He’s not the only one at St James’ Park, though. Florian Lejeune’s La Liga loan was full of positivity, while Freddie Woodman inspired Swansea City to within a penalty shootout of a Premier League return.
All three face some crucial decisions this summer, as does manager Steve Bruce – and here’s our writers Jordan Cronin, Miles Starforth and Liam Kennedy’s views on the future of the trio, as well as transfer business United need to prioritise.
Do you believe Newcastle United's squad will be better, worse or largely stay the same in terms of quality after the summer transfer window?
JC: “If Newcastle fail to re-sign Joe Willock or a player of similar quality then the squad is instantly weaker but I’m hopeful Bruce can box clever in the transfer window - whether that be loans and free agents - and bring in three or four players that can at least keep it largely the same. Standing still is what Newcastle do best under Mike Ashley - you’ve just got the hope the teams around them don’t go all out and surpass them by spending big.”
MS: “I certainly hope that the squad won’t be any worse come the end of the transfer window. However, this will be a challenging window for a number of reasons. Given the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the club’s finances, Bruce won’t have much room for manoeuvre. It’ll be hard to improve the squad with loans and free agents alone.”
LK: “Last year Newcastle United attempted to improve with a flurry of business in the week after the Middlesbrough debacle and before West Ham United on the opening day. It would be no surprise to see them wait so late again this time around. It would be a shock to see anyone of significance through the door before pre-season. Even with a small budget United have it within their power to improve but I think they are starting from a weaker base than they ended the season, if Joe Willock is not made available by Arsenal. I do have a feeling that one could still happen, though.”
What key areas should Steve Bruce look to strengthen?
JC: “The key areas (minimum) are central defence, centre midfield and striker. A new voice in a defence that shipped 62 league goals last season would be welcomed, while Dwight Gayle and Joelinton, despite the latter’s improved form, aren’t players who provide a huge amount of confidence if Callum Wilson were to get injured. But, for me, Bruce MUST add legs into his midfield. Without Willock or someone similar, it is an area of real concern.”
MS: “The area that stands out is midfield, and much hinges on the club’s chances of re-signing Joe Willock, either on loan or on a permanent deal. Willock brought a dynamism to United’s midfield in the second half of last season. Also, if Federico Fernandez doesn’t sign a new deal, the defence will need strengthening, while it was clear last season during Callum Wilson’s absences through injury that more competition is needed up front."
LK: “Newcastle United have bodies but a lack of quality in midfield. While Isaac Hayden, Jonjo Shelvey and Sean Longstaff can do a job, Matty Longstaff will be let go and frankly Jeff Hendrick hasn’t shown he’s up to the task. Willock needs brought back in or replaced – and that’s before addressing the other issues in the department. Two players needed in this area for me, not just one.”
Should Florian Lejeune have a future at Newcastle United?
JC: “I like Lejeune and I do believe he could still do a job for Bruce but given he’s 30-years-old, has had his injury problems and has one-year remaining on his contract, it makes sense to sell him. The money can hopefully help towards landing a younger and more promising defender - which is clearly Bruce’s thinking as well given the links to Kristoffer Ajer (23) and Ozan Kabak (21).”
MS: “Lejeune did very well at United, but his career at the club was cruelly interrupted by two serious knee injuries. Lejeune is adept at bringing the ball out of defence, and that’s a quality that Graeme Jones, Bruce’s assistant, will appreciate. That said, it might be best for Lejeune - and the club - if the defender moves on this summer after a year out on loan.”
LK: “I like the player, always have. But I wouldn’t be all that bothered if his time is now up. Too many injuries and too much time to really recover from them to be relied upon, as unfortunate as that is. His lack of pace was also a real negative, although his reading of the game sometimes made up for that. A good footballer but United can do better.”
What do you think United will do with Freddie Woodman this summer?
JC: “It’s an extremely difficult one. Ideally, Woodman would be United’s cup keeper and second choice but there are two problems… 1) you’ve got a brilliant back-up in Karl Darlow and 2) you doubt Woodman will want to sit on the bench. He’s 24 now, he needs to be out playing regularly and feel settled. Maybe another loan is the answer but that has its pros and cons, especially for the player.”
MS: “Woodman, we know, doesn’t want to return to Newcastle this season and be a second or third-choice goalkeeper. We also know that Martin Dubravka will again be the club’s No.1 this season. Ideally, Woodman would be loaned out again for more first-team experience ahead of a future challenge for the No.1 spot at United, but he’s a saleable asset, and the club may be tempted to sell him to raise funds - or use him to get Willock from Arsenal. I hope he stays."
LK: “A potential United and England No1 in the future. I want to see Woodman stay at Newcastle. I would send him back out on loan this summer, although ideally I want to see him get a different experience under his belt, having spent a number of seasons with Swansea City in the Championship. Could a continental loan be more beneficial than the second tier? A Premier League one would be even more so.”
Seemingly out-of-form Miguel Almiron is shining for Paraguay in the Copa America, how key is the 27-year-old to Newcastle ahead of next season?
JC: “It’s no surprise because Paraguay know how to get the best out of him. That said, I also think Newcastle do given his form when Graeme Jones first arrived but ultimately, he was sacrificed after the international break. It was like a backhanded compliment to move him into central midfield - he doesn’t fit the system but clearly his workrate is unrivalled, and that’s why he’ll always remain key.”
MS: “I don’t think we saw the best of Almiron going forward at Newcastle last season, though his workrate never dipped. He seemed to best suit the split-striker system used early this year, and much will depend on the starting formation next term.”
LK: “For the good of the team Almiron had to give up some of his natural game at the back end of last season – and that’s OK. At the end of the day, football is a team game. But I want to see Bruce put some time and effort into working Almiron into forward areas more, playing to his strengths. He was brilliant before injury in the false nine role.”