THERE was a time when Rafa Benitez’s future at Newcastle United was far from certain.
The Magpies boss was frustrated by a lack of signings following promotion and prepared to walk out of St James’ Park.
But that threat concentrated the minds of the power brokers on Tyneside and four new signings have been made with more to follow.
Borussia Dortmund midfielder Mikel Merino is set to undergo a medical before completing a season-long loan with the option to buy.
Meanwhile Arsenal’s Kieran Gibbs is a transfer target for the Toon this summer too.
With that in mind, how will Newcastle line up on their return to the Premier League?
Football Whispers answer that question.
Check out the results, including a few potential new faces, below…
Goalkeeper: Karl Darlow
EARLIER in the summer Benitez seemed keen to replace the former Nottingham Forest keeper with a more experienced alternative.
Pepe Reina, who played for the Spaniard at Liverpool, was top of that list but a move from Napoli never got off the ground.
For the time being, therefore, Darlow remains in possession of the No.1 jersey and should start for the Magpies in their Premier League opener against Tottenham Hotspur at St James’ Park.
Right-back: DeAndre Yedlin
SIGNED from North East rivals Sunderland last season, the American international won over supporters and was Benitez’s first-choice at right-back.
That was in spite of the signing of vastly-experienced Atletico Madrid defender Jesus Gamez.
But Yedlin faces competition for his spot in the side this season after the signing of Spain international Javier Manquillo – who spent last term on loan at Sunderland – from Atletico.
Centre-back: Florian Lejeune
ONE of the Magpies’ four summer signings thus far, Lejeune joined from Eibar on a five-year contract for £8.5million to bolster their backline.
Impressive in pre-season, the 26-year-old Frenchman is an imposing presence at 6ft 3in and his arrival suggests Jamaal Lascelles, captain last season, could have a fight on for a place in the side.
Centre-back: Ciaran Clark
BENITEZ made a number of defensive signings last summer and several – Gamez, Grant Hanley and Achraf Lazaar – were flops.
However, Clark was a resounding success on Tyneside and formed a strong partnership with captain Lascelles.
The Irishman, who has top-flight experience with Aston Villa, is unlikely to be dropped on that basis and will look to build on a fine maiden season in the North East on his return to the top flight.
Left-back: Kieran Gibbs
OUT of favour at Arsenal, Gibbs made just eight Premier League starts for the Gunners last season with Nacho Monreal nailing down the left-back slot.
Gibbs will, therefore, leave the north Londoners this summer.
The England international is a Newcastle, Watford and Southampton transfer target.
However, the Magpies need a new No3 most urgently with Paul Dummett the only senior option.
Right midfield: Matt Ritchie
SCOTLAND international Ritchie surprisingly swapped a second season in the Premier League with Bournemouth for a move to relegated Newcastle last summer but he wasn’t made to regret it.
The playmaker was key as the Magpies bounced back at the first attempt, recording 12 goals and seven assists to establish himself as a key man for Benitez’s side.
That won’t change following promotion.
Centre midfield: Jonjo Shelvey
THE former Liverpool man’s career only appeared to be going one way when he was allowed to leave Swansea in January 2016.
Five months after moving to Newcastle, Shelvey was heading to the Championship.
But the England international become one of the leaders of Benitez’s new-look side, scoring five times from deep and supplying eight assists for his team-mates.
This season will be a second chance for the talented 25-year-old.
Centre midfield: Mikel Merino
CENTRAL midfield is one of the areas Benitez is desperate to strengthen despite Isaac Hayden’s emergence as a genuine contender in pre-season.
The former Real Madrid boss also has Mo Diame to call on.
But Borussia Dortmund’s Merino is wanted by the Magpies and will complete a season-long loan in the coming days.
He found chances hard to come by at BVB last season but will bring intelligence and control to Newcastle’s midfield.
Left midfield: Jacob Murphy
EARMARKED as a player of great potential – along with twin brother Josh – while at Norwich, Murphy realised that last season and scored nine times while setting up a further six.
A pacey, tricky and direct wideman, the 22-year-old, who made his England Under-21 debut earlier this year and was at the European Championships this summer, was snapped up for £12m.
Big things will be expected in the top flight.
Attacking midfield: Ayoze Perez
THE tricky Spaniard was not a regular in his first season with the Magpies but showed greater consistency and threat last term playing off Dwight Gayle in a No10 role.
Perez will have fierce competition from Diame, Ritchie and Shelvey – all of whom filled in as the link between midfield and forwards last term.
But in pre-season he has done enough to suggest he’ll get the nod to begin with.
Striker: Dwight Gayle
AFTER three seasons flattering to deceive in the Premier League with Crystal Palace this is a big year for the former Bishop’s Stortford frontman.
Blessed with electric pace and razor-sharp finishing there is no doubting what the 26-year-old can do.
But with a best of seven top-flight goals in a single season the pressure will be on Gayle to deliver and lead the line for the Magpies like a previous No9.
He bagged 26 goals in the Championship last term.
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