Steve Bruce has been coy about the club’s intentions in the New Year, but there’s no denying the importance of the business that Rafa Benitez, his predecessor, did in January in the past two seasons.
Miguel Almiron arrived this January in a £21million deal – and the team didn’t look back.
The loan signing of Islam Slimani didn’t work out in January 2018, but Martin Dubravka and Kenedy, also signed that window, strengthened a team which would go on to finish 10th in the Premier League.
And the club’s New Year business will have a bearing on the club’s finishing position this season.
What does he need?
Bruce, wisely, has been keen to manage expectations ahead of the window up to now, and he even went as far as saying that he was prepared to say “no” to deals if he felt they weren’t right for the club.
Bruce – who insisted after taking over at the club that he would have the final say on transfers – would like to strengthen his squad.
United’s head coach named the position he feels most needs attention last week before Newcastle’s 2-1 win over Bournemouth at St James’s Park
Bruce said: “We have six centre-backs, three right-backs, but are a little bit short in midfield areas. So we’ll have a little look at that, and you’re always looking to add that bit of quality, wherever it is, and see if we can add.”
Bruce is looking for more legs in midfield, and Steve Nickson, Newcastle’s head of recruitment, is understood to be looking at midfielders and No10s ahead of the window.
It seems the club is finally ready to replace Mohamed Diame, who left in the summer when his contract expired. Bruce – who managed Diame at Hull City – rued the 32-year-old’s departure after taking charge.
How much money?
This is the big question. The club spent more than £60million on Joelinton, Allan Saint-Maximin and Emil Krafth in the summer. Andy Carroll also re-signed for the club on a free transfer.
United’s spend was partly offset by the £30million sale of Ayoze Perez to Leicester City – Joselu also left – and this means that there is some money available to spend in the New Year.
However, it seems that the club is first looking at the loan market, as it did two years ago with the signings of Dubravka, Kenedy and Slimani.
Bruce, for his part, believes it’s “difficult” to buy well in January, while owner Mike Ashley may be less inclined to sanction any big deals if the club, 11th in the Premier League ahead of the November 25 game against Aston Villa, is in a comfortable position.
“I know what I’d like to have, but it’s whether you can get it,” said Bruce. “If there’s somebody out there who could improve the team, of course we’ll act.”
Who are his targets?
The big name that has been mentioned so far is midfielder Granit Xhaka, who has lost the captaincy at Arsenal and could be available in January. Xhaka, however, will have other options, notably AC Milan, and he wouldn’t be a cheap option given that he was signed for £30million. Would Arsenal be prepared to loan the 27-year-old out while the furore of his actions towards fans a few weeks ago calms down?
Nickson was this month in South America on club business, though we don’t know details of any targets on the continent. Closer to home, Newcastle have been linked with 21-year-old Toulouse midfielder Ibrahim Sangare.
The club isn’t prioritising a striker in January, but Genk’s Mbwana Samatta – who scored against Liverpool in the Champions League – is being followed by Nickson. The 26-year-old is available in the window.
Who could leave?
The club would like to move on midfielders Jack Colback and Henri Saivet, while defender Jamie Sterry’s future would also seem to lie elsewhere. They all failed to make Bruce’s 25-man Premier League squad. However, the wages earned by Colback and Saivet means moving them on will be easier said than done.
If there are to be first-team arrivals, then Bruce will need to make space in his squad.
Defender Javier Manquillo and midfielder Ki Sung-yueng have been on the fringes in recent weeks, and could be available for transfer, while there will again be interest in striker Dwight Gayle, who spent last season on loan at West Bromwich Albion. Given Gayle’s age – he’s 29 – and contractual situation – his deal runs out in 2021 – this may be the best time to cash in on an in-demand player who’s only played a handful of minutes under Bruce because of injury. A return to The Hawthorns has been mooted.
Otherwise, the squad looks settled, and a number of players, notably Isaac Hayden, Matt Ritchie and Sean and Matty Longstaff, are in talks over new deals at the club.