Newcastle are once again back in the Premier League. What can we expect from Rafa Benitez’s side in 2017-18?
INS: Christian Atsu (undisclosed, Chelsea), Florian Lejeune (£8.7 million, Eibar), Josef Yarney (free, Everton), Stefan O’Connor (free, Arsenal), Jacob Murphy, (undisclosed Norwich), Javier Manquillo, (undisclosed, Atletico Madrid)
OUTS: Matz Sels (loan, Anderlecht), Vurnon Anita (free, Leeds), Alex Gilliead (loan, Bradford), Tom Heardman (loan, Bury), Yoan Gouffran (free, Goztepe), Adam Armstrong (loan, Bolton), Daryl Murphy (undisclosed, Nottingham Forest), Sean Longstaff (loan, Blackpool)
THE STORY: Newcastle are ready and raring to go heading back into the Premier League this season. The Magpies had a successful season-long stint in the Championship, winning the title over Brighton by a single point.
Led by their top scorer, Dwight Gayle, who bagged himself 23 goals in the Championship, they’ll be hoping they can get much of the same in the top flight. And with past experience in the Premier League, it isn’t outside the realm of possibility that Gayle will get into double-digits in his and his club’s first season back.
Another player Newcastle will be looking to lead the charge is Christian Atsu. With his move made permanent from Chelsea in May, Atsu will be looking to capitalize on his return to the Premier League. And with the Magpies relying on him and his creativity in the midfield, he has every opportunity to shine.
Newcastle will look to the experienced heads of Atsu, Jack Colback and Jonjo Shelvey to ensure their return to the top flight isn’t short-lived. Not a bad list of names to look to for security in the Premier League either, with all three of them having experience in the top flight.
Aside from the seasoned midfield and attacking attributes, Newcastle also have a solid back line to rely upon. Players like Ciaran Clark, Jamaal Lascelles, DeAndre Yedlin and hopefully a healthy Chancel Mbemba form the basis of defense that can hold its own with Premier League attacks.
The hope is that the quality in all these areas, coupled with the experience many of the players have in the top flight, will help them stave off the drop and start building toward a longer stay in the top flight.
The Toon haven’t really splashed the cash this window. Their most expensive signing is 22-year-old winger Jacob Murphy from Norwich, who reportedly cost a little over £10 million. Murphy scored eight goals and added eight assists in the Championship last season, and will bolster Newcastle’s attacking options.
And let’s not forget the other new signing, Florian Lejuene from Eibar. The center-back had a very solid season for Eibar in La Liga last year, making 34 appearances for his former club. During that time he averaged 1.3 tackles and 2.1 interceptions per match. Lejeune is very strong in the air, likes to stay on his feet and jockey attackers and is an intelligent addition to the back line for Newcastle. Hopefully the quality he showed for Eibar last season follows him to Newcastle this year.
On paper, Newcastle are as strong as any promoted side since they were last promoted in 2010-11, and in Rafa Benitez have one of the best manager’s in the league. Benitez typically prefers a 4-2-3-1 formation, but experimented with a 5-3-2 last season. However is side line up, they should be difficult to break down. Newcastle conceded only 40 goals in the Championship last season, the joint best record in the league with Brighton.
But the jump up to the Premier League is big, and Newcastle shouldn’t expect to stay up without a real fight. They know better than any club that quality on paper isn’t enough to keep a side in the division. They’re going to lose a lot more games than they did last year, but overall the squad looks good enough to survive.
THE MANAGER: Perhaps the biggest reason for Newcastle fans to get excited is Rafa Benitez. The fact that Benitez stayed on as manager despite being relegated was a massive boost for Newcastle, as was shown by their performance in their single season back in the Championship. He nearly saved them from relegation two seasons ago after taking over from Steve McClaren in March, which further suggests he wii do well.
Benitez has spent much of his career with the some of the biggest clubs on earth, like Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Liverpool. So his experience with all of those clubs will very likely pay off for Newcastle in the long run.
The focus for Newcastle this season will be avoiding the drop, but Benitez didn’t choose to stay at the club simply so he could battle relegation every season. He’ll want to start building a team capable of challenging for the top eight, and a good first season back in the Premier League will be crucial. His progress will be one of the more interesting stories to follow outside the race for the title.
BEST CASE: Newcastle finish lower-mid table, likely around 12th or 13th.
WORST CASE: The goals don’t come, Darlow can’t keep the ball out of the back of the net and they head straight back to the Championship.
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