With the January transfer window well underway, Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez is in the hunt for recruits to bolster his squad in order to claim Premier League survival.
Benitez is believed to want to strengthen in most areas of the pitch, with a new goalkeeper, left-back and striker understood to be on the gaffer’s wish list.
Reports last week stated that United had failed in an attempt to bring Sparta Prague stopper Martin Dubravka in on loan, with a number of other goalkeepers linked to St James’ Park, such as Pepe Reina and Joe Hart.
Although many of the Toon Army would not mind a new ‘keeper at all, this should not be the main concern in terms of new additions. United are well equipped in the goalkeeping department, with Benitez rotating between Rob Elliot and Karl Darlow in the United goal.
Both are talented shot-stoppers and are popular among fans, with chants being sung for the pair in the terraces. However, both Elliot and Darlow can be prone to errors, with Darlow being at fault for the goal in the 1-0 defeat at home to Everton in December.
Such are the errors which Benitez has stated multiple times that his team must avoid, while he also wants to intensify the competition between his respected goalkeepers.
The Magpies also have a future prospect in their ranks in 20-year-old Freddie Woodman. The youngster was part of the England under-20 World Cup winning squad and made some fine performances, saving a penalty in the final.
The Englishman also made his Newcastle debut in the FA cup third-round win over Luton Town earlier this month, with a bright future ahead for the stopper. Rafa, however, is wise and will not rush him in to the first team at such a raw age.
Benitez is a systematic manager and likes to start from the back when constructing his teams. In the Championship last year, his first signing was also a goalkeeper, with Matz Sels being the first to arrive as part of the ‘Rafalution’ and was the first-choice ‘keeper early on in the season.
Many fans and pundits alike believe that it is a striker that United should be prioritising, given their lack of cutting edge this season, with Newcastle firing blank in ten out of the 23 matches played so far.
In addition, the Magpies’ decline in form since autumn has been partly down to their inability to convert their chances in front of goal. The narrow losses to Everton and Bournemouth could have been avoided had Newcastle been more ruthless, while the same can be said in the draws against Brighton and the most recent fixture against Swansea.
Rafa has rotated between Dwight Gayle and Joselu to lead the line for the Toon, with Ayoze Perez utilised in the ‘number 10’ role.
The trio have contributed with nine goals out of the 21 scored by Newcastle, with Joselu the top scorer, netting four times. Such a return, although leaving the club currently in 15th place, is not sufficient enough, as demonstrated by the number of lacklustre performances thus far.
Fan favourite Aleksandar Mitrovic meanwhile is deemed out of favour by Benitez while he has also struggled with injuries this season.
The need for a new centre-forward is manifest for United. Chances are being created however they are not being converted as often as they should; if goal scoring opportunities were not being made then this would be a major cause for concern. With a clinical finisher signed, this should see the Toon stay up.
The lack of activity so far is concerning, given that Rafa stated that business would be conducted early on in the window. Almost two weeks in and the Spaniard’s budget still remains unknown, with loan deals looking most likely.
The United hierarchy must surely also see the need for an injection of quality in the final third. If no incomings are made then the predicament of a second relegation in three years is sadly a real possibility.
Written by Dawud Arshad
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