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New Toon Rising: Looking ahead to Newcastle’s Premier League return

The Boot Room

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Last season’s final Premier League table threw up some interesting statistical quirks as the league essentially split into three separate competitions. Between the high-flying top seven and the relegated dead weights at the bottom, there formed a distinct middle tier with very little to choose between the sides.

Two more wins for seventeenth placed Watford, for example, would have seen them go level on points with Southampton in eighth, who finished just six points ahead of the Hornets. As half of the league found themselves in this extended ‘comfortable middle table’, it seems likely that we will see a similar trend next year.

It is in this nether zone that Newcastle United will most likely find themselves next season, and are rated by SkyBet as the side with the sixth highest chance of going down. This is not bad for a newly promoted club, even one the size of Newcastle, and they can draw heart from their most recent return to the top tier of English football. Their last successful season in the Championship was followed by twelfth and fifth places finishes in the Premier League.

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Their first fixture, at home to Tottenham, is a repeat of the Magpies’ most recent game in the league. Another victory over a Spurs side that they astonishingly beat 5-1 in the 2016 fixture would help maintain momentum from last season’s triumph and signal their intentions for their return.

A quick start will be vital as a particularly tough run of fixtures in December could bring a harsh winter for the Magpies. As even the hardiest of Toon fans will be forced to apply clothes to torsos, their team face Everton, Arsenal, West Ham and Manchester City in the space of two weeks.

It is during spells like this that Rafa Benitez’s Premier League experience and extensive CV will be vital, helping his relatively young team to deal with the pace and intensity of the league. Benitez’s is by far the biggest name currently at St. James Park and one which demands both respect and a hefty transfer budget.

Although a potential takeover is still being mooted by Chinese investors, Benitez will not want boardroom negotiations to distract him from improving his squad and Alan Shearer has claimed that his former side will need around £150 million if they are to compete in the Premier League, as he wrote in his column for The Sun.

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Already, Benitez has signed Christian Atsu from Chelsea, and appears keen to return to his former club again, attempting to secure young striker Tammy Abraham on a season-long loan, according to BBC Sport.

Added to these exciting attackers are rumours of a move for Pepe Reina – according to the Chronicle – who could be a considerable presence, both around the club and between the sticks. While this remains paper talk, it shows a desire for Newcastle to push on and aim beyond simply surviving in their return to the big leagues.

A club the size of Newcastle cannot be content bumping along the bottom and must fling themselves into the mid-table mixing pot that will likely form again this season. If the league’s middle tier becomes as tight as last season’s was, every single point will be vital, as the Magpies look to hoist themselves back to where they belong.

Correct recruitment under the guidance of a Champions League winning manager could see success return to St James’ sooner than expected.

The Boot Room is a football analysis website, bringing original and creative content to the fans of the English Football League.

Stoke City

Is Bojan Krkic the perfect player for Gary Rowett to build Stoke City around?

The 27-year-old has been an outcast at the Bet365 Stadium.

Martyn Cooke

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Bojan
Photo: Getty Images

As Gary Rowett continues to rebuild the Stoke City squad over the summer there will be plenty of speculation regarding who will be arriving and departing the Bet365 Stadium.

The Potters have already dipped into the transfer market by signing Nigerian midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo and Wolverhampton Wanderers striker Benik Afobe whilst Egyptian starlet Ramadan Sobhi was sold to Huddersfield Town last week.

Xherdan Shaqiri, who is currently representing Switzerland at the World Cup in Russia, has confirmed that he will be leaving the club whilst, in contrast, Joe Allen has signed a new long-term contract to remain.

There are still plenty of question marks over current players. The likes of Jack Butland and Badou Ndiaye are expected to attract interest from Premier League clubs whilst the expensive pairing of Saido Berahino and Giannelli Imbula may not fit into Rowett’s plans but will be short of offers.

But what about Bojan Krkic?

The diminutive Spaniard was once one of the most promising young forwards in Europe after he rose through Barcelona’s prestigious La Masia academy system and made his first team debut at the age of 17.

He made over 100 appearances for the Catalan’s prior to loan spells with Ajax, AC Milan and Roma before eventually moving to Stoke in the summer of 2014.

Bojan has certainly made an impact at the Bet365 Stadium, particularly during his first two-and-a-half years with the club, but he fell out of favour under Mark Hughes and has spent the last eighteen months on loan in Germany and Spain.

(Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

At his best, the 27-year-old was a magician who produced moments of sublime skill and was a central creative influence in the team.

He was technically magnificent and would often glide across the pitch, weaving between defenders and was a genuine threat whenever he received the ball in the final third.

Bojan was one of only a handful of Stoke players from the last decade that would bring supporters to the edge of their seats in anticipation and expectation when he was in possession.

For anyone who requires a reminder of what the forward can do, simply look up his solo goal against Tottenham Hotspur form 2014.

Much has been made of his injury in January 2015. The Spaniard suffered severe knee damage in an FA Cup tie at Rochdale that meant that he was out of action for the remainder of the season and the common narrative is that he was never the same upon his return.

However, this storyline is incorrect. In fact, Bojan was at his peak over the Christmas period in 2015 when he was the centre of Stoke’s attacking trident which also included Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic.

Such was the effectiveness of the trio that The Potters picked up the nickname of ‘Stoke-a-lona’ in reference to their attacking brand of football.

So where did it all go wrong for him?

He fell out of favour with Mark Hughes and, after being dropped from the starting line-up, was never able to regain his position as Stoke City’s creative hub.

The Spaniard subsequently has spent the past eighteen months on loan with Mainz and Las Palmas but has struggled to make any significant impact either in Germany or Spain.

(Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)

In many respects, Bojan’s stock has never been lower. He has fallen off the radar somewhat in the past year and it appears that any hopes that he may have had of returning to a prominent European club are all but over.

However, this opens up a potential return to Stoke despite their relegation to The Championship.

Last season The Potters were desperately short of creativity and goals – something that Bojan can provide.
The Spaniard man be the perfect figure for Gary Rowett to build his new look team around.

Joe Allen and Oghenekaro Etebo will provide defensive security and energy in the centre of midfield whilst Benik Afobe will make be the focal point in the final third.

Bojan could be the perfect link player if deployed as a number ten and you would imagine that he would be more than capable of causing chaos amongst defences in The Championship.

There is, of course, the question of whether the 27-year-old would be prepared to play in the second tier of English football, although Allen’s decision to sign a new contract and remain at Stoke would suggest that Rowett is capable of being persuasive.

If Stoke are serious about challenging for promotion, then keeping Bojan and reigniting his career at the Bet365 Stadium would be a serious statement of intent.

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West Ham United

Jack Wilshere is West Ham’s most realistic midfield target this summer

The 26-year-old seems the best option for Manuel Pellegrini at the moment.

Jamie Watts

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Manuel Pellegrini has seemingly put signing a new midfielder high on his list of priorities this summer, having been linked with some stellar names, but is Jack Wilshere (Sky Sports) his most realistic target?

The Chilean has expressed his desire to get the Hammers playing attacking and progressive football again next term, and views a quality midfield addition as vital in achieving this.

Initially, the suggestion was made that Pellegrini would attempt to move for two-time Premier League winner Yaya Toure (the Telegraph), before stories broke claiming his interest in Paris Saint-Germain’s Javier Pastore (Sky Sports).

Photo: Getty Images

However, talks for both have stalled, with Toure’s preference to join a top-six side (Sport 24) and Pastore’s reported wage demands of £190,000-a-week (Sky Sports) to leave the French capital, with it now looking more likely Roma will land the 29-year-old’s signature.

Wilshere would employ the tactics Pellegrini is after and would instantly inject technical quality into the current functional midfield trio of Mark Noble, Cheikhou Kouyate and Pedro Obiang. His ability to carry the ball past defensive counterparts and to spot a final pass would add extra dimensions to the Hammers’ play, and at the age of 26 he could still have his best years ahead.

Photo: Getty Images

The ex-Bournemouth man has revealed he will not sign a contract extension at Arsenal with his contract set to expire imminently, meaning Pellegrini could land his signature on a free.

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Leicester City

Tottenham should elevate reported interest in Leicester City protege Demari Gray

The 21-year-old could become a superstar if nurtured properly.

Jamie Watts

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Tottenham Hotspur were reportedly interested in the possibility of signing Leicester City‘s attacking protege Demari Gray a few months back, according to reports from ESPN. And after a fruitless period in the search for attacking reinforcements, Mauricio Pochettino should revive his interest in sorting a deal.

Gray contributed four goals and three assists in 30 Premier League appearances last term, and is currently the captain of the England U21 squad. But he is likely to evaluate his future with the Foxes this summer, due to his lack of regular game-time. And Tottenham seems a great fit for the winger.

Photo: Getty Images

Spurs have pursued multiple attacking targets since the window commenced, without gathering any real traction on any of their targets, and it seems Pochettino – for once – is more concerned with making a marquee signing, than bringing in a player with the scope to develop and grow into a top player at White Hart Lane.

Talks for Anthony Martial, Christian Pulisic and Ivan Perisic have all stalled in recent times, and a move for the Leicester City man could be just the ticket for Spurs. He brings all the attributes they’re currently looking for; blistering pace, exceptional balance, end product, a cool head and notably the ability to hit an absolute cracker if awarded space.

If he reaches his peak under the guidance of Pochettino, which is more likely than not given his immense talent, the player could double in market-value and could become a key player for the Lilywhites for years to come.

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