Here’s the thing about new-look Newcastle United with new (read: any) transfer funds in January: The team is underperforming so badly that it needs to sort out its new system and see what a long-term manager needs in order to fix this.
Why? Well, for the eyeballs for one thing, but also because there are very few truly dreadful teams in the Premier League this season and the race to avoid the drop is already well and truly on.
That’s because there aren’t a lot of “easy three points” this year, perhaps the culmination of teams reaping the rewards of years of Premier League money and — except most seasons at Newcastle and Burnley — often investing in their club to ensure their PL status.
The capture of Unai Emery with Villarreal in an active Champions League run is unusual, but the nature of this appointment carries echoes of Newcastle’s appointment of Rafa Benitez in 2016. Of course, that was in March and a desperation move that ended in relegation, but the allure of Tyneside is real for managers who can remember Newcastle marching into the Champions League as early as the start of this century.
But what will Emery want in order to bring his vision to Newcastle, should he leave Villarreal as soon as this weekend as indicated by multiple reports?
Here are some logical enough moves for both the suitor and the pursued:
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Alexandre Lacazette to Newcastle
Lacazette, understandably, has little interest in signing up to spend the rest of his prime putting up good numbers but not seeing regular playing time for Mikel Arteta.
The 30-year-old was pursued by Newcastle while at Lyon but owner Mike Ashley never pried open his vault and the player went to Arsenal.
Lacazette’s contract ends this summer and he’d be thrilled to get regular time showcasing himself to suitors. A new boss will want to have someone in addition to Callum Wilson getting on the end of passes from playmakers Allan Saint-Maximin, Miguel Almiron, and Jonjo Shelvey.
The French forward went from 14 goals and five assists in Arsene Wenger’s last PL season to 13 and 10 under Emery, plus another five in the Europa League. He should be getting more run at Arsenal, where he led the team in expected goals and goals last season, but Arteta has other ideas and they are working just fine at the moment.
Newcastle’s owners might not be splashing audacious amounts of money in January, but desperation to stay in the PL and the ability to give teams like Arsenal some money for players they’re likely to lose for free might be too much to pass up.
James Tarkowski (or Ben Mee) to Newcastle
We’re including Mee because he’s four years older than Tarkowski and also set to be out of contract in 2022, but Mee seems likelier to re-up with Sean Dyche’s unit.
Burnley has resisted several Premier League appeals for Tarkowski, 28, but he’s a top defender in the early days of his prime and one who’s helped the Clarets hold firm through several successful relegation battles.
Dyche would be remiss to sell a top player to a bottom-half rival but if Newcastle meets the asking price and brings money in the door that will otherwise not arrive at all? Maybe.
Julian Draxler to Newcastle
The 28-year-old German has long been linked to a Premier League move but spurned interest from outside Paris Saint-Germain this summer in order to play with Lionel Messi.
Well, Draxler’s played about two hours since mid-September and 90 of those came on Oct. 19 against RB Leipzig in the Champions League.
Might he be swayed to try a reunion with the man who brought him from Wolfsburg to the Parc des Princes?
Remember, one of the biggest things that has changed at Newcastle might not be transfer fees as much as the ability to match salaries that are coming from perceived bigger clubs.
Bonus: Ex-Arsenal players in need of a change
There will be winks toward Bernd Leno, who Emery brought to Arsenal and is now firmly behind Aaron Ramsdale, but Martin Dubravka is a very good keeper and finally returning to health.
Newcastle’s been linked with loans for Rob Holding or Callum Chambers in the past, and ex-Arsenal man Joe Willock is now on the books at St. James’ Park and will spare a good word for the location.
Willock, for what it’s worth, broke into Arsenal under Emery. Expect him to play regularly. Might some of Arsenal’s lesser-used players in Willock’s generation, like Eddie Nketiah and Ainsley-Maitland Niles, also be interested in testing the Northeast?