As expected, Newcastle went on something of a spending spree in January.
Backed by the Saudi-owned PIF, the Magpies spent £82.8m adding five key players to their squad during the January window. Five players that add quality and tactical dimension to the way Eddie Howe can shape his side as he looks to escape the spectre of relegation.
In the most obvious move, Chris Wood will give them a target up-front. A rough-and-ready reference for when the going gets tough and Callum Wilson is injured again. Wood is veteran of many Premier League relegation scraps, so his experience will be huge.
Kieran Trippier is a straightforward improvement on basically Newcastle’s entire right-flank. The England international won La Liga with Atlético Madrid last season and Diego Simeone didn’t want to lose Trippier in January, only acquiescing because the Englishman wanted to come home. Newcastle will pick up a big W here as he is sensational.
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Matt Targett joins on loan from Aston Villa, where he has been usurped by Lucas Digne. Targett is a no nonsense full-back loaded with the kind of up-and-down drive and end product that the Magpies need.
Dan Burn arrives to help stabilise the back-line. The colossal defender (he stands at 201cm aka a towering 6’7) grew up supporting Newcastle United and so will doubtless be delighted to be joining Eddie Howe’s revamped Magpies. He will bring size, skill an solidity to a back-line that desperately needs it.
Bruno Guimaraes is the least known of Newcastle’s new signings but is unquestionably the best. The Brazilian defensive midfielder is masterful at winning the back and recycling possession with smart, progressive passes. This guy is a monster and to get him for just £33.3m in this economy is a steal. He will bring much quality to the Newcastle midfield.
With their new signings, Newcastle can finally start to play something like the free-flowing football we’ve become accustomed to from Eddie Howe. While Trippier, Burn and Targett will all instantly start and bring the whole defence up to Fabian Schar’s level, ensuring that Newcastle may be able to have a solid defence for the first time in forever, the key will be in midfield.
Joelinton’s transformation into a box-to-box midfield dynamo under Eddie Howe has been impressive to see, but while he is an excellent force in tackles, aerial duels and dribbling, he isn’t much of a passer, an orchestrator. New man Bruno Guimaraes is exactly that, however, playing more passes into the final third (226) than any other midfielder in Europe’s top five leagues so far this season.
Given the control offered by Bruno and the defensive cover Joelinton provides, the third midfielder could only be the goalscoring Joe Willock with full license to raid forward and support a front three of Callum Wilson, Ryan Fraser and the effervescent Allan Saint-Maximin. Thanks to the midfield, everyone would see the ball in more advanced positions and so have a better chance of doing damage.
It’s impossible to express how much better Newcastle’s forwards will be with a fully functioning midfield. It is literally transformative for a side. One only need look at how Manchester United’s forward line has been flailing around all season to see that no matter how good attackers are, they need midfielders of equal level to thrive. Well, now Newcastle have the midfield to do the business.
The Big Man
One of the more surprising moves of the January window was Newcastle snagging Chris Wood. It seemed an odd choice for Eddie Howe as Wood was more of a sledgehammer than a scalpel. But you don’t buy a sledgehammer if you don’t plan to smash some stuff, and so Newcastle absolutely have the option to go with the kind of 4-4-2 shape Howe made so familiar during his time at Bournemouth
The back four remains the same as with their ideal line-up, but this time Joelinton and Bruno are placed alone in midfield with Ryan Fraser and Miguel Almiron spread wide. Allan Saint-Maximin could also play in this formation ahead of Almiron, but Fraser is the key winger here, with the focus in attack going on the colossal Wood as Wilson moves around off him in a classic big-man-little-man partnership.
Fraser is essential to this approach, of course. Not only has he worked with Howe before at Bournemouth, but since the start of 2018/19 among regular starters, only Trent Alexander-Arnold and Kevin De Bruyne have attempted more crosses per-90 minutes than his 7.67. And since the start of 2018/19, only James Tarkowski has won more aerial duels total than Chris Wood’s 518.
It’s a match made in heaven.
Finally, if Eddie Howe wanted to switch things up to try and gain an advantage he could switch to a 3-4-2-1 shape. Here club captain Jamal Lascelles comes into the defence to play with Schar and Burn, with Burn in particular being unleashed by the system much as he was at Brighton. Since the start of 2019/20 among centre-backs, only Luke Ayling and Chris Basham have attempted more take-ons than Burns’ 63.
With the tall centre-back driving forward with the ball, and with the two full-backs unshackled as wing-backs, and with Joe Willock’s constant raids forward without the ball, this team would have an awful lot of thrust. The central midfield duo of Bruno Guimaraes and Jonjo Shelvey would be the exceptions of course, holding position and spraying forward passes to hit all the runners in stride.
Chris Wood leads the line, serving as an attacking pivot for all the forward runs from the rest of the side. As Eddie Howe would seek to bombard and bamboozle opponents with sheer movement and momentum, all possible thanks to his handful of new signings.