Newcastle United are returning to the Premier League after one season in the Championship and they should be a lot better under the stewardship of Rafa Benitez. Although the Spaniard isn’t completely happy with the board due to an underwhelming transfer window to date, he remains at the helm and that is a huge positive for the club. There is no doubting the size of the club, but they haven’t had a manager capable of delivering its full potential. If Benitez is backed and fans are patient, good things could be just around the corner.
That is a huge if though. Benitez decided to stay at the beginning of the summer after being given the assurances that he wanted, but the signs are that the board haven’t delivered on those promises. The Spaniard has spoken about his unhappiness in the media and it will be intriguing to see how this situation plays out. Mike Ashley would be foolish not to give his manager the tools to do the job, but he isn’t often on the right side of logic. The marriage between the two is fragile and supporters will be hoping for an improvement soon. Otherwise, it could be damaging to their season.
It isn’t all negative on Tyneside, as the supporters are completely behind Benitez and the players, which should make for a positive atmosphere at St James’ Park. There have had record season ticket sales, while the team should have momentum after winning the Championship. They start the season as a team many expect to stay in the division, but it would be a lot more comfortable for them if the board releases funds before the end of the summer transfer window.
How has their summer gone?
As suggested above, it hasn’t been as good as many expected it to be. Christian Atsu made his loan move permanent before Florian Lejeune arrived from Eibar. The French centre back has looked good during pre-season, but other first-team signings were slow to come in. Jacob Murphy and Javier Manquillo joined the squad midway through pre-season to provide more competition. However, neither have much of a track record at the highest level. They weren’t the eye-catching signings that many were expecting.
The final signing that the club have made so far is an exciting one in Mikel Merino. The midfielder joins on a loan with an obligation to buy from Borussia Dortmund. Although he failed to become a regular in Germany, he was given a handful of appearances and showed flashes of his ability. This is a deal that has a huge upside, but he will need to be managed correctly by Benitez.
Pre-season has been low key for Newcastle as they have avoided long journeys across the globe, instead opting to stay closer to home. There were impressive wins over Wolfsburg and Hellas Verona, which showed signs of a team capable of competing in the top flight. The Premier League will provide a step up in competition and it will be interesting to see if the players can make the adjustment.
Manager: Rafa Benitez
The former Real Madrid manager has a good pedigree and it was a surprise to see him drop into the Championship with Newcastle. However, he clearly has an affection for the club and believes in their potential to reach the top of the English game once again. The transfer business conducted this summer suggest that it will be a harder job than he initially thought, but he isn’t giving up and that is encouraging.
Benitez will look to be difficult to beat this season and concede possession in most matches, relying on his organisational skills to keep his team in matches. They will try to be good on the counter-attack with pacy options such as Jacob Murphy, Christian Atsu and Dwight Gayle in the squad. Jonjo Shelvey will be a key figure for the Magpies. If he has a strong season, they should be able to climb to mid-table safety with relative ease.
How could the Magpies line-up this season?
During his managerial career, Benitez has been known for relying on a 4-2-3-1 formation and Newcastle are likely to use one this season. He will be pragmatic at times, but this will be his primary formation. Rob Elliot looks favourite to start in goal, while DeAndre Yedlin and Ciaran Clark should both retain their places in the Premier League. A double-pivot of Isaac Hayden and Mikel Merino will provide freedom for Shelvey to roam in the attacking half. Dwight Gayle is going to be the one to lead the line unless a new striker arrives before the end of the month.
Who are Newcastle United’s best fantasy football options?
There will be many looking at Matt Ritchie and Dwight Gayle as fantasy options, based on their successes last season. However, there has been one player that has emerged during pre-season and he could be a great low-risk choice for your teams. Christian Atsu has been a constant threat in all of the friendlies he has featured in and his pace will be utilised by Newcastle. His final ball has improved over the last 12 months and he has a point to prove as he hasn’t established himself at Premier League level yet.
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Premier League Verdict
A lot depends on the final few weeks of the window. If Benitez is backed and given the funds to buy the striker that he desperately needs, Newcastle could be set for a strong season. However, the other scenario is another few weeks of discontent, which would anger the manager even more. The Spaniard is committed to the supporters and the players, but he could be forced out if he isn’t treated with respect from above. They should stay up, but they should be aiming for more than that with Benitez at the helm. Unfortunately, it seems that the board doesn’t share the same ambition.