He did make a few mistakes of his own with Sels, Lazaar and Diame, though the last named looked to everyone to be a bargain with a low buy out clause for a player who’d played consistently at Premier League level.
Others such as Hanley and Murphy were brought as insurance against injuries and nobody really argued with that aspect of the transfer strategy to get out of the Championship.
However, the problem of needing to get unwanted players out of the club, doesn’t alter the fact that Newcastle need better first team players to be bought (or loaned…) in.
Rafa Benitez is no doubt the last person who needs to be told this but the challenges of dealing with this transfer market AND Mike Ashley, were never going to be easy.
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