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Opinion

The 6 Newcastle players Rafa Benitez could build around next season

4 months ago
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There’s nothing like a chat with footballing folk at lunchtime, especially when you all support different teams. And it’s even more interesting when one of those other teams is our nearest and dearest from down the A19. Objective? Well, it can be. Sort of. Because what you get is a cold, sneering, scathing analysis of what you’re good at, and a colder, more sneering, and even more scathing look at what you’re not.

And this is what we decided, with all the certainty of speculation and hope: if Newcastle United beat Burnley and Huddersfield, we’ll stay up. And if we don’t, bums will be more squeaky than a freshly waxed rodent. If this sounds flippant, it kind of was, because flippant is better than doom.

It’s not that I think we’re not good enough for this division, or so much better than the other teams in our mini-league that we’ll be confidently fine. I think it’s very finely balanced. Michael Caine is telling us he’s got an idea. I hope it’s better than Jaws 4.

Huddersfield probably have too much ground to make up, and the same could be said for Fulham, who ship goals. The third place is worryingly narrowing in its scope, but for what it’s worth, I’m thinking Southampton might be the team to go. Cardiff are putting a run of gutsy performances together, and they’ve won back to back games in the top flight for the first time since Ipswich, Burnley, and Tottenham finished the (1961/62) season in the top three positions. That was only seven years of hurt for us. If only we knew.

So if we stay up… who stays with us? From what we have now, who would form the nucleus of next season’s team?

Martin Dubravka is the best goalie we have had for years. He has had a couple of jittery moments, but if we could maybe give him more of a ‘goals for’ cushion, those inevitable errors wouldn’t matter so much.

Everyone makes mistakes, and it’s a sad fact of football that a goalkeeper’s mistakes are more noticeable and inevitably mean more, as there simply isn’t anyone behind them to mop up the mess. It’s a yes from me.

We have some good defenders. Schar, Fernandez, Lejeune, Lascelles… we’re rich! I’ve talked about Paul Dummett before, and I think he’s underrated, slightly old-fashioned in style, but he’s dependable. While he’s not showy, you could certainly say we’ve got the left back-position covered for a first choice. There’s only going to be so many magic beans to take to market, remember.

Sean Longstaff looks assured, positive, and calm. He can choose a pass, and takes responsibility. Sean, come on down. Mind, don’t get too good too quickly, or we’ll sell you so we can reinvest the money in… well… we’ll just sell you.

Most folks around these parts, and this includes Steve the Sunderland fan at work, reckon we have to keep Rondon. No brainer for me; he’s a total unit, works hard, and there’s a brilliant t-shirt based on The Clash ‘London Calling’ album cover. If I buy that t-shirt, he’ll probably sign for Steve’s lot, so I’m leaving it until he is here forever and ever and ever.

I like Matt Ritchie’s running around levels and he’s vocal leader on the pitch. That’s important. Keeper. Not exactly Messi but he can pull the team together.

So… Yedlin, Manquillo, Atsu, Perez, Diame. I’m not counting Hayden because he’ll probably go. They’re doing a canny job, but if someone else comes along who can do a better job, I’m not sure they’d make the cut. On their day, they’re good. Maybe this consistency (and in the case of Perez, working on his confidence after he’s been stood on a bit) can be coached into them.

It’s not really a squad, but what maybe Rafa sees that some don’t, is them doing the job he tells them to do, quite well. Not great. But the pressure would be eased if we can just score more goals, maybe with Longstaff supplying someone like, hmm…

…Almiron. M’lad, you have the hopes of a city, not weighing on your shoulders, but lifting you up. Willing you to run at defenders. Urging you to shoot. It worked for Andy Griffin –twice!

No pressure, then. Well, a bit. But mostly hope and dreams. Even Steve the Sunderland thinks you’re going to be a good ‘un.

So Dubravka, Dummett, Longstaff, Ritchie, Rondon and Almiron, my six Newcastle players to build around for next season.

I’ll get the pints in while you make your list.

You can follow the author on Twitter @georgestainsby

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