Written by Joe Sharpe
No matter which way you look at it, Newcastle have a tough job trying to get out of the Championship on the first time of asking.
They’re the bookie’s favourites, but the high-profile (and probably expected) outgoing transfers of Townsend and Wijnaldum have definitely weakened the team.
And while Sissoko has made it ABUNDANTLY clear he wants to leave, rumours are circulating of bids for Perez, Tiote and Thauvin. While Perez has already made clear his intention to stay on Tyneside this coming season, the same cannot be said for the other two.
Strong enforcements have arrived but it’s a big league with 46 games, and Rafa will need a quality squad to call on.
So here are five “fringe” players that could boss the Championship next season, and play a big part in the toon’s promotion chase.
Little Vern has had an up-down career in a Toon shirt.
Pardew, Carver and McLaren all failed to get the best out of him, despite games where he absolutely ran the show (final match of 2014/15 against West Ham anyone?).
But this season could be different.
Rafa’s been praising him pre-season for his ability to play in “multiple positions”, which is vital for the squad. Newcastle will be the team to beat next season, and there’s already talk of every game being a “Cup Final”.
Having a versatile, well-experienced player like Anita who has quick feet, uses the ball well and keeps possession, could be a God send.Now he’s finally working with a good manager, we could see him step up a gear.
Siem de Jong
The Dutchman polarises Newcastle fans more than any other player in the squad.
They either think he’s made of glass and pritt-stick and simply not physically capable of staying fit for longer than a month at a time, or he’s a quality player that’s been consistently unlucky during his spell in England.
Personally, I’m an optimist. I think de Jong’s intelligence will be too much for Championship defences, and he could get assists for fun in that league.
We’ve got pace and youth with players like Gayle, Perez and Mitro (maybe not pace in his case), but his calm head and clever passing means de Jong asks different questions of the opposition.
I reckon team at the bottom of the table will set up to defend well against us and not concede (especially at St James’), so we’re going to need as many goal-scoring options as possible, and de Jong can provide them.
That’s only if he stays fit, and that’s a big IF.
Another player whose injuries have hampered his development, but Aarons is class act. He’s quick, tricky, gets goals and terrorises fullbacks when he runs at them.
During pre-season Aarons was one of the stand-out players, and is going into the first game against Fulham full of confidence.
From the looks of it, Rafa prefers a 4-2-3-1 formation, and Rolando could easily claim one of those winger spots along with Matt Richie, which is a tasty proposition.
He’s my pick for Player of the Season.
I’m probably going to get hammered for this one, but I think the Gouff has a role to play.
I agree he doesn’t look like a player with Premier League quality, but the Championship and Ligue 1 aren’t a million miles apart.
In his last two seasons with Bordeaux he got 22 league goals in 54 appearances, which is a very good return for a player who effectively is a wide midfielder by trade.
Plus he found the net in the friendly against Southend, which caused a Toon meltdown on Twitter.
With his experience, he reminds me a bit of Løvenkrands last time we dropped out of the top flight, and the Dane had a great season.
Could he surprise us and gate-crash the first team?
It’s not yet clear what Rafa’s plans are for Mbabu, who could still be loaned out.
Personally, I’m hoping he gets the chance to prove himself.
He showed glimpses of being a top defender last year particularly in the game against Chelsea, and has bulked up ready for the new season.
The youngster’s already been impressive with the Under-21s pre-season, using his power and pace to both defend and get forward.
Has he matured enough physically and mentally to throw down a challenge for the left back spot?
Which players do you think will make an impact next season?