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Opinion

Newcastle United left back transfer conundrum

2 weeks ago
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With the Newcastle United left back position under heavy scrutiny, Lucas Digne was heavily linked and is available, but recent reports (including from the reputable Fabio Romano) indicate this as a non-starter, with the player waiting to see what other options will open up for him elsewhere.

A transfer that would have seemed ideal given the player’s quality, availability and Premier League proven capability, is unfortunately unlikely, despite our ability to meet the financial outlay.

That draws us to question the strategy in this area of the pitch and potential options. For a start, is a new Newcastle United left back needed and is it a priority?

In terms of need, Jamal Lewis is currently out injured and the players covering the position in recent times have not filled us with confidence. Matt Ritchie is a dutiful and passionate representative for the club but a lack of defensive positional awareness and pace has been found out on multiple occasions. Paul Dummett has not managed to stay fit and able to be counted on, despite his strengths defensively and his bonus point for being a local lad (not to mention potential offensive deficiencies). Manquillo has filled in and at times has performed decently for the club, but where his defensive problems are issues at right back, they seem even more intensified at left back.

I am a big Jamal Lewis fan and of the school of thought that our previous regime’s coaching has not given him the right structure or training to help him push on, but frankly the truth is, taking all the matches he has played so far, he still can’t be counted on as a proven quality Premier League left back.

So in terms of need, I would say yes, Newcastle need another player to play this position who can stay fit and is a natural there.

In terms of priority, perhaps it would not be top of the list in terms of urgency. Given Jamal Lewis will hopefully return later this month and the gaping holes in the centre of defence and at centre forward, make it probably not the focus of energy right now, unless the right player becomes available and is willing. I would put this transfer into the second phase (of importance) but still important given the above. The volume of links for Newcastle United left back compared to centre back probably mirrors this conclusion in terms of transfer activity right now.

So with that in mind, what could the options be?

a). Makeshift options to the end of the season

This is basically do as we are and hope Jamal Lewis comes back soon and does not get injured again (or need resting). If he can stay fit and likewise Dummett can stay fit then I think this is could be an adequate way to go… but in a season where the finest of margins could send us down, it is not a risk that I would personally take if it can be avoided.

If Dummett and Lewis are injured, I do like that Eddie Howe has at least seen sense not to repeat playing Ritchie at left back. Whilst I like the fans support of Dummett as an honest hard working local lad, he is a player who has not played this season and not all that much last season, so could not just be thrown in after such a long time out and be expected to perform at his strongest levels, or be relied upon. So perhaps bringing a body in, with no obvious academy prospects pushing on the door, seems wise.

b). Foreign based player of purported quality as a new starter

Whilst the likes of Theo Hernandez is beyond reach, there may be some available players like Nicolás Tagliafico, who have performed in their domestic leagues and in Europe. I am not sure this is a long list of players with the mix of physicality and technicality at a decent price to hit the ground running in the Premier League and perform immediately for five months. Therefore I’m unsure whether the club will take this route.

Personally, with FFP in mind, I would prefer the ceiling on spend to go toward centre back, defensive mid and centre forward, then consider more quality at left back in international markets in the summer. That said, there could be an Olivier Bernard and Jose Enrique out there somewhere, but getting them to join and not overpaying are other matters.

c). Rely on Jamal Lewis and sign a back up

This option is to sign a player with ideally Premier League (or if not, Championship) experience to give Jamal Lewis competition, and do so affordably till the summer.

Whilst Lloyd Kelly could do this role (instead of his usual centre back role) and be a useful squad player in the Premier League (if Eddie Howe can help him develop), his asking price and Bournemouth’s reluctance to sell is a challenge. In addition, whilst he can provide cover for Jamal Lewis, a centre back at left back may not complement Eddie Howe’s attacking demands from the wide defenders in his systems.

Personally,  I feel a loan or a small fee purchase for the likes of Danny Rose or Saeed Kolasinic could be options.

Danny Rose has lingering doubts over his current performance level given a failed spell at Watford and significant time in the wilderness at Tottenham (not to mention not doing enough to convince the Toon to purchase him on loan) but as a player to provide cover and experience, he ticks the boxes.

Arsenal’s Saed Kolasinic is an unglamorous but decent performer who would certainly improve what we have and be cheap (and would be my personal choice) but would not be inspiring any toon fans with ambition or future potential.

Southampton’s left back signing from the summer, Romain Perraud, has been linked also but given Hasenhuttl’s belief in the long term prospects of the player and them being a competing club to NUFC, I think Southampton doing business would be unlikely, especially on a short term basis.

Zinchenko has been linked too but I doubt Manchester City would consider weakening their squad, unless the player himself was desperate to join.

So assuming there is not another Digne type situation where a quality player of a high level becomes available, but this time wants to join, I think finding a short term Premier League experienced option could be good. With Danny Rose and Kolasinic seemingly eminently attainable.

What do you think? Imagine I will have a few biting my head off when positioning us for these two!

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