2019/20 Newcastle United Premier League preview
Background image: Darren Wilkinson, CC BY-SA 2.0
Only at St James’ Park could a closed season be eventful but not that busy. Despite improving marginally in points, goals and goal difference in 2018/19, Newcastle dropped three places in the table to 13th. Shortly after the campaign ended, owner Mike Ashley dropped negotiations with manager Rafael Benitez on an extension. The SportDirect tycoon brought in native son Steve Bruce to replace the beloved Spaniard and, like a husband doing just enough to save his marriage, offered fans a new record-signing as an apology.
Barn Door Open
Rafa Benitez wasn’t the only departure. His attack revolved around two players: Spaniard Ayoze Perez [13G, 4A] and Venezuelan Salomon Rondon [12G, 7A]. Both are gone.
Mike Ashley sold Perez to Leicester for a hair over £30 million. Rondon, who had been on loan from West Bromwich Albion, opted to join his manager at Chinese Super League club Dalian Yifang.
Midfielder Mo Diame also announced he wouldn’t be staying with the Magpies. The French-born Senegalese international signed with Al-Ahly of the Qatar Stars League on a free.
With Chelsea serving a two-window transfer ban, winger Kenedy is back at Stamford Bridge, his loan ended.
Finally, Rondon’s backup, Joselu was sold to Deportivo Alaves for £2 million. The La Liga side receives a player who managed three goals and an assist over 968 minutes spread across 20 appearances.
Benitez left Newcastle in sound shape defensively. Captain Jamaal Lascelles returns to anchor a backline alongside Fabian Schar. In goal, Martin Dubravka can make a case as the best keeper outside the Premier League’s top six. The Magpies’ only serious concern in their own third is DeAndre Yedlin’s propensity for injury at right-back.
With 29 of their 42 goals [69%] no longer at the club, however, Steve Bruce’s top priority this summer must be scoring. He’ll be grateful that Mike Ashley agreed to a second club-record transfer in six months, signing Hoffenheim’s Joelinton for £39.6 million. It may prove the chairman's only investment, representing a miserly net spend of £7.5 million, but it's something.
The Brazilian’s 11 goals and nine assists for the Bundesliga side effectively cover Rondon’s exit. In size, strength and style, the 22-year-old is a carbon copy of the Venezuelan albeit seven years the younger.
With just over a week remaining in the Premier League transfer window, the only other asset to be added is midfielder Henri Saivet. Back from loan at Bursaspor, the 28-year-old is a like-for-like replacement for Diame
Liverpool are understood to value the Wales international at over £20m.
A fee of £15m rising to around £20m with add-ons would be acceptable for the club.
[Sky Sports] https://t.co/qWzSA6glLr
Unless Ashley is feeling unexpectedly philanthropic, Bruce must look to players already on the books to provide further offence. The club’s previous record signing, Miguel Almiron displayed impressive energy and movement but failed to make the scoresheet in ten appearances under Rafa. Bruce will expect him to open his account, as Vinnie Jones would say, sharpish. As well, the Geordie-born boss will look to centre-forwards Dwight Gayle and Yoshinori Muto and winger Christian Atsu to elevate their games.
In the midfield, the club is resisting Manchester United’s overtures for central midfielder Sean Longstaff. Another native son, Longstaff began his Premier League career brightly last season before injury cut his campaign short. He should anchor a midfield that will include Isaac Hayden, Matt Ritchie and reclamation project Jonjo Shelvey. Hayden prefers to be at a club closer to his family in Wales but Toon isn’t interested in moving him. The impetuous Shelvey fell out with Rafa Benitez in 2018/19. While the former Liverpool standout’s temper often gets the better of him, his ability to pick out cutting passes is desperately needed if Newcastle are to stay above the relegation fray.
The Deep End
The fixture gods didn’t smile on Steve Bruce when he took the Magpies job. His squad must hit the ground running in 2019/20, welcoming Arsenal to St James’ Park to open the season before visiting the new Tottenham stadium on Matchday Three.
There’s a bit of respite between the two dates against top-six clubs when Newcastle journey to Carrow Road to take on newly-promoted Norwich.
Unfortunately, another tester awaits before the international break with a visit from FA Cup finalists Watford. After the break, it’s no rest for the weary with Champions League holders Liverpool on tap.
With five top-six sides, two other clubs from the top half of the ‘18/19 table [Leicester and Wolves] and the 11-placed Hornets scheduled in the first ten games, Newcastle face an unenviable start. With a new manager and a largely unreplenished squad, it’s difficult to envision Toon anywhere other than near league bottom as autumn rolls into winter.
Can Bruce rally them when the fixtures become more manageable? His most recent Premier League stint with Hull City doesn’t bode well. It ended in relegation.