It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions for Newcastle United fans this summer.
But the rumours predictably fizzled out and reality was restored on Tyneside.
Benitez, who has given next to nothing to work with during his time at St James’ Park, was replaced by Steve Bruce.
It was an appointment that infuriated the fanbase and Ashley’s decision to hand the new boss a £90m war-chest was one that intensified feelings of bewilderment and fury.
With the reported budget in mind, it’s worth pondering how could Bruce’s side lineup on the opening day.
Football FanCast have explored a number of possibilities, including dream and nightmare XIs…
As things stand, Bruce needs to make some serious moves in the transfer market if he and his Newcastle side are to stand a chance against the Gunners next month.
The addition of Joelinton has filled the void left by Salomon Rondon, but he will need excellent players around him to thrive at the spearhead of the attack next season.
Benitez brought pace and skill to St James’ Park with the addition of Miguel Almiron in January, though Perez’s departure leaves Newcastle light in that department once again.
Bowen, who plays for Championship side Hull City, has been described by his manager as “a special boy and special talent”, while Saint-Maximin completed a whopping 4.2 dribbles per game last season, winning an average of 2 fouls per game in the process, per Whoscored.
Bristol Live reports that Newcastle are keen on £30m Adam Webster, who enjoyed a stellar campaign with the Robins last term. With Jamaal Lascelles looking increasingly suspect in his defensive work, it’s no wonder that the Magpies are keen on gigantic Webster, who averaged a match rating of 7.3 last term.
If Bruce can land these three huge talents and keep hold of Sean Longstaff, his side will be looking in promising shape on the opening day of the season.
Newcastle’s nightmare situation would leave them with an alarming lack of attacking quality beyond Joelinton and Almiron.
It’s a scary prospect for the Toon Army to ponder over but one that isn’t beyond the realms of possibility given Mike Ashley’s history.
Meanwhile, Newcastle could be set to lose one of their most exciting stars in Sean Longstaff, who has caught the eye of Manchester United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
The 21-year-old received high praise from Pep Guardiola for his instrumental role in handing the champions their fourth and final league defeat of the season back in January, and it would be a disaster if Newcastle sold him this summer before his career at St James’ Park really got going.
Should Bruce decline to dip into the market, he may opt to freshen up his side by giving a handful of promising youth players a chance, particularly Elias Sorensen, who could be a candidate to partner Joelinton in attack.
The Dane was one of very few positives to take from the Wolves defeat earlier in pre-season, putting himself about well and showing good ability on the ball in his 30-minute cameo. Crucially, he chalked up 16 goals and two assists in 25 appearances for the development side last term.
Meanwhile, Newcastle’s reserve team captain, Owen Bailey, is a player who could be on the cusp of a first team breakthrough this season and he’s certainly one to watch out for.
If Martin Dubravka was to pick up an injury between now and the start of the season, Freddie Woodman, 22, would be a strong candidate to take the gloves.
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The most-likely XI doesn’t look a whole lot different from the nightmare XI, and that’s telling about what we’ve learned from Newcastle’s transfer activity in recent years.
The only notable difference is that Longstaff features in this team, starting in central midfield alongside Isaac Hayden and Jonjo Shelvey.
Martin Dubravka is immovable between the sticks, while Fabian Schar established himself as Benitez’s best option at centre-back by far and away last term, averaging a match rating of 7.3 in the league and scoring four goals.
Reports had linked Newcastle with a move for CSKA Moscow’s Mario Fernandes as a replacement for DeAndre Yedlin, although nothing further has been reported since the end of May, so it seems likely that the speedy Statesman will remain first-choice right-back this season.
For the sake of ensuring defensive solidity, Almiron is likely to be forced wide to ensure the midfield is packed enough to suffocate Arsenal’s most creative and dynamic players.