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I think it’s fair to say that, despite some admirable performances, Rafa Benitez needs to improve several positions to begin realising his Newcastle dream in earnest.
Given the weaknesses of Ayoze Perez despite his obvious talents, and the obvious limitations of Mo Diame, a proper no.10 may be on the manager’s list. A bust-up this week between Jamaal Lascelles and Diame was based apparently on the former Hull midfielder being lazy in training and there will only be one winner in such a fight at this club ultimately.
A proper striker is a priority, but with prices as they are and flow of money being tight, the hierarchy wouldn’t envisage throwing too much money on a No.9, given that the club possess three players battling for the that position. Joselu, Dwight Gayle and Aleksandar Mitrovic will continue to fight this particular battle.
Here though are two players for two other positions Newcastle who they have to sign in January:
The 23-year-old Belgian is an impressive central midfield performer and someone who Benitez is clearly keen on. Given the state of play currently, Rafa will need one more good player in this position to be truly comfortable and it seems like Praet is the one.
Neither Isaac Hayden nor Jonjo Shelvey have been 100% trustworthy, though both offer something different to the team. Mikel Merino is now the shining light in this position and Jack Colback is currently not on the radar. So there are essentially three players for four squad positions available and not all of them are up to the required standard set by Benitez.
The left-back has been capped by Argentina this year and is improving nicely. Given his form and also his injury record, Frenchman Massadio Haidara cannot be trusted as a long-term option in this position for the Toon. So things have been left over to the hard working, if unspectacular Paul Dummett.
With Dummett himself out with a long-term injury, the club have relied on Javier Manquillo and even Chancel Mbemba playing out of position to cover this area and that is seen as unacceptable by Benitez.
Tagliafico offers solidity, class and the likelihood of improvement over the next few years in a position which has plagued this club for years now. Dummett is not the most popular player among Newcastle fans, something I’ve always found astounding given his work rate and how much he means to Benitez.
That said, he is not the type of individual who can take the club forward and so he is likely to be replaced as first choice left-back soon, perhaps by Tagliafico.