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Opinion

Obscuring the fact this Newcastle United team could have the potential to be as good as last season’s

1 week ago
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Rafa Benitez has gone, Steve Bruce is in, and the way that Newcastle’s managerial change was handled — in typical misfit fashion by Mike Ashley and Lee Charnley.

It obscures the fact that this Newcastle United team could, in theory, have the potential to be as good as last season’s.

Now, that is not a majority opinion by any means.

The downgrade in managerial knowledge alone puts Newcastle firmly in the relegation battle according to the bookies, the English media and beyond (here in the United States, several of NBCSN’s Premier League experts predict Newcastle to be relegated).

No matter the money spent and the new faces brought in and the pre-season exploits of another local youngster in Matty Longstaff, the feeling going into the season is apathy, at least from this writer.

And then, there is the thought: Is there may be something there with this group of players? At the very least there are options, especially if you look at each position going forward with the theory that Steve Bruce will play three center backs.

Goalie:

Even an apathetic Newcastle fan knows Martin Dubravka is one of the finest keepers in the Premier League, and there is enough depth should he leave in a mid-season transfer with Karl Darlow and Rob Elliott, both of whom have experience.

Centre-backs:

This is one area Newcastle may rank among the top half in the Premier League!

When everybody is healthy, picking three out of Jamaal Lascelles, Florian Lejuene, Fabian Schar, Paul Dummett, Federico Fernandez and Ciaran Clark provides plenty of options. Should a Lascelles-Lejuene-Schar grouping be healthy, imagine having the dependable Dummett as a bench option.

And while not personally on board with this scenario, is there is a case to be made that having Schar, Lejuene and Dummett as the starting three and seeing what Lascelles could bring from Lazio into the transfer kitty during the January window?

Wing-backs:

One of the two biggest areas of concern. Matt Ritchie brings intensity and usually produces an effort on the left side, but on the right side is either the currently injured DeAndre Yedlin, an exercise in inconsistency, and Javier Manquillo, who often isn’t good enough.

And while there is the promise of new buys in Jetro Willems and Emil Krafth, we don’t know if either of them will be the next Lazaar.

I still say Ritchie is the starter on the left side unless Williams makes a storming impression. On the right side … Krafth will probably get the chances, but once healthy, there is an X-factor with Yedlin going forward that Krafth does not have.

Midfield:

Another position that may not be too bad?

Look, this isn’t Manchester City-level depth, but there is recognised Premier League quality with the centre duo of Sean Longstaff and Isaac Hayden, who should be automatic starters along with Miguel Almiron,

And while I recognize Allan Saint-Maximin could drive us all mental with loose crosses and dribbles out of bounds, there is a speed element that I think he adds to the counter-attack that somebody like Jonjo Shelvey frankly doesn’t. And then you have some injury depth with Matty Longstaff, plus Ki Sung-yueng and Christian Atsu, who both showed well last season when called upon.

Forward:

The biggest concern.

Joelinton has looked good in preseason but a lot of pressure on a 22 year old arriving in the Premier League.

Yoshinori Muto didn’t provide much last season and he had the same production in Germany as Joelinton did, which is scary.

Feelgood story aside, you can’t count on Andy Carroll being healthy, and Dwight Gayle (also injured at the minute) — in my opinion — is a Championship striker who can’t be counted on to be a double-digit Premier League scorer.

Still, with the proper management — a gigantic reach for Steve Bruce to make — there could be a mid-table side here.

If everybody is healthy, you could see a Newcastle United team (I would use a 5-4-1 setup) of;

Dubravka; Schar, Lascelles, Lejeune as the centre-backs; Ritchie and Krafth as wing-backs; Sean Longstaff, Hayden, Almiron, Saint-Maximin in midfield; and Joelinton up top.

And with seven subs, you put Darlow on the bench, plus Dummett and Willems. I would include Yedlin on the bench, plus Shelvey and Muto. That leaves one spot for the following group: Fernandez, Clark, Ki, Manquillo, Carroll, Gayle, Atsu. That’s the type of selection headache that Rafa seldom had last season.

And that’s what is most frustrating, because I don’t want to get sucked into the potential of what could be a competitive side on the field and forget the mess that this club is off it.

Newcastle United, never not frustrating.

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