For most people, ‘dry January’ signifies a month of abstinence from the demon drink; for Newcastle United it reflects a mid-season transfer policy.

Even in normal times, Lee Charnley is reticent to splash the cash on new players in the mid-season window, with loans being the usual order of the day as the calendar year begins. Miggy Almiron’s capture in 2018 aside, you have to go back to the 2015/16 relegation season for the last time United significantly invested in permanent deals in January, bringing in Andros Townsend (the good), Jonjo Shelvey (the largely bad) and Henri Saivet (the ugly) for a combined £35 million-ish in an ultimately doomed bid to stave off the drop.

This year, given the financial effects of COVID, more clubs will be going down the route regularly travailed by United. That said, few sides need reinforcements like Newcastle:

Central midfield

Though Isaac Hayden and Matty Longstaff have impressed in recent weeks, adding bite in the centre of the park is the key area where Steve Bruce needs to strengthen this January given how starved United are of creativity.

Sean Longstaff has not so much gone off the boil as boiled himself dry, while Jonjo Shelvey arguably lacks the athleticism and discipline to drive United up the table. Jeff Hendrick meanwhile can’t get a game in the centre, and the less said about Henri Saivet and his five-and-a-half-year contract the better.

Even Bruce realises we’re weak in this area, hence his (failed) pursuit of Ross Barkley in the summer.

Given the financial straits French clubs are in, United may well go back in for Lille’s Boubakary Soumare, who turned down a move twelve months ago but may now be more receptive – the big question will be Ashley sanctioning the spend. He passes and dribbles the ball well, and would help United transition play forward. Crystal Palace’s James McCarthy may be a more realistic (if less exciting) option, given that he seems out of favour in South London. Ditto Burnley’s Jack Cork, who while the wrong side of 30, would be ripe for a loan given he’s played precisely zero games this term. Pick of the bunch though would possibly be Everton’s Tom Davies, who would be a real coup on a loan-to-buy arrangement.

Any and all of them would be better options than a return for Nabil Bentaleb though, which must be resisted at all costs.

 

Striker

Callum Wilson has been a revelation since he signed in the summer, but remains injury-prone, and so a back-up would be prudent.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, Joelinton keeps getting games and is going nowhere (in more way than one), so reinforcing this position is far from a given.

Josh King would be a fantastic and realistic signing and would continue the Bournemouth-upon-Tyne trend (next step: relocating Bournemouth’s pier plank-by-plank to the North East). Given the Cherries’ promotion push however, this may be a difficult deal to do.

See also Rangers’ Alfredo Morelos who was linked in the summer – he’s not quite scoring at the same rate as last year, and Rangers are apparently receptive to offers, but likely only permanent ones rather than a loan. Also linked was Napoli’s Arkadiusz Milik, but file that one under ‘pipe dream’ alongside a fantasy return for Ayoze Perez.

Among more realistic (and thus likely) options, Sam Cosgrove of Aberdeen’s name is back in the frame. He scored 23 in 38 games during 2019/20 and would have something to prove, even if his capture wouldn’t set pulses racing. Perhaps more enticing might be Liverpool’s Belgian international Divock Origi, who has had has playing time cut at Anfield by the arrival of Jota. Bruce would have to duke it out with the likes of Wolves to sign him though.

 

Left-back

With Jamal Lewis as the only proper left-back on United’s books, and his performances on the slide, it’s clear that the former Norwich man could use some competition given Paul Dummett’s continued absence.

In theory, this should be the easiest spot to fill too, with former loan lad Jetro Willems seemingly spending every waking moment on Instagram practically begging for a return to Tyneside.

Willems of course has fitness issues, but has proven quality too (just thinking about that goal against Liverpool has me salivating). A second loan would be relatively risk free. And while he’s similarly attacking-minded as Lewis, he’s stronger physically, so would offer something different from the bench if required.

Manchester United’s Brandon Williams would prove an interesting, if less experienced, alternative.

 

Right-wing

On the face of it, Newcastle have plenty of options on right-wing: Almiron, Ritchie and Hendrick can all play there. However, all are compromises: Almiron is arguably more effective in the centre, Ritchie is too slow nowadays and so is better back in defence, and Hendrick hasn’t ever impressed or seemingly relished a wider role.

That leaves Jacob Murphy as United’s only out-and-out right winger, and while he has impressed after clawing his way back into the side, Liverpool’s Xherdan Shaqiri is available and would be a substantial upgrade. Given that playing time at Anfield has been limited and the Euros are (hopefully) looming, Shaqiri will be motivated to play and impress. Leicester’s Demarai Gray would be a good alternative, and while predominantly a left-winger, has experience on the right flank too.

 

A new manager

…I’m only half-joking.

– Chris Shipman
@chrisshipman