Newcastle United’s needs are different in January, their demands have certainly changed over the course of a year and Eddie Howe’s wants have also changed drastically since his first winter transfer window on Tyneside.
Although the same major surgery is not essential, nor sought by the head coach, Howe recognizes the value of strengthening from a position of strength. One or two experienced Premier League additions – particularly in a midfield that functions extremely well but lacks the depth of Newcastle’s rivals – can prove the difference between securing that unexpected top-four position and missing out on qualification. in the Champions League.
These are welcome considerations at the top of the table, rather than those of a team facing permanent relegation fears, and everyone associated with Newcastle is keen to maintain some perspective given the barely comprehensible change in the landscape in 12 month.
The New Year’s Eve stalemate with Leeds United felt disappointing precisely because Newcastle headed into the game after recording six straight top-flight wins, while they squandered many openings to extend that to seven, especially in set pieces situations.
However, the goalless draw still saw Newcastle remain unbeaten in 12 Premier League games (eight wins and four draws) and they finished the calendar year in the top three for the first time since 2001. context, they ended 2021 languishing in 19th with just a solitary Premier League victory. They have also won the third most points at home in the top flight in 2022 with 41 – behind Liverpool (48) and Manchester City (44).
The momentum Newcastle have built seems unstoppable at times, especially at Tyneside, where they have lost just once in the league in over a year and have not conceded in a top-flight 396 minutes (which stretches to 576 in all competitions). During backstage talks, Howe urges the board to build on and further sustain that trajectory by bolstering its player base with one or two quality additions.
It does not require signatures to be made, nor does it request another outlay of around £100m ($121m) for the third successive window. On the contrary, Howe pleads to inject freshness and more competition into a team that is already exceeding expectations.
The engine room is Howe’s primary concern; he wanted another midfielder during the summer, but the club wisely chose to wait, with his preferred targets proving unattainable at reasonable valuations. Yet Jonjo Shelvey’s second serious injury of the season, a calf problem that will keep him out until February, has added greater urgency to the pursuit of a midfielder.
Steve Nickson, head of recruitment at Newcastle, has continued to monitor a host of midfield options, some of which have been mentioned during internal transfer talks.
James Maddison is still being courted by Newcastle for his creativity, although he is expected to prove too expensive this month.
They are instead expected to focus on the No.6 playmakers, with Leicester City’s Youri Tielemans and Brighton’s Moises Caicedo widely watched. European options such as Nice’s Khephren Thuram, Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Kouadio Kone and Ajax’s Edson Alvarez have also been closely watched, but Howe ideally wants Premier League-ready players who he believes can make an immediate impact. .
Tielemans is among the No.6 playmakers being considered by Newcastle (Picture: Getty Images)
During the mid-season trip to Riyadh, Howe met Dan Ashworth, the sporting director, and the owners of Newcastle, where it was highlighted that the club would be looking to be flexible in January. They are ready to act to achieve their long-term goals if an attractive deal comes along, but financial fair play considerations will limit their activities.
Darren Eales, the CEO, is wary of Newcastle’s salary budget being increased too quickly in the short term, before their commercial income has reached a sufficient level to support a higher salary burden, and considers that the window of summer is more conducive to significant transfer spending. . Fringe players Ryan Fraser, Jamal Lewis and Matt Ritchie could be moved on this month to subsidize the salaries of potential entrants.
Howe accepts that stance, insisting on Friday that Newcastle must not ‘handcuff’ themselves for future windows by overspending now, with the head coach told that any spending this month will be deducted from their summer budget. Still, Howe feels he lacks game-changing options and the ability to turn in midfield, which was evident against Leeds.
Joe Willock, Sean Longstaff and Bruno Guimaraes perform well, but, in addition to moving Joelinton further from his left berth, or playing Elliot Anderson, the 20-year-old academy graduate who has yet to make his Premier League debut, Howe has no other natural midfielder to select with Shelvey sidelined. Given that Newcastle play with a three-man midfield and a high-intensity, high-pressure style, the workload on this trio is heavy.
With a Carabao Cup quarter-final against Leicester and an FA Cup third-round draw with Sheffield on Wednesday coming up, Howe has little opportunity to rest his midfielders, increasing injury risk. Guimaraes, in particular, doesn’t have a natural replacement as a No.6 beyond Shelvey – and it’s the position Howe most wants to fill.
Leeds’ plan will be replicated with teams visiting St James and Newcastle need more imagination to break down diligent defences, beyond Allan Saint-Maximin and Alexander Isak returning to the XI. Having the ingenuity of a player like Maddison to unlock a tenacious defense, or the depth to be able to replace Willock’s powerful run with another dynamic operator, rather than just being able to move Joelinton deeper, would only help the push of the Champions League from Newcastle.
A young right-back is also wanted – Newcastle sent a scout to watch Real Valladolid’s Ivan Fresneda play against Real Madrid on Friday – while the loan market could also be explored for an additional striker. But, given the constraints on their short-term spending, midfield must be their focus so they can augment their squad with a quality addition at what could prove to be a critical moment in the season.
Newcastle not need reinforcements like they did a year ago, but they have a rare opportunity to actually reinforce from a position of strength – a position they should take.
(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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