We’re up. It hasn’t been easy or convincing, but Newcastle United are EFL Championship winners and a Premier League side once more. In the present; players, staff and fans alike should celebrate the achievement of finishing as champions and regaining Premier League status. However, there is no time for Rafa’s men to rest on their laurels; observations of the past year will be under way into how improvements can be made for the future, without a moment to lose.
A position that Newcastle always seem to be covered in is in between the sticks. The 2015/16 Premier League relegation season saw Rob Elliot as the Magpies’ player of the season. You can make your own mind up about that.
This season has been no different; Karl Darlow was considered unlucky by some to not make the EFL Championship team of the year. Since Darlow took over from Matz Sels towards the end of September, United noticeably began to concede fewer goals.
With the very capable Rob Elliot in back-up and considering Matz Sels stays on Tyneside, United look to be well-stocked in that area.
Despite regularly fielding quality shot-stoppers, the Magpies can never brag about having a decent defensive record. Last season in the Premier League, Newcastle conceded 65 goals in 38 games; the third most in the division, and although we finished with the best defensive record in the league this season, there have still been some worrying defensive errors.
Captain Jamaal Lascelles is a surety and will hopefully flourish in the Premier League following a successful double hernia operation. Rafa may keep Lascelles’ centre-back partner as Ciaran Clark since it seemed to work this campaign, or perhaps Congolese Chancel Mbemba will be considered. Nonetheless, another quality centre-half is needed to minimise and alleviate previous defensive mishaps.
Paul Dummett has received mixed reviews for his performances this year. The defensive left back started all but two games in the league and although he is a dependable defensive asset, his 0 assists this season speaks volumes. To succeed in the Premier League, players must have more to their game than just reliability; the Welshman isn’t good enough to play regularly in England’s top flight.
Rafa Benitez has had a wealth of midfield options to call upon this past season. That said, since the departure of Yohan Cabaye to PSG in 2014, United have lacked a reliable creative presence in midfield.
Ayoze Perez is a viable option but has shown that he is susceptible to inconsistency when playing in the Premier League. A resourceful number 10 is needed to provide quality assistance for whoever will be leading the line next season for Toon.
One of the stand-out performers in the Championship for Newcastle has been wide player Matt Ritchie; this is another position that the scouting staff have struggled to find genuine quality in over the years. Andros Townsend is one of few names worth mentioning who have provided genuine excellence and a difference from out wide, Matt Ritchie another.
Christian Atsu may join permanently from Chelsea but he struggled to stamp his authority on the starting line-up and may only be useful as an impact player. As a result, at least two wide players with match-winning ability are needed to ensure that quality comes from all over the pitch rather than just a few individuals.
An Alan Shearer sized hole still remains at the club. There hasn’t been a striker since the legendary front man who has established them self as Newcastle’s attacking focal point, perhaps excluding Demba Ba prior to his move to Chelsea.
Dwight Gayle has had a promising season from a personal standpoint and for the team. 23 league goals from 26 starts bodes well. However, a turbulent year with injuries and with question marks over his Premier League potential, a minimum of one forward is required – a proven goal scorer who is reliable and will emanate confidence to the rest of the squad to ensure the side’s Premier League status for the 2017/18 season.
Thankfully, a Champions League winning manager will take charge again of transfers. Those he recruited in the summer of 2016 have evidently performed the task they were signed for, so as fans of the club, we must devote Rafa the entirety of our faith.
Remarkably, Chairman Mike Ashley released a statement following his positive meeting with Benitez confirming his trust and assurance in the manager as well as promising a healthy war chest in excess of £75m.
This is the first time in recent years that Magpie fans sincerely look forward to an approaching season, and dare I say; a successful one.