The Toon 22: Analysts name the players Newcastle must consider before January’s transfer window

Newcastle United’s new owners face an enormous challenge in the transfer market as they balance the need for survival this season with a future assault on the top six, insist recruitment and financial analysts.

Working with recruitment specialists AiAbacus, Sportsmail have scoured international football to find the best buys to keep Newcastle in the top tier this season, while leaving the bulk of the funds available for bigger signings later on.

Top options include Fiorentina centre-back Nikola Milenkovic, Marseille midfielder Boubacar Kamara, Borussia Monchengladbach’s Denis Zakaria, Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard and a host of potential strikers, like Switzerland forward Haris Seferovic, Nice’s French frontman Amine Gouiri and Genk’s Ebere Onuachu.

And some more familiar faces have emerged, too, like Alexandre Lacazette, Divock Origi and Dominic Solanke, all of whom know the Premier League well.

Newcastle fans have been hopeful of some stellar signings, like Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappe, after the club was taken over by a Saudi-backed consortium, but looks unlikely

The analysts have used artificial intelligence to match potential signings against the Magpies’ current playing style and squad. The key in January, says AiAbacus data analyst Andy Forrester, is to buy players who hit the ground running and make an immediate impact on the battle for survival. 

However, there is a very delicate balance to be struck between what the new Saudi-backed owners spend now and what is then available in the future, because of the limitations imposed by Financial Fair Play rules.

It is this balance that is believed to lie behind reports that Newcastle will ‘only’ look to spend £50million in the coming January transfer window, thereby saving the bulk of their war chest.

CENTRE BACK OPTIONS

Newcastle have plenty of centre backs, but not of adequate quality both with and without the ball.  The first challenge is to stop Toon shipping goals. They have conceded more than any other team in the top flight, this season.

Ideally, Newcastle may want a ball-playing centre half, who can help them move away from their current style, but their perilous situation in the Premier League may dictate their options in January. Analysis by AiAbacus suggests the following players would be an improvement on what they already have.

James Tarkowski, 28, (Burnley). Market value: £20M

Pros: Contract expires in the summer reducing his value, still the right side of 30 and an experienced Premier League defender, who would be an improvement on current options. 

Cons: Burnley are relegation rivals and may be reluctant to sell and Newcastle may feel he doesn’t fix the long-term problem of lack of a build-up defender. 

John Brooks, 28, (Wolfsburg). Market value: £17M

Pros: Contract expires in the summer, experienced international with 45 caps for the United States, he is good on the ball as well as a strong defender. 

Cons: It is a step up to the Premier League from the Bundesliga.

Nikola Milenkovic, 24, (Fiorentina). Market value: £28M

Pros: Talented international defender with 31 caps for Serbia, a very good age for long term development, a lot of potential. Fiorentina and Newcastle play a similar style. 

Cons: He needs a good coach. He has no Premier League experience and doesn’t speak English, so may not be able to make the immediate impact required.

Analysis of centre backs available to Newcastle United, which suggests James Tarkowski, John Brooks and Nikola Milenkovic may be an improvement on current options

Analysis of centre backs available to Newcastle United, which suggests James Tarkowski, John Brooks and Nikola Milenkovic may be an improvement on current options

While Kylian Mbappe and Harry Kane and the like might become future transfer targets, there would be little point in plunging them into a Premier League dogfight now, even if they would somehow consider coming.

Newcastle need players who can fit in with the existing group and deliver immediately. That means people who can adapt to Newcastle’s style, even though it may change in seasons to come, and who can be bought at a good price.

‘You would expect them to sign players in this window to secure Premier League survival,’ said Dr Rob Wilson, an expert in sports business management at Sheffield Hallam University.

‘I would expect the investment in January to be around £60m to £70m and that makes a huge difference.

‘You would not go in and buy a Paul Pogba. Those players want to play for a team already at the top. I think they will be looking at mid-tier players, rather than top tier. Players who can push them up the division.’

CENTRE MIDFIELD OPTIONS

Under former boss, Rafa Benitez, Sean Longstaff, 23, and Isaac Hayden, 26, looked a strong pair, sitting in front of the defence. However, under Steve Bruce, Newcastle’s defence seems to have lost a lot of protection from midfield. 

They could bring in a traditional No.6 to solidify the defensive area, or alternatively, work with Longstaff and Hayden and then recruit a player who offers more going forward in the form of a No.8 or No.10 to secure creativity/goals. 

Defensive Midfielders No. 6s:

Boubacar Kamara (Marseille). Market value: £25M

Newcastle’s recruitment department seem to have chased this player forever, with an offer rejected in the summer. They could return in January, now with a stronger financial muscle and with the added bonus of the player entering the last 6 months of his contract. Marseille have offered an extension but  Kamara doesn’t seem to be willing to sign it so far, which may well lower his price. More of a defensive 6, having moved from originally playing centre back.

Denis Zakaria (Borussia Monchengladbach). Market Value: £27.5M 

His contract is also up in the summer and he is considered a slightly better all-round player than Kamara and may end up costing more. Zakaria played 25 games in the Bundesliga last season and scored once, this terms he has six appearances and two goals.

Florian Grillitsch (Hoffenheim). Market Value: £23M

Grillitsch’s contract is also up in the summer and he is a versatile, hardworking ball player that can play a 6 or 8, thereby offering more flexibility. He is an ex-teammate of Joelinton, increasing the chance he will hit the ground running. He may also be affordable in this window, given FFP constraints.

Box-to-box midfielders No.8s:  

Florian Neuhaus (Borussia Monchengladbach). Market value: £34M

This would be an exciting, albeit ambitious signing in terms of quality and cost. Neuhaus, whose contract runs until 2024, is a highly-talented young central midfielder, making his way into the German national side, and has recently been chased by Liverpool with rumours of long-term links to Bayern Munich. But money talks and this player would definitely be a statement of intent. 

Ross Barkley (Chelsea). Market value: LOAN

A temporary option. The stumbling block with other clubs has been Barkley’s wages but could be a sensible short term solution.

Attacking midfielders No.10s:

Jesse Lingard (Manchester United). Market Value: £20M

A proven talent, Lingard has the appetite to succeed and will want to play ahead of the World Cup. An experienced Premier League player with a point to prove – and his contract expires in summer.

Other options suggested by the AiAbacus analysis include, Jens-Lys Cajuste (Midtjylland; market value £6M), who is a talented young Swedish international looking for a step up to a better league. In addition, there is Youssof Fofana (Monaco; market value £23M). French youth international, strong in the tackle and capable of springing counter attacks which suits Newcastle.   

If Newcastle can provide defensive midfield cover from within the existing squad it would release funds to bring in an exciting attacking talent like, Jesse Lingard

If Newcastle can provide defensive midfield cover from within the existing squad it would release funds to bring in an exciting attacking talent like, Jesse Lingard

Following the £305m takeover of the club from Mike Ashley, Newcastle are in an enviable financial position.

The new owners, backed by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund may have money to burn, but their expenditure will initially be limited to around £200m in a three-year rolling period, due to the FFP rules and once some early commercial deals have been struck.

So, what Newcastle spend now will eat into the cash they have available in the two-and-a-half years that follow.

While Newcastle’s reported desire to limit spending to just £50m in January may be something of a red herring – to dissuade selling clubs and agents from hiking their prices too much – it is unlikely the new owners will blow the budget in the first window.

There are ways, albeit tricky, of limiting cost though.

‘I think this is a difficult task,’ Forrester, who advises Premier League and EFL clubs on transfer targets and best fit, told Sportsmail.

‘It’s extremely difficult for any Premier League club to recruit three or four players of adequate quality, who are a drastic improvement on what they currently have, with top-flight experience and a good fit for the club’s system, without spending more than £50m.

CENTRE FORWARD OPTIONS

Newcastle have scored at a reasonable rate in the Premier League this season, with striker Callum Wilson prominent when fit. However, Wilson has missed four games with a hamstring injury and a similar issue kept him out of seven games last spring. Newcastle may well want to strengthen in this area.

The Magpies could do well to build around a target man, with Wilson playing off him. Newcastle have decent crossers of the ball in Matt Ritchie, Ryan Fraser, Jacob Murphy and Jonjo Shelvey. So, a target man may work well in a system with a lot of balls into the box as an alternative to their counter attacking style.

Target man:

Ebere Onuachu, 27, (Genk). Market value: £21M

A rangy striker, who netted 35 goals in Belgium last season. Onuachu is noted for his aerial ability and caused West Ham United problems in the first half of their 3-0 Europa League win against Genk on Thursday, heading over and wide at 0-0.

Finisher:

Haris Seferovic, 29, (Benfica). Market value: £12.1M

The experienced Swiss has 24 international goals in 82 appearances for his country. Known for his finishing, Seferovic has scored 69 times in 175 matches for Benfica since 2017. He is also noted for his pressing ability, which would help Newcastle defend from the front. Having missed most of this season with a muscle injury Seferovic has fallen down the pecking order at Benfica and may relish a new challenge.

English experience:

Dominic Solanke, 24, (Bournemouth). Market value: £11M

Solanke has not yet fulfilled his potential in the Premier League, but is benefiting from consistent appearances in the Championship. He netted 15 goals in 40 league games last term. He has plenty of Premier League experience, but not a goal-scoring record in the top flight, so Newcastle may feel he does not add to what they already have.

Versatile across frontline:

Amine Gouiri, 21, (Nice). Market value: £30M

Considered a bright prospect in France, Gouiri is a regular for the country’s U21 side. He scored 12 times in 34 Ligue 1 appearances last season and has been on fire this term, netting five in nine games, with three assists. Gouiri would be an exciting investment, but January may not be the time.

Other Options: 

The AiAbacus analysis includes lanky front man, Sasa Kaladjdzic, 24, (Stuttgart; market value: £20M), who has been likened to Peter Crouch, but is currently sidelined with a shoulder injury.

In addition, other options include, Danish forward, Jonas Wind, 22, (Copenhagen; market value £19M), Italian Gianluca Scamacca (Sassuolo; market value £13M); Rennes’ number nine, Frenchman Sehrou Guirassy, 25, (Rennes; market value £17.9m); Spaniard Borja Mayoral, 24, (Roma, on loan from Real Madrid; market value £13M) and Swiss Breel-Donald Embolo, 24, (Borussia Mönchengladbach, market value £14M).

Closer to home with proven Premier League experience Arsenal’s Alexandre Lacazette, 30, with 51 league goals for the Gunners in 131 top flight appearances and Liverpool’s super-sub, Divock Origi, 26, could fit the bill.

This chart shows which strikers would fit into Newcastle's style of play and gel with existing personnel, based on social characteristics (like language skills) and the type of players they have linked up well with in the past.  The best fits are in the top right corner

This chart shows which strikers would fit into Newcastle’s style of play and gel with existing personnel, based on social characteristics (like language skills) and the type of players they have linked up well with in the past.  The best fits are in the top right corner

‘I think something would need to give. 

‘But I agree that recruitment will have to be separated into two stages: Survival this season and a longer-term approach for future success from the summer.

‘It’s tricky in this window. Newcastle can’t gamble too much on youth if they’re in a relegation fight, but they also don’t want to overspend on experience as if they do stay up they’re then stuck with players on a potentially costly contract.

‘A smart policy would be to target a strong core spine throughout the squad, possibly with a focus on players nearing the end of contracts that could have a more immediate impact.’ 

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