Newcastle United and manager Rafa Benitez secured a brilliant 10th-place finish in their first season back in the Premier League following a one-year absence, and while they had their ups and downs throughout the campaign, in the end they avoided being embroiled in a relegation battle and were safe in April following a fine run of form.
The Spaniard will certainly be keen to significantly strengthen his squad this summer – hopefully with the backing of owner Mike Ashley – if the Tyneside outfit are to push on and progress in the 2018/19 season, and he will surely focus his attentions on bringing in new attacking players given his team only scored 39 goals in their 38 top flight fixtures last term.
The Toon, whose fans are unhappy with a transfer link to a Championship midfielder, ideally need more goals from out wide if they are to begin to push for Europa League qualification, and the former Real Madrid and Liverpool boss will also potentially want two new strikers, too.
With Joselu failing to fire, Dwight Gayle not a consistent goalscorer at this level and Aleksandar Mitrovic looking likely to go having shone during a loan spell with Fulham in the second-half of the previous campaign, at least one centre-forward is a priority.
Benitez will be confident of getting one of those in if he is given the right budget, and he may well hope that reinforcements in the final third can help them improve as he will want them to.
The 58-year-old is in something of a minority in the Premier League right now seeing as he prefers to play with a 4-4-1-1 or 4-4-2 system, and while it clearly worked last term it could be more difficult for Newcastle in general now the other top flight sides generally know how they are going to play and how to exploit their weaknesses.
The tactically-astute Benitez perhaps needs to look for a new formation before the new season in order to bring some unpredictability to his side’s playing style, and he perhaps should be learning a lot from England manager Gareth Southgate.
As shown by the Three Lions’ win in their opening 2018 World Cup fixture against Tunisia on Monday – especially in the first 25 minutes or so – the players have adapted quickly and are well suited to the flexible 3-5-2 formation that the 47-year-old has introduced.
With a couple of additions, Newcastle certainly have the players to work in that system too, with four decent central midfield options in Mo Diame, Jonjo Shelvey, Mikel Merino and Isaac Hayden, and Ayoze Perez or Dwight Gayle able to play alongside a new centre-forward up top.
DeAndre Yedlin would be a great right wing-back and if they could find someone similar on the opposite flank – perhaps Kenedy if they can sort out a deal to bring the Chelsea man to St James’ Park on a permanent basis following a successful loan spell – they will be well set.
The 3-5-2 formation allows a lot of movement in those central areas of the pitch with Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard often pushing forward against Tunisia to leave Jordan Henderson as the deep-lying player when England were attacking, and the same technique could certainly work for Benitez when his team were in need of a goal.
With the energy this Magpies team already has and with the right signings this summer, the Tyneside outfit would be in a great place to follow Southgate’s blueprint and bring even more success for the club in the upcoming season.