Newcastle United squad analysis: Does Steve Bruce have a better first-team group than Rafa Benitez?

The transfer window is over, clubs are putting away their credit cards and fax machines – well, for the next five months, at least.

By Liam Kennedy
Thursday, 08 August, 2019, 18:13

At one point this summer it was doubtful Newcastle United would do any business at all this summer – in the end they completed FIVE deals, with a couple crowd-pleasers in the mix, too.

Andy Carroll was added in the final minutes of the window, while United broke their transfer record – smashed it, in fact – for the second time in 2019 with the £35million signing of Brazilian No.9 Joelinton.

But where does this squad rank with the one Rafa Benitez took into battle 12 months ago ahead of the 2018/19 Premier League season?

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - AUGUST 08: Andy Carroll poses for photographs with the club crest at St.James' Park during a photocall on August 08, 2019 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. (Photo by Serena Taylor/Newcastle United via Getty Images)

Here our writer Liam Kennedy assesses whether the class of 2019/20 is indeed in better shape, compared to Benitez’s squad of last season.

Attacking options – United have some now

With Salomon Rondon unfit to start the campaign, United kicked off last season with Joselu leading the line.

That was a clear picture of how little depth the Magpies squad had last season.

Now, playing with a front two, United have FIVE strikers at their disposal, albeit with different levels of experience.

Which Rondon had proven goalscoring prowess, no one last summer expected him to produce his best Premier League season.

And even though his qualities were not lost on Benitez, Ayoze Perez still had many doubters in the United fanbase.

They’ve lost Premier League experience and goals and replaced with unknown quantities to some degree – but pre-season has proven that Allan Saint-Maximin (briefly) and Joelinton bring a whole new dynamic to the United frontline.

Add in Miguel Almiron and an improved Yoshinori Muto as well as the barnstorming Carroll and all of a sudden options don’t seem so light anymore.

Benitez would killed to have so many attacking players on his books, even if none of the above mentioned signings would have necessarily made the grade for the former Real Madrid and Liverpool boss.

Midfield – Keeping key men crucial

United lost Mo Diame and Kenedy from the midfield unit – one will be missed, the other not so much.

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It’s a clear indicator as to how much the Brazilian’s stock has fallen that he ended up dropping to the Championship for gametime with Reading, albeit after penning a new, extended deal at Chelsea.

Diame’s legs and ability to close down the opposition at pace is something which United benefited greatly from last season but the hope is that Isaac Hayden can take on that mantle.And, to be honest, some of the most crucial business done by Bruce this summer was to convince Hayden, whom he had on loan from Arsenal at Hull City, that his future did not lie further south. A new contract is even said to be waiting in the wings for the former England under-21 man.

The other key bit of business was rebuffing the attempts of Manchester United to nab Sean Longstaff.

Plenty of exit talk filled the summer with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer suitably impressed by the older Longstaff’s NINE Premier League appearances last season.

The Red Devils tested the water at £18million, then again at £20m and £25m finally throwing all in at £35m (including add ons), but United held firm. The biggest fear of all was a January 31, 2011 scenario where Liverpool nabbed Carroll. This time, though, the Magpies proved to their fans that they can hang on to their better players, even when the big guns come poaching.

Jonjo Shelvey has been refreshed and set free somewhat under Bruce and Matty Longstaff is a welcome addition to the group. Jack Colback, if he stays, is far from the devil many make him out to be – he’s a Geordie with the club at heart. You can never fault the lad’s commitment in black and white.

Wide areas – they needed addressed

Jacob Murphy got the chop, Rolando Aarons is likely to follow. Achraf Lazaar has proven he’s not up to scratch – he was awful in the pre-season opener against West Ham United.

Dead wood chopped, Jetro Willems has been added to provide quality and competition to Matt Ritchie down one side, with Bruce having to make a call on whether to keep DeAndre Yedlin or Javier Manquillo to challenge new boy Emil Krafth. It could be a case of who proves the easiest to loan out or sell to the foreign markets.

It’s hard to argue United are in a worse place.

Back three & keeper – continuity

Martin Dubravka, Ciaran Clark, Federico Fernandez and Fabian Schar were all linked with moves away from St James’s Park this summer – two of them would have been near irreplaceable.

All were hung on to. That was another summer masterstroke.

In this business model the temptation to cash in on ageing Dubravka and Schar while their stock is high must have been there. But the club did not, and are unlikely to do so with the few days that remain in the foreign transfer markets.

United are no better or worse than they were this time last year – that is a win in anyone’s books.