Newcastle United’s January transfer priorities and Joelinton replacement named – Q&A
Our Newcastle United writers Miles Starforth and Dominic Scurr answer questions surrounding the club ahead of Sunday’s trip to Southampton (2pm kick-off).
How do you sum up the impact Eddie Howe has made in his first year at Newcastle?
MS: He’s had a phenomenal impact at the club. It’s easy to forget given where the club is now what a precarious position the team was in when he took charge last November. He’s built a fiercely-competitive team which has a strong identity - and is deservedly fourth in the Premier League. Just as importantly, the club’s now united in more than just name.
DS: A year ago this week, Unai Emery turned down the chance to manage Newcastle in what would prove to be a sliding doors moment. He was the club’s first choice but it’s fair to say The Magpies fell on their feet with their second choice. Coincidentally, Emery has just taken charge of an Aston Villa side Newcastle beat 4-0 in their previous match. It’s hard to imagine any manager making a more impressive impact than Howe has made over the last 12 months. He’s taken a winless bunch of no-hopers out of a relegation battle up into European contention. Not since Leicester City in 2015-16 have we seen such a dramatic turnaround from a Premier League side, and Howe is a big reason why.
Is the World Cup break coming at a bad time for Newcastle?
MS: Yes and no. I think most of us would rather the games kept on coming given the way the team’s playing, but this break can also be seen as an opportunity for United. The club won’t have as many players away on World Cup duty as last year’s top six - and those teams will have far more congested schedules when club football resumes. Newcastle must be ready to take advantage.
DS: We’ll have to see how the next two matches go first but certainly at the moment a six-week break could risk stifling Newcastle’s momentum. But a trip to Saudi Arabia and a ‘second pre-season’ of sorts should help Howe keep his squad sharp heading into the post-Christmas season while also giving the likes of Alexander Isak a chance to be fully match fit following his thigh injury.
Which Newcastle players should be going to the World Cup in Qatar?
MS: Aside from those nailed on to go, you’d think Callum Wilson and Sven Botman are strong shouts for World Cup places. Wilson has hit the ground running since returning from injury, and must be in Gareth Southgate’s thinking. That said, the striker’s injury record could count against him. Botman, in the provisional Holland squad, must be close to a call, having played so well since his summer move. Then there’s Dan Burn, who surely comes into the conversation for an England call-up after Ben Chilwell suffered an injury this week. I’d also love to see Joelinton go to the World Cup, as he’s been incredible over the past year, though the odds look to be against him making the squad given the quality of Brazil’s squad.
DS: Kieran Trippier, Nick Pope, Bruno Guimaraes and Fabian Schar are all set to go to Qatar but there are a couple of others who could join them. On current form, Callum Wilson is the obvious choice as a back-up to Harry Kane in the England squad. Louis van Gaal would be harsh to overlook Sven Botman for Holland given his form since joining Newcastle. It would be a great experience for the 22-year-old and he’s certainly proven himself since stepping into the Premier League.
What have you made of Miguel Almiron's impact?
MS: The right side of midfield was seen as a “problem position” at the start of the season. Not now. Almiron’s been a revelation this season, and the left-footed midfielder’s made the position his own. Almiron always brought a tremendous workrate to the team, and now he’s bringing end product too. Long may that continue.
DS: We got a preview of this sort of form from Almiron during pre-season when he netted six goals in a month. Now he’s done the same during a Premier League season and proven he is capable of making a difference in the final third. It's hard to remember the last time a Newcastle player had a month like Almiron, not just with the quantity of his goals but the quality of them as well. Only Alan Shearer (7) has managed more goals in a single month for Newcastle in the Premier League – and that was in September 1999, during which he scored five goals in a single game in an 8-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday.
What players should Newcastle prioritise in January?
MS: Well, it’s not hard to see why winger Leandro Trossard, out of contract next summer, has been strongly linked with the club, though Brighton and Hove Albion do have the option to extend his deal.
DS: Almiron’s form may make signing a winger a less urgent priority than it was viewed as in the summer, but it’s still one they should explore. It’s an area of the squad where Newcastle lack strength in depth. An attacking midfielder would also be a useful addition, James Maddison from Leicester City would be a statement signing, but it's just a question of where he’d fit into the side.
With Newcastle facing Southampton on Sunday, are there any fresh injury concerns?
MS: Fabian Schar’s the obvious one, having felt his hamstring last weekend. A few others have been carrying minor injuries, as you’d expect after such a demanding run of games.
Who should replace suspended Joelinton?
MS: The obvious move, for me, would be to bring fit-again Allan Saint-Maximin back into United’s attack.
DS: Saint-Maximin has trained fully over the past two weeks so should be good to go in the left-wing position in Joelinton’s absence with Joe Willock, Bruno Guimaraes and Sean Longstaff making up the midfield three.