How the summer can revitalise Newcastle

Back in October, it looked like Newcastle might be able to avoid a relegation battle in 2018. Despite a frustrating summer in which Rafa Benítez had been denied the funds he needed and they suffered defeats in their opening two games, the Magpies were sitting pretty in the top half of the table with a string of crucial victories. However, having risen as high as seventh after their 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace, the team ran out of gas. A run of eight defeats in nine games saw them drop into the bottom third, where they have largely remained.

There have been some highlights, including a victory over Manchester United early in February, and Benítez has continued to make the most out of the limited options available to him. The defence, in particular, has been immense. Outside the top six, only two teams have conceded fewer goals than the Magpies, and no team in the bottom half of the table have a better defensive record. The defensive unit is well-drilled, the team as a whole is well-organised, and they have an effective counter-attacking strategy.

The problems all lie at the other end of the pitch. All too often, a good performance has not been matched with three points, and that is down to a lack of productivity in front of goal.

Last summer’s big signing Jacob Murphy has looked dangerous at times but has rarely threatened to score, while Dwight Gayle – so prolific in the Football League – has found the net only five times this summer. Joselu has also underwhelmed following his move from Stoke, and Ayoze Pérez has only contributed four goals. Had Newcastle converted their chances at an average rate for the league, they would be in a comfortable mid-table position.

The underlying strength of the team, combined with a fixture list that offers winnable home games against relegation rivals Southampton, West Brom and Huddersfield, should ensure that they avoid the drop this season, though their penchant for draws means that they will likely be crawling their way to survival one point at a time. The real work, though, will begin when the campaign ends in the summer. What chance do the Magpies have of improving on their 2017-18 performance, and what could they realistically aim for next season?

Newcastle fans betting online with Stakers will be able to get big odds on their side cracking the top six, the top four, or even emulating Leicester City and pulling off a shock Premier League win. In reality, given that this summer Benítez will once again be operating within severe financial constraints, the chances of breaking into the top six are virtually non-existent. A place in the top ten is realistic, as is a decent run in the two domestic cup competitions, with the Carabao Cup representing the most likely silverware opportunity.

To achieve those aims, however, Benítez needs to find a striker capable of scoring 20 goals a season while operating as a lone striker within the system he has created. Alternatively, a goal-scoring number ten could give the Newcastle attack more dynamism and take some of the creative pressure off Pérez. However, finding players of the necessary calibre will most likely involve significant financial investment, which brings us to Mike Ashley.

His reign at the club has been characterised by mistakes, public gaffes and, above all, an increasingly tight grasp on the purse strings. Having acknowledged that he can’t match the spending power of the top Premier League clubs, Ashley remains in place. The club is apparently up for sale, but nothing has happened on that front since the proposed deal with Amanda Staveley fell through, and another close season of limited transfer activity beckons.

The fear for Newcastle fans is that the financial situation leads to Benítez moving on. A Champions League-winning manager, rated as one of the most successful in European football, he will have no shortage of potential clubs to go to, and if a less accomplished manager were to take charge of the current crop of Newcastle players, they could be facing relegation to the second tier once again next year.

Although acquiring a prolific goalscorer should be top of the list of priorities this summer, it could prove just as important to Newcastle’s future to reassure Benítez and do what they need to do to retain his services as manager. If they can also find a buyer prepared to take over the club and put in the investment needed, then the future for the Magpies could be a bright one.

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