Six major talking points on Newcastle’s Premier return, seven games into the season

Hard graft: Joselu
Hard graft: Joselu

Seven down, 31 to go.

And, as things stand, Newcastle United are probably ahead of schedule in terms of where they wanted to be at this stage of the campaign.

With almost a fifth of the season under their belts already, the Magpies have 10 points and three wins to show for what has been a pretty impressive return to the top flight.

But who has stood out for United so far? And what have been the common themes in these early throes of the top-flight season?

Here we take a look at six talking points from Rafa Benitez’s men’s start to life back where they belong.

Top dogs knocked off their perch

Last season, two of the stand-out performers in Newcastle’s promotion were Jonjo Shelvey and Dwight Gayle.

Neither has had the return they would have wanted to top-level football.

Gayle has struggled when given gametime, looking a shadow of himself. Illness and injury have definitely played their part, while an unneeded indiscretion meant Shelvey lost his place.

It will be interesting to see how the two react.

Leader Lascelles

The Toon skipper was not a guaranteed starter for United this season – the signing of Florian Lejeune proved that.

But, when given the chance, he has taken it with both hands.

He is still young, with a lot to learn, but it will be interesting to see what happens when Rafa inevitably tries to bring Lejeune back in.

Merino class

Mikel Merino is a class act, of that there is no doubt.

But he is still very much a work in progress, no matter how many fans think he is the finished article.

He is, so far, by far and away Benitez’s best buy of an underwhelming (that’s putting it lightly) summer.

Atsu ups his game

There was little fanfare when Benitez confirmed Ghanaian international Atsu would remain on Tyneside at the start of the summer.

But he has proven to be an absolute snip at £6.2 million, especially in this market.

He looks every bit Premier League quality now.

He didn’t last season.

”Joselu, lu, lu – he might score one, he might score two”

Another player who looks a bargain at the price.

Missed chances seem to have seen him labelled a poor finisher, but the manager knows what he is all about and thinks his killer instinct will come with time. It’s a confidence thing.

For me, it’s more about the work he does in linking the play, and his graft without the ball, that impresses.

He’s also got a very good relationship on the field with Ayoze Perez. Even at this early stage, it looks like they come as a pair.

Organisation is key

Has there been a more organised, compact, drilled United in living memory? I don’t know the answer, but I doubt it.

This is a very different, pragmatic Newcastle, and I think I like it.

Benitez is wringing the best out of what he has, most of whom won the Championship last season and were written off in the summer.