Newcastle United will want to complete more transfer business this month, but Rafa Benitez has admitted that he is preparing for the first game against Tottenham with the players that he has.
The Spaniard is meticulous when preparing for a match and a player signed before the kick-off won’t have enough time to fully understand the role that the manager will want them to play.
When asked about the options for the Spurs match, the Magpies boss told the Chronicle:
“We more or less have the group in place. We have a few players with little knocks and we have to assess them and decide what we do.
“But we can’t change too much and must work with what we have.”
It is clear that the eleven players who will start against Tottenham are likely to be already at the club. The one position that there are a lot of question marks over is the ‘number ten’ role.
Benitez likes to use a 4-2-3-1 formation, with an advanced midfielder, who is expected to support the striker and provide the link in the final third.
There are three players at the club competing for the role, but none of them have managed to make it their own, thus far.
The favourite to start the season in the position is Ayoze Perez. The talented Spaniard has impressed before in the Premier League and could be one of the key figures for Newcastle this season if he performs to the best of his ability.
It was difficult in the Championship for him, as he struggled with the increased physicality. He managed to contribute eight goals and six assists, but a player with his ability should have fared better.
On his day, he can be incredible in the role and a joy to watch, as his agility and quick feet make him a nightmare to defend against. As a finisher, he is reliable in front of goal, but his lack of consistency makes him a risk.
His main competition last season was Mohamed Diame, who joined the club from Hull City. It was seen as a coup, due to the midfielder opting to drop a division to sign for the Magpies. However, he failed to have the desired impact and he was average at best in the ‘number ten role’ last term.
Some would argue that it isn’t his best position, as he struggled to influence the game with only three goals and three assists. That said, he ran himself into the ground every match and his work rate could appeal to Benitez, to begin with, as the manager will want his side to be solid defensively first and foremost.
During pre-season, one of the previously unwanted players has made a comeback and shown enough to be considered for the ‘number ten’ position. Siem de Jong has had a nightmare time since joining the club, as he has suffered various injuries and failed to pin down a first-team place due to them.
Last season, he went on loan to PSV Eindhoven and started to rebuild his fitness. Since returning, he has featured prominently during pre-season and displayed some excellent play in the final third. His eye for a pass is great and he links up the play well in the final third. However, he remains an injury risk and will have a lot to learn about Benitez’s style.
It is difficult to pick which one is the best fit, as all pose problems to Benitez. Perez is arguably the favourite to start the season in the role, but he is lightweight and alongside Dwight Gayle, it would be a risk to field him. Newcastle would be lacking in physicality in attack and rely on only one way of playing.
Diame works hard, but he doesn’t offer a great deal in the attacking half. If he struggled in the second tier, it is unlikely he will far better in the Premier League. De Jong is an interesting option, but he needs to prove himself before starting matches regularly.
The last two pre-season matches could determine who will start against Spurs. At this point, Perez is the safest option as he has performed in the Premier League before, but he has a long way to go before he is considered a guaranteed starter in Benitez’s first eleven.