Newcastle United can move a step closer to retaining their Premier League status when they host fellow strugglers Huddersfield Town at St James’ Park on Saturday, and they will be looking for their third successive top flight win on their own patch.
After a decent start to the campaign the Magpies suffered a real lull mid-season that plummeted them back down into trouble at the wrong end of the table, but they have hit form in the last couple of months to which has left them four points clear of the relegation zone.
Consecutive victories on Tyneside against Manchester United and Southampton without conceding have left them in a good – but still precarious – position, but a triumph against the Terriers would certainly make them more comfortable, and leave them with seven matches to get the five points that would see them reach the magic 40-point mark, which would usually be enough to guarantee their safety.
Manager Rafa Benitez will already be planning for next season whichever league the Toon find themselves in, and he needs to be considering making big changes if they do survive.
The Spaniard will probably consider walking away unless he is backed by Mike Ashley or any prospective new owner, and he will want significant funds to improve his squad to try and help them start to challenge for a top-half finish next season.
Firstly though, he would need to move the deadwood out of St James’ Park, and there is plenty of it.
Full-backs Jesus Gamez and Massadio Haidara’s contracts both expire at the end of the season and with two Premier League appearances between them this term, they will almost certainly both be on their way in the summer.
Meanwhile, Mats Selz, Jack Colback, Henri Saivet, Achraf Lazaar and Aleksandar Mitrovic are all currently on loan with the latter the only one who potentially stands a chance of staying on Tyneside when he returns at the end of the season given that he has scored seven goals in nine games for Fulham since joining them during the January transfer window – much to the annoyance of the Magpies fans.
However, with Benitez clearly not trusting him because of his temperament, the Spaniard should look to move him on and replace him with another centre-forward.
While those fringe players will leave, the former Liverpool and Real Madrid boss will also be taking a look at the first-team squad he has right now and believe that some need to be moved on and replaced with better quality.
Between the sticks, if Martin Dubravka signs a permanent deal at the end of his loan and Freddie Woodman is involved next season after his loan spell with Aberdeen, the futures of Karl Darlow and Rob Elliot will surely be in doubt, with at least one of them – and maybe both – going.
In defence, Chancel Mbemba could go with Benitez obviously not fancying him considering he has played just 673 minutes of Premier League football this term, while one of Isaac Hayden or Mikel Merino could also leave if the Spanish manager signs a new midfielder this summer, with Jonjo Shelvey and Mo Diame currently established as the first-choice pairing in the middle of the park.
Up top, Dwight Gayle looks likely to stay but it remains unclear whether the Magpies will try and sign Islam Slimani on a permanent basis given he has yet to play for them following his loan move from Leicester City in January.
Benitez will be looking to sign a new striker whatever happens this summer – it may or may not be Slimani – and he should consider moving Joselu on considering the striker has been something of a flop having scored just four goals in 27 appearances in all competitions, and having missed some real sitters on more than one occasion.
The 6ft 4in centre-forward can’t be relied on to play up top on his own because he isn’t prolific, and the club may feel that they can get an upgrade on him this summer.
Not counting Gamez and Haidara who will go anyway, Newcastle should be looking to ship out 10 first-team players – Sels, Colback, Saviet, Lazaar, Mitrovic, Darlow, Elliot, Mbemba, Hayden/Merino and Joselu – this summer if they stay up, and doing that would allow Benitez to bring in new blood to help the team push on next season.