By Sasha Reed
Following a dismal goal-scoring return in Newcastle’s legendary No.9 position, Joelinton’s rejuvenation as a box-to-box midfielder has been nothing short of immense.
Partnered alongside the combative Sean Longstaff and Jonjo Shelvey against Manchester United, the 25-year-old outmuscled and outplayed a Red Devils’ side littered with much-vaunted players. A nutmeg on an exasperated Marcus Rashford and a retrieval of possession against Manchester United’s £73 million-man, Jadon Sancho, echoes a performance more often reminiscent with the opposition’s midfield titans of the Ferguson-era.
Even at the death of the game, Joelinton showcased his high degree of decision-making and aerobic agility. Venturing into the attacking third of the pitch, the 25-year-old threaded a measured through-ball between the blundering feet of Maguire and Telles. It was an opportunity that went abegging and yet it provided a glimpse of the Brazilian’s ability to conjure up chances on the counter — a vital principle of his manager’s footballing philosophy.
Eddie Howe’s reprieve of a player — often scapegoated and lamented amongst the media for Newcastle’s demise — should not be ignored. It is a reminder that, at any given stage in a glittering or otherwise plateaued career, players harness the capability to reinvent themselves. They have the propensity to abandon the rigid positional label consecrated on their augmented player profile.
Nevertheless, a more immediate question might eclipse the Newcastle fans’ enthusiasm surrounding Joelinton’s surge: to what extent can Eddie Howe exploit the potential of those players currently in the Newcastle United squad?
Following the club’s successful takeover by a Saudi-Arabian consortium in October, attention naturally turned towards the transfer window. Reinforcements were plotted and a budget subsequently constructed to provide sufficient ammunition to propel Newcastle to lofty heights to match the expectant owner’s ambitions.
Despite this, a revival of a player that was — just three weeks ago — deemed to be depreciating exponentially in value challenges the necessity of numerous incomings and outgoings of the present squad. Those on the fringes have the chance to stake their claim to a manager that is willing to listen, even amidst the burdensome pressures that come from fighting for Premier League survival.
This might not be the case for Newcastle’s defensive players. Having conceded a joint-league high of 42 goals, the emphasis must be placed on reinvigorating an ageing backline that is devoid of leadership and riddled with inconsistencies. Indeed, no side in the topflight division has conceded more goals in the last fifteen minutes of play.
The club’s first January transfer signing, therefore, represents one of astute business. Having previously worked alongside Eddie Howe at Burnley, Kieran Trippier arrives at St. James’ Park following a successful stint at Atlético Madrid under Diego Simeone’s stewardship.
At 31 years old, the right-back is not necessarily a signing which alludes to the long-term ambitions of the club, but he brings an abundance of expertise given his experience within the latter stages of both club and international competitions.
Having scored that free kick against Croatia in the World Cup Semi-Final, Tyneside have bought a player with a potent set-piece delivery — an option that has the capability to harness the team’s physical presence.
More additions within the defensive line are being monitored and enquired about by Newcastle’s hierarchy. Talks are currently ongoing for a ball-playing centre back, with Sevilla’s Diego Carlos and Lille’s Sven Botman remedial solutions in both the immediate and distant future.
With these targets however being of interest to clubs around the European peninsula, the real challenge remains in Newcastle’s ability to convince these star players to swap security for the prospective challenges that come with being embroiled in a relegation battle.
Indeed, though Newcastle deserved to win against Manchester United, an 8-week injury obtained by Callum Wilson and the images of Allan Saint-Maximan limping off the pitch during the match were concerning. It highlighted the team’s overreliance on these players to provide the team’s focal attacking threat.
Reinforcements must be acquired to account for this goal-scoring fragility. Alongside the recent signing of Chris Wood to strengthen their attack, there are potential tantalising targets including that of the exiled Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Eddie Nketiah, and Anthony Martial. All players are equipped with Premier League exposure — a major component in the thought processes of those assembling the club’s wish list.
However, another forward being discussed is the £25 million-rated Hugo Ekitike, plying his trade for Reims in Ligue 1 with eight goals and two assists in 17 league appearances.
Regardless of whether the targets are acquired, it is undeniable that the January transfer window represents a defining period for Newcastle. It is a club whose history is undoubtedly entrenched within the country’s topflight division and the ambitious owners will be hoping that this continues long beyond this season.
Image: machernucha via Openverse