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Opinion

This is the position Newcastle United desperately need to strengthen in January – Even more than up front

12 months ago
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Newcastle United are looking for a lift.

No wins in these first 10 games and now another 10 games to play before we reach 2019.

The only silver lining is that despite only having three points, another three clubs have five or less, with another four with eight or less.

So basically, we have another seven clubs that are at least within touching distance, a few positive results potentially seeing Newcastle in a far better position.

For the time being of course we all know that Rafa is reliant on the players he already has at St James Park.

Indeed, headlines this week have already broadcast the Newcastle manager as saying that transfer window talk is banned at the club.

That everybody has to simply get on with the job at hand, with the players NUFC have.

However, that doesn’t mean the Newcastle supporters will stop speculating.

After all, it is blatant that far better quality players are needed, that Rafa can barely put an adequate team on the pitch, never mind one that can do any better than be relegation strugglers.

Whilst as for squad strength…maybe best not to go there.

As for priorities in January, I think fair to say that in descending order, fans want to see a new striker, new number 10 and an attacking left-back.

I think though that there is a position that is far more important than any of those and at the minute it is dragging the team down, more than any other weakness.

My belief has always been in any level of football, if you don’t win the battle in the middle of the pitch, you will fail to win the vast majority of matches.

This season, Newcastle are completely failing to win that centre of midfield contest, in fact I can only think of one game where NUFC were dominant in that area of the pitch and that was against a Brighton team who refused to attack. Winning the game with one of their handful of excursions into the Newcastle half.

Jonjo Shelvey has been good but he can’t do it all himself.

Alongside him, Mohamed Diame has been abysmal. I can’t believe the easy ride he has had so far this season, with very little criticism.

Diame was terrible for the first 18 months or so of his time at Newcastle and then out of nowhere burst into life late last season. He was excellent and deserved all the plaudits he got as Newcastle beat the likes of Man Utd, Chelsea and Arsenal.

However, by the same token, Mohamed Diame deserves now to have his contribution properly scrutinised.

I couldn’t believe how accepting so many Newcastle fans were when Mikel Merino left for £10m in the summer and was replaced by free transfer Ki who had been released by relegated Swansea.

Early in the season Merino had shown real quality and looked a great prospect for the seasons ahead, only for injury to intervene, then Diame keep him out of the team.

So in terms of options to play alongside Shelvey, we ended up with free transfer Ki – who doesn’t look good enough, Hayden who made it clear he was desperate to leave and who isn’t good enough either.

Meaning Newcastle were completely reliant on Mohamed Diame, who had been largely disappointing in his time at the club, until putting in a dozen or so decent to good performances earlier in 2018. Add to that, this is a central midfielder who turns 32 in June when his current deal ends and who hasn’t even been offered a new contract…

Ahead of January, Rafa Benitez must be given the backing and have lined up a central midfielder who can come straight in and play alongside Jonjo Shelvey. Otherwise the team are going to have such an uphill struggle pretty much every week, as they lose control of central midfield time after time.

Actually Diame tends not to look too bad for a half or so before then fading badly after the break, so maybe he would still be useful being introduced late in games to help see the matches out and/or give some added power in the middle.

As to exactly who Rafa Benitez will/would be able to afford and attract, that is the big question.
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