Newcastle United has finally beaten AC Milan to the signing of centre-half starlet Sven Botman.

This adds to the already shrewd summer business of nabbing England international Nick Pope from relegated Burnley for the modest fee of £10m, as well as the no-brainer move to make Matty Targett’s successful loan spell from Aston Villa permanent.

If we include the signings of England international and La Liga winner, Kieran Trippier and the gigantic Dan Burn from Brighton, Eddie Howe has taken massive strides in solidifying Newcastle United at the back as we go into the upcoming season.

While our protracted chase of the highly rated Reims striker Hugo Ekitike has hit the buffers, it doesn’t take a genius to work out signing a new striker is high on the list of priorities.

While Callum Wilson is as good as any striker in the country when fit, his inability to play 30+ games a season means a strong back-up is a necessity – and for innumerable reasons, neither Chris Wood nor Dwight Gayle are the answer.

However, while signing a new striker, and possibly a new RW, are priorities in this summer’s transfer window, I want to highlight another area we could do with further improvement: midfield.

Bruno Guimarães is the undoubted pick of our January signings and has the potential to go right to the top and the revelation that is Joelinton – from £40m flop striker to midfield enforcer – has been miraculous.

These two typify post-takeover Newcastle United. One is an example of a highly rated future superstar who embraced the exciting journey we are on, while the other is an Ashley-era signing who, through no fault of his own, was badly coached, low on confidence yet never let his head drop. Like the club itself, has begun to realise their potential under proper management.

Given the emergence of these two players, you may wonder why I think our midfield is an area for improvement.

For starters, after years of under-investment under Mike Ashley, it is safe to say every area of our squad needs improvement, with midfield no exception.

Besides Bruno and Joelinton, there are 6 other first-team centre-midfielders: Sean Longstaff, Joe Willock, Jonjo Shelvey, Jeff Hendrick, Matty Longstaff, and Elliot Anderson.

For brevity, neither Hendrick nor M Longstaff has any future at Newcastle United while Elliot Anderson is almost certain for another loan spell.

Feel free to disagree but do it on your own time, after all, Hendrick didn’t make Howe’s 25-man squad in January while Matty Longstaff struggled for games at Aberdeen before being shipped off to League Two Mansfield. Anderson, while impressive in League Two securing automatic promotion with Bristol Rovers, is unlikely to be seriously considered an option for next season.

Therefore, realistically only Sean Longstaff, Willock and Shelvey will be in contention to start alongside Bruno and Joelinton in Howe’s favoured three-man midfield.

Which then begs the question: who do you play, and where do you play them? For simplicity, I am going to look at the 3 midfield positions in the old-fashioned way: a 6 (Defensive Midfielder), an 8 (Box-to-Box Midfielder), and a 10 (Attacking Midfielder).

While in reality, Howe plays a fluid midfield style with players occupying different positions at different times, these standard definitions are how I am going to categorise Newcastle United’s midfield options.

What exactly is Bruno’s best position has been a topic of debate for some time. Many have argued that given he has been a prominent attacking outlet for Newcastle United popping up with 5 goals and 1 assist; he should be considered our number 8 box-to-box midfielder.

While not denying Bruno’s potential to further develop the attacking side of his game, here is what Bruno himself has to say when describing his best position:

“I can do all the functions, I’m happy, but if I have a preference, I’d rather be second wheel. It was the role I played at Atletico-PR and Lyon. But I can also play first.

“I prefer to play as a second midfielder, but I play as shirt 10 and shirt 5. But the person who plays more than one role in modern football is always one step ahead.”

Second Wheel, or Segundo Volante in South American parlance, is a technically gifted defensive midfielder who can also contribute towards the attacking third of the pitch. While I am loathe relying on stats to tell me what I can already see with my own eyes, statistics demonstrate that this is his best position.

Per 90 minutes, Bruno was 1st for intackles made across the entire team, top 3 for most presses and top 3 for most blocks. Whereas from an attacking sense, per 90 minutes,

Bruno is 9th for most shot-creating actions, and 7th for most goal-creating actions. Per 90 minutes, he is second only to Kieran Trippier for most completed passes, while leading the team in % of passes completed.

Finally, per 90 minutes, he is second only to Callum Wilson for goals scored – albeit in a side bereft of goalscoring talent –and led the side in shots-on-target per 90 minutes.

All of this feeds into the conclusion that Bruno, first and foremost, is a technically gifted defensive midfielder (a 6) with the potential to develop into a box-to-box (an 8).

By comparison, while Newcastle United’s other midfielders fare well defensively with Longstaff rated top 5 for both tackles and presses, Joelinton top 3 for blocks, top 5 for presses, and Willock top 5 for presses, they rank lower than Bruno for goal-creating actions with only Joelinton (7th) rating higher for shot-creating actions.

These stats are somewhat skewed given Joelinton only played midfield for half of the season, and a blind man can see that he one of the first names on the team-sheet as our combative 8.

Interestingly, across all of these stats, Shelvey is United’s lowest performing midfielder per 90 minutes – but again, despite an upturn in his performances under Howe, my own eyes could have told me that.

This means, for me at least, that Newcastle badly lacks a midfielder who leads the way in consistently creating goal-scoring chances while also chipping in with goals from midfield. In short, Newcastle United lacks a top-rate Number 10.

Should we delve into the market for such a player, who would we target to fill this position? In my opinion, there are few in the game with the pedigree, experience, and class as Christian Eriksen.

Following a near fatal cardiac arrest at the 2020 European Championships which resulted in him being fitted with an ICD, his Inter Milan contract was terminated as Serie A rules prohibit players with ICDs from competing.

Despite this setback, he returned to the Premier League with Brentford and showed his quality with 1 goal and 4 assists in 11 gamesand led Brentford in both shot-creating and goal-creating actions per 90 minutes.

Newcastle United are only thought to have an outside chance of signing him, with a moveto Manchester United, or returns to either Tottenham or Brentford seeming more likely. Despite this, I would love it if we went all out to bring him to the club. He is the missing piece of the jigsaw of our midfield and would immediately take us to another level.

Should Eriksen decide his future lays elsewhere, Newcastle United may consider a move for current Brazil international, Bruno’s best mate, and former Lyon teammate, Lucas Paquetá, to be a shrewd bit of business, despite the reported £50m+ price-tag Lyon have supposedly slapped on him.

With 9 goals and 6 assists in a Lyon side which largely underperformed last season, and with 21 goals and 13 assists in 77 appearances for the club, at 23 years of age he could well be ‘the next Bruno’ in terms of signing a future superstar of the game.

There is a touch of Hollywood fairy tale about signing Bruno’s best mate and having a Samba midfield trio of Bruno, Joelinton and Paquetá, but it is also a signing that makes a lot of sense and would fit with the type of player we are identifying in the market.

However, should we decide not to target a Number 10 this summer, then it is safe to say that this upcoming season is a big one for both Willock and Longstaff to prove their worth in this position?

It should also be said that young Elliot Anderson has the long-term potential to be a local hero at number 10 and will be afforded pre-season to show what he is capable of being a decision is made on what Howe will do with him this coming season.

It should go without saying at this stage, that whether we decide to enter the market for a Number 10 or not, I trust the decision making of the club who have, so far, not put a foot wrong in the transfer market.

Long may it continue!

Ciaran Donaghy – @CiaranD1990