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Guimaraes, Wood and more - Will Newcastle's £90m spending spree secure Premier League survival?

16:00 GMT+3 04/02/2022
Bruno Guimaraes Chris Wood Brazil Newcastle GFX
Eddie Howe's side took drastic action in the January transfer window, signing five new players at considerable expense in the hope of staying up

At the end of a frantic and often chaotic first transfer window, Newcastle United’s new owners will be under no illusions about how tough it will be to build a super-club from scratch.

Having so much money – ambitions well above their current status as relegation candidates – puts them in an uncomfortable position with clubs and players.

It is not easy to get deals over the line; to sign at market value or convince high-profile players that joining Newcastle is a risk worth taking.

Ultimately, though, it was a successful window for Eddie Howe.

Five new players have arrived for a total of £90 million ($122m) and what is most striking about the deals – after a month of links with the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Anthony Martial – is just how sensible they are.

Newcastle have avoided the allure of a Robinho-like statement acquisition and have instead targeted players ready to fight against the drop this season, prioritising (or at least, landing on) Premier League experience and a set of players who will all be desperate to prove themselves on Tyneside.

Heading into the window, what Newcastle needed most of all was defensive reinforcements.

Steve Bruce’s side were hopelessly disconnected between the lines, their porousness seemingly the result of their manager being caught between a progressive style and his more attacking instincts.

The appointment of Howe was interesting because his defensive record at Bournemouth betrayed an inability to organise at the back.

Across five seasons in the Premier League his team averaged 66 concessions per year, suggesting Howe badly needed defensive upgrades at Newcastle to paper over the cracks.

Dan Burn is a powerful left centre-back who has blossomed under Graham Potter and his £13m ($18m) acquisition represents an instant upgrade.

On the other side, Kieran Trippier is extremely reliable and ought to indirectly improve the performances of Jamaal Lascelles.

Matt Targett is a solid if unspectacular left-back, but when midfielder Matt Ritchie has been playing there all season, Targett is a welcome addition nonetheless.

On the simplest level, better defenders means better defending, but for Howe a leaky defence is a tactical issue.

His Bournemouth team were fundamentally too expansive when in possession. The lines of their 4-4-2 were overly stretched and the pressing often appeared sporadic, which meant opponents could slice through them all too easily.

Fortunately, Newcastle’s new signings should also help this side of things.

Trippier, Burn, and Bruno Guimaraes are very talented on the ball, and their ability to retain possession under pressure should lead to fewer giveaways in the Newcastle half.

In other words, Newcastle can begin to gradually hold more possession and move higher up the pitch, avoiding the pitfalls of Howe’s Bournemouth – who moved in the opposite direction as the manager’s transfers failed to improve his team’s passing.

Howe’s trajectory at Bournemouth was to move away from possession-obsessive football in his first two years in the Premier League to a deeper line of engagement and a counter-attacking approach.

In that respect his appointment at Newcastle - as a midpoint between two styles as they look to build – made sense.

And the centre-piece for Howe, as he seeks to shift Newcastle into a more advancing position without it leading to defensive chaos, is Guimaraes, signed for £33m ($44m) from Lyon.

That price could prove to be a bargain.

Guimaraes is an all-action central midfielder equally adept at breaking up play, recycling possession, and creating chances with his superb eye-of-the-needle passing – as a statistical breakdown of his 2021-22 campaign in France shows.

Compared to Premier League players to have featured in more than five games this season, Guimaraes sits second for passes made under pressure (12.3 per match), fourth for progressive passes (7.91 per 90), second for most carries made among non-centre-backs (1199), third among midfielders for long passes completed (186), third among midfielders for goal-creating actions (10), and third in the division for tackles made (60).

He is a brilliant footballer, and one whose intelligence in each third of the pitch should allow Newcastle to hold far more possession – and do so with penetration.

That, alone, will significantly decrease their chances of being susceptible to getting caught with the shape too wide and the defenders exposed.

Of course, Howe is not planning to turn Newcastle into a possession-dominant team and will anticipate his side continuing to spend long periods behind the ball. That is why Chris Wood, a target man, has been taken from relegation rivals Burnley.

With Trippier’s dead-ball delivery and Guimaraes' longer passes forward, Wood can offer something completely new to Howe’s team.

It is noteworthy that Newcastle rank 17th in the Premier League for crosses attempted and have only scored four headed goals, while Wood tops the Premier League charts for aerials won (5.5 per game), per WhoScored.

The marked difference in styles between Guimaraes and Wood are emblematic of Newcastle’s intelligent approach to the January window, mixing relegation expertise with an eye-catching player who could lead them into Europe in the future.

Newcastle’s transitional period is very tough to navigate but the balance they have found in their five January signings suggests the owners understand the challenge.

We can now anticipate a more confident Newcastle, with possession stats up, a greater sense of calm, and better last-ditch defending from Burn and Trippier when the system falls down.

Whether it will be enough to keep Newcastle up is unclear.

Guimaraes improves a central midfield that is arguably the weakest in the division, and one man cannot solve the problem entirely, while Howe could have done with a new creative winger to compliment Saint-Maximin.

But it was more or less as good a window as Newcastle supporters could have hoped for and – with their squad now notably more talented than those of Burnley, Norwich City, and Watford – there is significantly more hope of survival than there was four weeks ago.