When you look back at Newcastle United over this past season, you can’t help but get some very strong messages.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out where NUFC’s strengths and weaknesses were.
In defence, outside of the clubs that finished in the top five, only Burnley conceded fewer than the 47 goals Newcastle leaked.
Whilst in attack though, only one (Burnley again) club in the top 14 scored less than Newcastle’s 39 goals.
On the defensive side of things, when you take into account Jamaal Lascelles, the stats get even more extreme, in a good way.
There were 17 goals leaked in the six PL matches where Lascelles didn’t start, so only 30 in the 32 he did appear in the starting eleven.
Taking everything overall, Newcastle have a team that is capable of only conceding on average one goal per game, which is very very good.
However, they also have a team capable of scoring on average only one goal per game, which is very very bad.
Burnley did a great job in ending up seventh but doing that based on only scoring 36 goals and a negative (-3) goal difference, isn’t exactly a comfortable plan for staying up, never mind a club progressing.
No surprise of course to see Rafa Benitez being responsible for instilling discipline in a back four and making it a base to build from, he has got form for it!
The big challenge for Newcastle is building on top of that solid defensive line he has…built.
On the surface, a defence of Yedlin, Lascelles, Lejeune, and Dummett, might not impress outsiders, but the stats don’t lie.
Is there any reason why they can’t repeat this form in 2018/19?
I find it a little similar to Leicester when they won the Premier League, is there any reason to doubt that the NUFC back four can’t be just as effective as Simpson, Morgan, Huth, and Fuchs, were for the Foxes?
Unlike other areas (to be discussed later), individual brilliance isn’t necessarily needed, it is more about how the defence works as a unit.
Naturally, having a very good goalkeeper such as Leicester had with Schmeichel, is also an essential, but once again, does any NUFC fan not think that Martin Dubravka has shown he could be every bit as effective as the Dane?
The impressive second half of the season was also built massively on Mohamed Diame and Jonjo Shelvey in the centre of midfield. I think we all were just waiting for Diame to suddenly fade back into the half-hearted anonymous player he’d suggested for most of his Newcastle career but it just never happened.
If Diame can carry on next season, then he provides the perfect combination with Shelvey’s less predictable output. Sometimes brilliant, sometimes not, but with his new-found workrate the former Liverpool player was never a liability after December.
The back four and central midfielders give Rafa Bentez an excellent start/base for planning next season, the tricky bit being when you start looking to add the other elements of the team.
The ones that tend to be harder and more expensive to fill, the further up the pitch you get.
Adding to the six named above, sealing the £4m/£5m permanent deal for Martin Dubravka looks a no-brainer, giving Rafa that solid base of seven that served him so well in the early Premier League fight to safety.
That leaves us with the four positions.
Being honest, I think the aim has to be to improve all four this summer: both wings and the two strikers/striker and number 10.
Very disappointing if we don’t make a serious attempt to sign Kenedy, as he would sort the left side.
As for Matt Ritchie, he never stops working but his ability to create and score goals in the Premier League is still questionable. In no way should he be allowed to leave but equally for me, no way should he walk into the team every week. He did ok with assists early on but they were almost all from delivery on set-pieces, whilst his three goals aren’t really enough for a winger and we had to wait until February for the first one.
Similar with Perez and Gayle really, it would be daft to let them leave, but can the really be relied upon to be our first line of attack next season?
No doubt that Gayle is a natural finisher, we saw that in the Championship, but with fewer chances created his conversion rate was poor and should have had at least double figures in the top tier.
Perez repeated what he has done before, going long spells without providing any real goal threat and then suddenly hitting a little hotspot of form. Six goals in the final six weeks was impressive, five in the previous 13 months wasn’t.
He has ability but not enough that can be relied on in the Premier League.
Great to have as third or fourth choice amongst a group of four strikers next season but no higher.
A signing such as Kenedy should be seen as within Newcastle’s grasp, as if you honestly think he isn’t, then we have no chance of improving these forward positions.
Kenedy looks a player but talk of Bayern Munich or whoever being interested at this point, is surely wide of the mark.
If he does end up being sold, I reckon it would be the likes of Leicester, Everton, Southampton who would be the kind of clubs realistically competing for him.
With a relationship already there, you would hope Newcastle could win this one, if Ashley will allow a credible offer to be made. Then Rafa could push on and bring in the striker and number 10 that he will need to spend a massive proportion of any transfer budget on.
Keeping the defensive quality of last season AND adding another 15 goals or more to the team/squad, could see Newcastle make serious progress.
Work to be done.