Liam Kennedy's Newcastle United power rankings: Whose value increased and whose decreased in the 2020/21 Premier League campaign?
The 2020/21 Premier League season was one of the most jarring on the emotions of Newcastle United fans in recent memory.
Disharmony, discomfort and an absolute lack of entertainment or end product was bizarrely capped off with an antipode, an absolute juxtaposition in the closing stanza of what turned out to be a draining, twisted, largely positivity-sapping campaign.
Five wins out of the last eight catapulted the Magpies from a possible 17th-placed finish and relegation flirtations to a Steve Bruce bravado-boosting 12th, one point and one place better off than the season previous.
Putting results and team performances aside, there have been some real individual stand outs this campaign. There have also been some players who have dropped off the radar.
Here we take a look at the three whose stock has risen over the last 12 months and three who’ve gone in the opposite direction.
⬆️⬆️⬆️ JACOB MURPHY
Few players have really grasped their first-team opportunity this season like Murphy.
The winger turned wing-back has gone from being positioned with one foot out the United exit door to in a position of relative strength in the starting XI – all in the space of just a few months.
Confidence seemed to be a big issue for the player, a quiet, softly-spoken young player signed for a large fee from the Championship. Under Rafa Benitez Murphy got chances but never really justified the fee paid for him.
Loans elsewhere produced mixed success but only when his time on Tyneside looked to be up has the former Norwich City man stepped up to the plate and added real worth in a black and white shirt, the club he supported from being a boy.
Long may this upward trajectory continue.
⬇️⬇️⬇️ DWIGHT GAYLE
When Gayle suffered a long-term injury in pre-season last year, it felt like armageddon for Newcastle United
Gayle was the sole producer of their goals from the forward areas, displacing Joelinton late in the campaign to enjoy a flourish as United strode to safety in 2019/20.
That injury accelerated United’s transfer business, making them stick money down for the likes of Callum Wilson, among others, to improve the squad.
Wilson, of course, then became No.1 in the role and proved a bargain at £20m, while Gayle recovered.
When fit, though, chances were few and far between, with only a West Brom header to show for his efforts. This caused a rift between player and manager, with minutes on the park limited.
However, when the chance came I’d expected Gayle to come flying out the blocks – he didn’t. He proved a less than worthy stand-in for Wilson – and it is for this reason, it might be ‘new contract and out’ for the frontman this summer.
Now, this one will divide opinion. Of that, I have no doubt.
As far as first seasons go, the big Brazilian had a shocker. Not only did he not score goals, he looked incapable of scoring them, creating them, trapping a ball, running – a lot of things really. That opening campaign had many wondering why United had been so willing to spend so much money on a player who looked not only ill-suited to Premier League football, but the sport itself at times.
This season has been different. Well, from March onwards particularly.
The goals haven’t really returned, just six for the season, but this is a steady improvement on the last with three of them coming in the final weeks of the campaign.
Finally, though, it does look like the player has got to grips with the physicality and speed of the English game, the latter of which he had no concept of, seemingly, prior to when things really kicked into life against West Brom in March.
Joelinton really benefited from playing up front in a two, with a more dangerous, creative partner. He also looked physical and showed that his speed was not in an initial burst, or with ball at feet, but more so when he gets moving. Think more long distance runner than sprinter.
There has been enough evidence to suggest the player can add value to the squad next season, when up until the spring he was a certainty to be ushered out the door.
⬇️⬇️⬇️ MATTY LONGSTAFF
There isn’t really a lot to say about the younger of the Longstaff brothers – and that’s because he was largely frozen out by Bruce.
The player has ability but are we ever going to see it in black and white? At this stage it looks unlikely.
The only chance we got to see him perform was in the midst of that shocker 20-game or so run in the winter, when Bruce threw him into the team for three games in less than a week, despite never having played much for nearly 12 months previous. It looked unfair then, and still does now.
Thrown in to cover others and rotate Bruce’s ‘valuable’ starters, Longstaff proved so reliable he became undroppable. Well, that was until he was out on his feet in the January Leicester City game, having played more Premier League minutes in a week than he had in a year, after serious injury, too.
One year left on his deal and things don’t look good. The contract situation with both Longstaffs is a disgrace really and needs sorted. Sean Longstaff is another who is criminally undervalued by the club in terms of wages, whatever you think of the lad’s ability. I’m a fan of both brothers by the way.
⬆️⬆️⬆️ KARL DARLOW
It may not have ended how the player would have liked, but there is no doubt Darlow was one of United’s breakthrough players of the 2020/21 campaign.
Another armageddon moment in the summer was when Martin Dubravka’s injury looked set to keep him out long-term – and all the talk back then was of signing another keeper to fill the void.
Darlow negated the need for any such action. Having been Newcastle’s No.1 twice earlier in his career Darlow had done little to disprove the niggling doubts about his reliability long-term. This time, though, when called upon he grasped the opportunity with both gloves.
There was increased maturity about the keeper, who looked to have benefited from the years as second choice.
An incredible start to the season had him linked with an unlikely England call, even Gareth Southgate admitted to keeping an eye on his progress. He won points for United early doors but his form tailed off slightly later in the campaign and eventually saw the eventual return of Dubravka.
Darlow has proven himself a Premier League performer, but he’s just not Dubravka. And that’s no criticism, because not many are.
⬇️⬇️⬇️ SUMMER SIGNINGS x3
While Wilson has proven to be a top class addition – a bargain even though he is Newcastle’s third most expensive player ever – and Mark Gillespie hard to judge bar his decent shows in the Carabao Cup, the three other players have not seen their stock rise at all in the last 12 months.
Jamal Lewis has shown in flashes he can be OK at Premier League, but still looks very raw and in desperate need of some top class defensive coaching, Jeff Hendrick and Ryan Fraser have added little worth to the United ranks.
At the time, both seemed positive additions, especially for free. Proven Premier League experience. Injury and a lack of form, both for Fraser, has been their downfall.
At £15m, rising to more on appearances, Lewis has not proven good value, but even on bosmans Hendrick and Fraser have been less so.
This is unlikely to be the end for any of them – and I do think both Fraser and Lewis can be successes. The jury, however, remains out on Irishman Hendrick. It has been a struggle to see what he really adds to the United midfield this campaign.