Newcastle United transfer 'upgrades', individual 'improvements' and their search for the 'goaly grail'  – Liam Kennedy's Magpies squad assessment

The summer transfer window proved positive and frustrating in equal measure for Newcastle United fans.

A flurry of activity a week prior to the start of the Premier League season proved profitable – adding strength and depth – but the end of the windows, both domestic and international, were very quiet leaving some United fans to question whether the Magpies did enough in the window that was.

The question is, after months to strengthen, are Newcastle United and Steve Bruce in a stronger position than they were at the start of the summer? Our writer Liam Kennedy takes a look at the six key areas and assesses whether United are better or worse off.

Goalkeeper – like for like

Newcastle United's English head coach Steve Bruce (R) and his Assistant Stephen Agnew (L) look on from the sidelines during the English League Cup fourth round football match between Newport County and Newcastle United at Rodney Parade in Newport, south Wales on September 30, 2020.

Summer start: Martin Dubravka, Karl Darlow, Rob Elliot

Summer end: Martin Dubravka, Karl Darlow, Mark Gillespie

Verdict: It’s hard to know really whether the Magpies are in a better place, or worse, for their one change in this slot. But I think it has been clear from Darlow’s first team performances that he has improved for the competition Gillespie has brought. Let's be honest Elliot was only ever seen as a No3, or No4, in his final few years on Tyneside. Gillespie himself has shown his quality in the League Cup, too, take away the Newport error. When Dubravka is fit this remains one of United’s strongest positions on the park in terms of depth.

Full-backs – problem slot solved?

Summer start: Javier Manquillo, DeAndre Yedlin, Emil Krafth, Danny Rose, Paul Dummett

Summer end: Javier Manquillo, DeAndre Yedlin, Emil Krafth, Jamal Lewis, Paul Dummett

Verdict: Losing an England international as a trade for a Northern Ireland one is not much of a trade to be fair – but that view is very one dimensional. Rose proved in his time at United to be steady, but well past his Spurs best, and there were few worried when he walked away without Bruce brokering a deal. He was OK, but was he enough to break the bank for? Not really. And so United turned to a younger model in Lewis, who looks a breath of fresh air in an attacking sense, but a little suspect going the other way. Early days, I suppose, but there is promise there. As for the rest of the positions, they remain the same – and I think United still look a right-back too heavy in terms of squad balance, although two off these full-backs can play in the centre with ease, Dummett a little more comfortably than Krafth.

Centre of defence – a body light?

Summer start: Jamaal Lascelles, Fede Fernandez, Fabian Schar, Ciaran Clark, Florian Lejeune

Summer end: Jamaal Lascelles, Fede Fernandez, Fabian Schar, Ciaran Clark

Verdict: Bruce has rolled the dice here, knowing he has two full-backs who can do a job. He could have done with a replacement for Florian Lejeune – and thought he had one in Rob Holding – but didn’t do a deal in that department. And for me United are injury or two away, as it stands, from a crisis in that area. If Dummett, Clark, Schar and Lascelles stay fit, then in many ways it’s an embarrassment of riches, relatively. The best two are still probably Lascelles/Schar/Clark and Fernandez on any given day, depending on the opposition.

Centre midfield – No dynamism

Summer start: Jonjo Shelvey, Isaac Hayden, Nabil Bentaleb, Sean Longstaff, Matty Longstaff, Dan Barlaser

Summer end: Jonjo Shelvey, Isaac Hayden, Jeff Hendrick, Sean Longstaff, Matty Longstaff

Verdict: Two out, one in. Zero cash spent in this department – this is a big change in tactic for United who were willing to spend around £35million on a central midfielder in the January window. Good job they didn’t, by the way, otherwise the coffers would have been dry this summer due to the impact of coronavirus. United lack dynamism in this department – the big hope is that Matty Longstaff will provide it moving forward, although Shelvey appears to be an immovable object in the centre, with Bruce reluctant to try anything but Hayden with the former Liverpool and Swansea man. More legs in this area would have helped. Either way Hendrick is a definite upgrade on Bentaleb, who was quite awful in his loan time on Tyneside.

Attacking department – Upgrades and improvements

Summer start: Allan Saint-Maximin, Miguel Almiron, Valentino Lazaro, Matt Ritchie, Christian Atsu

Summer end: Allan Saint-Maximin, Miguel Almiron, Joelinton, Ryan Fraser, Matt Ritchie, Jacob Murphy

Verdict: This is the department which in many ways has seen the biggest overhaul. Gone are the days of using Joelinton as a striker – hopefully – and Lazaro and Atsu have also been sacrificed, even if Bruce could not get anyone to take the Ghanian on deadline day. United look more dynamic in this department with pace, assists and goals coming in via Fraser and Murphy already looking like a wildcard upgrade on Atsu. Add in Allan Saint-Maximin’s match-winning qualities and the graft of Ritchie and Almiron, United look reasonably well stocked in this area. The loss of Lazaro was a strange one – and it does make you wonder how good he could have been, given a chance to shine.

Striker – United achieve the ‘goaly grail’

Summer start: Joelinton, Dwight Gayle, Andy Carroll

Summer end: Callum Wilson, Dwight Gayle, Andy Carroll

Verdict: Newcastle United needed a striker and they got one – an England international, proven Premier League one. It was a common sense signing that flies in the face of virtually every deal done during the Mike Ashley era on Tyneside. And guess what? It’s worked. So far. Four goals in four Premier League games – the first NUFC player to do that in his opening four league encounters since Les Ferdinand in 1995 – has seen Wilson win rave reviews from fans and his fellow players. Long may it continue. United could, of course, do with Gayle back to support in times of need. Another striker to back them up would have been the icing on the cake this summer.

Hi, our aim is to provide you with the best, most up-to-date and most informative coverage of YOUR club every single day, home and away, 365 days a year.

This depth of NUFC coverage costs, so to help us maintain the high-quality reporting that you are used to from the football team at the Shields Gazette, please consider taking out a subscription to our new sports-only package.

You'll find all the details at www.shieldsgazette.com/subscriptions/sports

Your support is much appreciated.

Richard MennearFootball Clubs Editor