Having already assessed Brighton and Hove Albion, our analysis of the promoted sides continues with a look at Championship winners Newcastle United.
The bookmakers’ favourite for the top spot, the Magpies were eventually to fulfil that prophecy by just a single point, having battled with Brighton at the summit over the course of the season.
Rafa Benitez’s side snatched the crown by ending the campaign with three successive victories, while rivals Brighton faltered, suffering two defeats and a draw over the same spell.
Newcastle return to the Premier League at the first attempt, having suffered relegation with 37 points in 2015/16.
CS – Clean sheets
With five defeats, St. James’ Park was far from a fortress, as Newcastle’s home record ranked fourth in the division.
Their 23 goals conceded – a goal a match – saw their defence place eighth from a modest tally of eight clean sheets.
But their attack was on hand to compensate, scoring 49 goals – a tally bettered only by Norwich City. Indeed, their 16.8 shots per game in home matches was second only to Fulham (17.1).
Newcastle were exemplary on their travels, winning 14 matches.
Away trips clearly favoured Benitez’s tactics, with his disciplined defence conceding just 17 goals – or 0.74 goals per match. Their 11 clean sheets on the road was two more than any other Championship side.
In addition, with 36 goals, only Fulham scored more away from home.
Rafa Benitez undoubtedly has the experience and tactical know-how to re-establish the Magpies as a Premier League force.
Boasting twelve trophies, including a Champions League triumph with Liverpool in 2005, Benitez will relish the opportunity to lock horns with the likes of Pep Guardiola and renew his ongoing rivalry with Jose Mourinho once again. Having him back in the Premier League is a good thing.
Best known for his six-year spell at Anfield, Benitez joined Liverpool in 2004 having won two La Liga titles with Valencia, where he also reached two Champions League finals.
Aside from the classic 2005 European triumph over Milan, Benitez also took Liverpool to the final in 2007 and won the FA Cup in 2006. But he was unable to steer them to Premier League glory.
He departed Merseyside in 2010 to take the reins at Inter Milan, only to leave midway through his first season, before taking the role as interim manager of Chelsea in 2012, where he won the Europa League.
Benitez departed Stamford Bridge for Italy once more to become Napoli’s coach in 2013, winning both the Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italiana.
He then moved back to Spain to coach Real Madrid in 2015. That turned into another short-lived tenure – he left in 2016 before arriving on Tyneside.
Brought in to replace Steve McClaren in January 2016, the task of steering Newcastle to Premier League safety proved too much, even for Benitez. However, the Spaniard remained with the club to mastermind an immediate return.
Regarded as a “master tactician”, Benitez is a meticulous manager who demands discipline and work rate from his players and sets his teams up to achieve a fine balance between attack and defence.
On taking over the reins on Tyneside, he emphasised the need for defensive organisation, and he will be expected to prioritise that side of Newcastle’s game on their return to the top flight. That could see them relying on pace on the counter attack, with some emphasis on exploiting set-pieces.
He is a firm advocate of the 4-2-3-1, a system that allows his sides to transition from defence into attack quickly and easily.
Benitez puts emphasis on possession and moving the ball quickly, favouring technicians and pace in attack. The full-backs will likely be relied upon to provide any width, and Benitez is set to favour mobility over a target man up front.
The Promoted Squad
While they lost prime assets over the summer of 2016, Benitez bought wisely, supplementing his squad in crucial areas with players, such as Dwight Gayle and Matt Ritchie, with proven Championship experience.
Having coined the phrase “Rafatation” – it was inevitable that his squad would endure rotation throughout the campaign. However, by the second half of the season, the shuffling had calmed somewhat.
Benitez appeared to rotate in areas where he felt he could deploy like-for-like replacements – changing personnel at right-back (Yedlin/Anita), in the defensive midfield position (Colback/Hayden) and in the number ten role (Diame/Perez). These seem set to remain hotspots next season.
The extent of Benitez’s tinkering will also rely on the success of his summer recruitment programme, although that already looks likely to be extensive.
However, we can hope that a pattern will emerge. Benitez uses rotation to manage conditioning, with those players who cover the most ground often the most vulnerable.
Karl Darlow (34 starts)
The 26-year-old goalkeeper established himself as Newcastle’s first choice after Rob Elliot suffered a career-threatening knee injury back in March 2016.
However, Darlow heads into the Premier League campaign uncertain on his future.
He lost his place to Elliot on his return from injury in April, and Benitez is now said to be chasing replacements in goal, with Darlow thought to be surplus to requirements.
Looking at Darlow’s numbers reveals just how well the Magpies defence performed during their title-winning season. He made a save every 41.9 minutes – a rate that compares with the likes of Spurs Hugo Lloris (38.5) and Manchester United’s David de Gea (40.9), indicating that based on Championship form, a Newcastle keeper may struggle to return significant save points.
However, it is very unlikely that the Magpies defence will offer such protection in the top flight.
DeAndre Yedlin (21 starts, 6 sub appearances, 1 goal, 5 assists)
The jet-heeled American is known to us from his loan spell at Sunderland while on Spurs’ books but, having sealed a £5 million move to Tyneside, it appears that Yedlin’s game has progressed.
A return of five assists from just 21 starts is eye-catching, with his underlying numbers backing this up. Yedlin produced a key pass every 61 minutes – that’s more frequent than any other defender from any of the three promoted sides.
Intriguingly, Yedlin also returned a successful tackle every 39.2 minutes – again, more frequently than any promoted defender – adding to the likelihood that he will challenge for bonus points when the Magpies shut out the opposition.
The major caveat is Yedlin’s defensive qualities, and he was also subject to rotation with Vurnon Anita. That could well continue next season, either with Anita or with a new arrival.
Vurnon Anita (24 starts, 3 sub appearances, 1 assist)
A versatile asset who can be deployed in a holding midfield role or at right-back, Anita offers little Fantasy appeal and, based on the latest paper talk, could be part of Benitez’s planned summer clear-out.
Paul Dummett (44 starts, 1 sub appearance)
The 25-year-old has thrived in the Championship as one of Newcastle’s most reliable performers. He could take that form into the top flight, although Benitez looks set to seek out more pace in the full-back position.
From a Fantasy perspective, Dummett’s appeal looks limited and will rely on a cheap price tag.
He seems unlikely to compete with the centre-backs for bonus points potential and, without Yedlin’s searing pace, he is nowhere near as effective going forward.
Jamal Lascelles (41 starts, 2 sub appearances, 3 goals, 1 assist)
Installed as skipper by Benitez, there is no doubt that the former Forest defender has a huge future in front of him and he could offer Fantasy managers an assured starter in the Magpies rearguard.
A dominant centre-back, Lascelles recorded a clearance, block or interception (CBI) every 8.4 minutes – strong but not quite enough to place him among the very elite of Premier League centre-backs and a figure that lags behind Brighton’s Lewis Dunk (7.7 minutes).
Lascelles went under the knife for surgery on a hernia immediately after sealing promotion, but is expected to return in time for pre-season.
Ciaran Clark (34 starts, 3 goals, 2 assists)
While Lascelles will doubtless be billed as the key man in the Magpies defence, Clark could emerge as the go-to option from a Fantasy perspective.
Sidelined for six weeks from mid-March with a knee injury, the 27-year-old still outperformed his skipper in terms of both minutes per CBI (7.62) and minutes per tackles won (82 vs 114). The same also applies to minutes per shot (131 vs 153), with Clark proving a key threat at set-plays.
Indeed, Clark’s minutes per CBI stat is the most impressive of any defender among the three promoted sides.
On that evidence, it’s the former Villa defender that should perhaps be a potential target. However, with new recruits on the way, it’s uncertain if Clark’s starting role will remain secure.
Chancel Mbemba (12 starts, 1 goal)
As one of the few stand-out performers in Newcastle’s relegation season, it was expected that the 22-year-old centre-back would be a key figure in their bid to achieve promotion.
He has the raw physical qualities of a talented defender, but Mbemba has since become a peripheral figure under Benitez, with the suggestion that the young DR Congo international has struggled to meet his manager’s demands.
However, Mbemba impressed on his return to the starting line-up late in the season during Clark’s absence through injury, and he could yet remain in Benitez’s plans.
Jack Colback (24 starts, 5 sub appearances, 1 assist)
The former Sunderland midfielder made the difficult transition to their rivals on Tyneside and has struggled to win over the Magpies faithful.
Colback is far from assured of a starting role next season and looks destined to provide back-up to Isaac Hayden. Even when starting, Colback offers little to Fantasy managers but the threat of yellow cards -he picked up 10 in his 24 starts last season.
Jonjo Shelvey (38 starts, 4 sub appearances, 5 goals, 8 assists)
A fiery and controversial figure, Shelvey remains a precocious talent who is vital to Benitez’s tactics and will likely be a key figure in Newcastle’s Premier League prospects.
Prompting from deep as the Magpies midfield architect, Shelvey’s vision and passing ability were peerless in the Championship but, on the flipside, he ended the season with 10 yellow cards and served a five-match absence through suspension.
With a shot every 36 minutes and key pass every 38, Shelvey’s numbers suggest he could be a Fantasy prospect although, as a disciplinary time bomb, it’s doubtful whether we will look to him over Matt Ritchie as a midfield option.
Isaac Hayden (28 starts, 5 sub appearances, 2 goals, 3 assists)
A shrewd signing from Arsenal, Hayden became established in Newcastle’s double pivot as a mobile midfield destroyer, complimenting Shelvey as the engineer of attacks from deep.
He is likely to be Benitez’s first choice in that role – barring any new recruits – but, from a Fantasy perspective, Hayden offers little potential for goals and assists.
Christian Atsu (15 starts, 17 sub appearances, 5 goals, 3 assists)
Benitez moved swiftly to take up the option of signing the Chelsea loanee, for a reported fee of £6.2 million, as his first summer capture, underlining the fact that the manager clearly sees a key role for the 25-year-old.
The Ghanaian’s statistics – a shot every 43.6 minutes and a key pass every 54.1 – are encouraging, but not impressive enough to see him rank above Ritchie as a midfield prospect.
Yoan Gouffran (33 starts, 6 sub appearances, 5 goals, 3 assists)
The Frenchman, like Anita, is coming to the end of his contract at the club and, despite a successful Championship campaign, he is widely expected to be shipped out as Benitez performs a summer shake-up.
Should he remain on the books, Gouffran would surely be handed a reduced role back in the top flight and seems unlikely to be a factor in our seasons.
Matt Ritchie (40 starts, 2 sub appearances, 12 goals, 7 assists)
Benitez turned to Ritchie to provide Championship experience and a creative spark, swooping for the Bournemouth midfielder for a reported fee of £12 million. The Scot repaid that faith to play a key role in the promotion campaign.
The main man on set-pieces, including penalties, Ritchie was billed as a Fantasy prospect on his first promotion to the Premier League with the Cherries, but never really delivered.
That will make us wary again, although, with greater experience behind him and, in Dwight Gayle, a potent striker to feed, Ritchie will likely be installed as our prime target in the Newcastle midfield.
The statistics certainly promote his cause – Ritchie fired a shot on goal every 31 minutes last season – more frequently than any other promoted midfielder. Ten bookings are a concern, however.
Mo Diame (27 starts, 10 sub appearances, 3 goals, 3 assists)
The Senegal international looked an astute signing by Benitez, but never really lived up to his billing during the title-winning campaign, notching just three goals from a number 10 role behind a central striker.
Nonetheless, Diame has top-flight experience and, with his versatility, appears likely to be kept on for next term. Whether he can make the most of potentially limited opportunities is another matter.
Ayoze Perez (25 starts, 11 sub appearances, 9 goals, 6 assists)
The 23-year-old Spaniard can be outstanding at his best, but remains a frustratingly inconsistent talent.
Having tasted Premier League football in Newcastle’s relegation season, Perez should have the appetite for the return, although question marks remain over his physicality and his tendency to drift out of matches.
Likely to be deployed in a number 10 role when he does get his opportunities, if Benitez can extract regular magic from Perez he could be a crucial factor in their season – and even a Fantasy asset to consider if classified as a midfielder.
Dwight Gayle (26 starts, 6 sub appearances, 23 goals, 2 assists)
Crowned the PFA Fans’ Championship Player of the Season, Gayle is unquestionably the key target among the strikers on offer from the promoted sides.
His record of 23 goals from 26 starts, with a shot every 24 minutes, suggests that he could make the step up and establish himself as an effective Premier League marksman.
Gayle boasts experience of the top flight with Crystal Palace and scored goals for the Eagles without being trusted with a regular starting role.
It remains to be seen if Benitez puts his full faith in Gayle – certainly, his pace and trickery is well suited to the Spaniard’s style of play, but he may seek a more proven alternative.
That is one concern, as is Gayle’s alarming propensity to pick up injuries, having been cursed by hamstring problems last season.
Aleks Mitrovic (11 starts, 14 sub appearances, 4 goals, 6 assists)
The Serbian was a bitter disappointment on arrival at the club, having been the centre of a string of disciplinary issues on the pitch while failing to deliver the goals to help stave off relegation.
He’s been a back-up option under Benitez, with Gayle’s pace preferred in the lone striker role.
Nonetheless, Mitrovic is certainly a plan B option, with his strength and aggression ideal weapons to help break down a defence when Newcastle’s regular passing game falters.
But in Fantasy terms, the doubts over his temperament are likely to deter investment, even in the unlikely scenario that Mitrovic begins to earn regular pitch-time.
The Potential Targets
Newcastle are set for an exceptionally busy summer, with Benitez promised a war chest of up to £70 million to help him prepare for the return to the top-flight.
If reports are to believed, Benitez is seeking to strengthen in almost every position, with up to eight signings on the cards.
To this point, goalkeeper Pepe Reina has been the primary target, with reports first suggesting that personal terms have been agreed with the experienced and talented stopper. However, the player’s agent has since quashed such a suggestion, stating that Reina will stay to see out his contract with Napoli.
Reports are now suggesting that Benitez has switched his sights to Manchester City’s Willy Caballero, with the clear indication that a new recruit will be brought in to compete with Rob Elliot as first choice.
There are an array of reported targets elsewhere.
Man City’s forgotten centre-back Eliaquim Mangala is one such candidate, with Benitez thought to be keen to strengthen in this area and bring in greater experience. Former City defender Florian Lejeune is another centre-back target, with reports suggesting a deal is close.
Similarly, Newcastle are said to be close to finalising a deal for Portuguese U21 Ruben Semedo – another central defender.
Such signings could yet see Lascelles and Clark competing for one role.
Benitez was also said to be interested in former Watford full-back Miguel Layun, and even Arsenal’s Kieran Gibbs, as he bids to bring in options to compete with Dummett and Yedlin. Recent reports have also linked the club to Sporting Lisbon left-back Marvin Zeegelaar.
In attacking areas, the club are thought to be close to finalising a deal with Chelsea for the season-long loan of Tammy Abraham – a prodigious talent who scored 23 goals with Bristol City in the Championship last season.
Benitez will have presumably promised both Chelsea and Abraham regular pitch-time, so it remains to be seen how that changes the pecking order in attack.
It’s difficult to envisage that the 19-year-old would start ahead of Gayle but, should the transfer be concluded, it would obviously cast doubt over both players’ security of starts.
Elsewhere, Montpellier playmaker Ryad Boudebouz has been linked as a possible signing to compete for the number ten role. With 11 goals and 10 assists last season, Boudebouz has the versatility to be deployed out wide, although Newcastle are also said to be shopping for players in the flank positions.
That includes Crystal Palace’s Andros Townsend and Metz’s 19-year-old Ismaila Sarr – the Senegal winger has been billed as the next Sadio Mane.