Action Images via Reuters/Matthew Childs
The last few weeks have been peppered with headlines decrying a lack of action by Newcastle’s hierarchy. From fan protests through the city centre to a parliamentary petition, voices have been raised in calling for an end to Mike Ashley’s lack of spending.
But while the purse strings have been tightly guarded, there has been some significant progress made.
However, the pre-season friendlies have all pointed in the same direction. Last season’s lack of attacking potency is still a problem needing to urgent address.
With three days remaining for Premier League clubs to conclude their summer’s business, Newcastle could yet wrap up deals which would answer recent criticism.
But will two new forwards be enough to appease worries and disprove the notion that their owner is undeserving of at least some praise for his clubs overarching plan?
New faces, same problems
Pre-season should be the time for dreams. A time for restoring hope that improvements have been made and previous mistakes rectified.
In football, this is largely gauged by new signings, of potential idols arriving to pump excitement into the terraces. But is this a false metric?
Newcastle’s transfer business this summer has generally seen the like-for-like replacement of four fringe players for arrivals who each have the potential to make a big impact in their team.
While none of these incoming players have captured the imagination, they have upgraded the quality within the squad at Benitez’s disposal.
So has their business this summer to date really been that bad? Unadventurous, yes, inspiring, no. But sensible rather than exciting does not necessarily equate to bad preparation. It does leave the question of a proven striker still hanging in the balance though.
Premier League quality
Salomon Rondon, should his deal be completed, will provide Newcastle that much-lauded trait this season: Premier League experience.
Although he has yet to hit double figures in any of his three prior Premier League campaigns, the Venezuelan centre-forward offers more in reality than he does to fantasy football managers.
Action Images via Reuters/Lee SmithHis pressing of the opposition when out of possession and link-up play are two qualities which Benitez highly regards. Although defensive contributions are unlikely to help solve Newcastle’s lack of goals, it can help make their wide players much more effective.
Last season saw only eight goals scored between the four main wide forwards despite much of their play directed down the wings.
The physical strength and awareness of Rondon will be a huge improvement to that offered by Joselu and should see more goals scored from the likes of Matt Ritchie and Kenedy.
The unknown quantity
While Yoshinori Muto is largely an unknown quantity, he has shown a well-rounded game in the Bundesliga and will provide real pace to Newcastle’s front line.
The former FC Tokyo captain is also a striker who puts the team’s needs above his own, his relentless work rate similar to that of Rondon.
Intriguingly, both Muto and Rondon have been used primarily as lone strikers in recent seasons. This would tend to indicate Benitez has recruited two players to fill the same position, fitting with his policy of having quality cover in each area of his team.
Although this will allow Muto plenty of time to adapt to life in a new country, as Rondon can slot straight into the side, it also leaves a major gap in the recruitment of new players so far this summer.
Come in, Number 10
The players linked to follow Rondon to Tyneside have ranged from Danny Ings to Lyon’s Myziane Maolida. However, they too are centre-forwards who would be competing for this same position in the team.
What Newcastle also need is an auxiliary striker who can help the Magpies move the ball through the centre of the pitch.
Action Images via Reuters/Lee SmithAyoze Perez provided moments of brilliance and frustration in equal measures last season. Although it is thought Jacob Murphy can be moulded into this role in the future, it seems clear that a new signing is needed to provide direct competition to Pérez this season.
Whether Newcastle can attract the likes of Jack Grealish or Miguel Almiron to Tyneside this season could well decide if their recruitment is to be regarded as successful.
The elusive signature
Claiming success before a ball has been kicked is a decidedly risky game though. Most people were in agreement last summer that Everton, Swansea, West Bromwich Albion and Southampton all had reasons to be joyful, however, it did not take long for their respective bubbles to be burst.
The clubs who fared best last season were the clubs who executed the best-lain plans. From Manchester City’s long-term grooming project which tailored them to Pep Guardiola’s philosophy to the likes of Brighton and Burnley who excelled by maintaining their long-held vision and direction.
Newcastle United also prospered by keeping their faith in Benitez. Defying the headlines to remain on Tyneside, he proved his team were far better than the miscalculated sum of their parts. This season is shaping up to be the same again.
Now entering the final season of his current contract, Benitez is the one person who Newcastle fans sincerely want to see applying ink to paper. Only if this happens will the summer’s activity truly be claimed as a success in the eyes of many.