The future of Joe Willock, Matt Ritchie and defensive duo on the Newcastle United agenda

There’s an air of certainty about Newcastle United finally, with Premier League safety all but secured.

But four of their key players’ futures are far from certain.

Here our writers Liam Kennedy and Miles Starforth discuss that issue and what lessons should be learned from an up and down campaign.

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With safety all but secured, what lessons should Steve Bruce learn from this season?

Newcastle United's English midfielder Joe Willock (R) shoots and scores their first goal during the English Premier League football match between Leicester City and Newcastle United at King Power Stadium in Leicester, central England on May 7, 2021.

LK: “Steve Bruce and his players are ending this season on a high – and that’s always a positive thing heading into a new season. But, United do have lots to learn from this campaign. Defensively they need to improve and they need to make sure they improve their strength in depth because when their big players are out they’re nowhere near strong enough.”

MS: “Bruce has always wanted to play with a back four since taking charge of United, but the pragmatic approach has always been to play with a back five. Newcastle have been better balanced in recent weeks - and more of a threat in the final third of the pitch.”

What areas should Bruce prioritise in the summer transfer market?

LK: “Newcastle need a midfield rebuild and a defensive reboot. They’ve needed to sort out their central midfield options since promotion. Keeping Joe Willock, if possible, has to be a priority.”

MS: “Obviously, re-signing Joe Willock must be a priority for the club, and Bruce will also have to look at all defensive positions. As ever, more strength in depth in the forward positions would also be welcome.”

Matt Ritchie has been a revelation - two more assists on Friday. Will he be at Newcastle next season?

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LK: “He has been top class since coming back in but I have a feeling he will still be shown the exit door this summer. He wanted to leave in the last window, however a run of games may have changed his mind.”

MS: “I hope so. He’s been a big player for the club over the past five years, and he can still make a big contribution in open play and on dead balls, as we’ve seen in recent weeks. That said, if Bruce wants to play with a back four next season, it’s hard to see where Ritchie fits in.”

How important is it that NUFC hang on to Allan Saint-Maximin?

LK: “Massive. The last thing in the world United want to be doing is sell their best players. And unless he has a clause in his recently-signed deal I wouldn’t even be entertaining any offers.”

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MS: “Very, very important. Let’s not forget that it was the return of Saint-Maximin which really kick-started this upturn in results. He’s unplayable at times.”

And of the out-of-contract players, who do you think will stay and who will go?

LK: “Federico Fernandez and Fabian Schar are the two main players who could depart. I think the Argentine is the most likely to remain. Schar was close to leaving in January and despite a year extension clause being activated in his deal, most likely, he may well still depart.”

MS: “The club will certainly activate the extension in Fabian Schar’s contract, and it looks like Dwight Gayle will stay too. However, the others are harder to call. Keeping Federico Fernandez must be a priority for the club.”

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