FIVE-POINT PLAN

Australian Four Four Two - - PREMIER LEAGUE -

1 UNBLOCK THE FI­NANCES

Ideally this would come fol­low­ing a takeover, but even if not, it would be id­i­otic short-ter­mism for Ashley to refuse to re­lease funds and watch his busi­ness suf­fer rel­e­ga­tion from the world’s most lu­cra­tive league. Ashley is stick­ing to his mantra that Ben­itez will get “ev­ery penny gen­er­ated by the club”, never spec­u­lat­ing to ac­cu­mu­late.

2 TIE DOWN BEN­ITEZ

A deal to re­new the ex-Liver­pool man­ager’s con­tract, which ends next June, is “still on the ta­ble”. He won’t sign un­til Ashley coughs up, but Ashley won’t cough up un­til he signs. It’s the per­fect co­nun­drum but a vi­tal one to solve – hire a mar­riage guid­ance coun­sel­lor if nec­es­sary.

3 SIGN A TARGETMAN

In­jury-hit Le­ices­ter loa­nee Sli­mani flopped at St James’ Park and a striker is needed who isn’t Ay­oze Perez (ta­lented but more of a No.10), Dwight Gayle (de­ter­mined but 5ft 9in) or Joselu (tall but bob­bins). Alek­san­dar Mitro­vic typ­i­fied the role in Ser­bia’s 4-2-3-1 for­ma­tion at the World Cup and hit 12 goals in a 13-game run to help Ful­ham up; he’s ripe for sell­ing, though, and prob­a­bly for more than Salomon Ron­don’s $30m buy­out clause.

4 MAIN­TAIN SUP­PLY LINES

Sit­ting deeper in the ‘2’ of the Toon’s 4-2-3-1, Jonjo Shelvey dis­played an ex­cel­lent pass­ing range that nearly took him to Rus­sia with Eng­land over the sum­mer. He – or his man­ager – also ap­pears to have sorted out that short fuse: hav­ing been shown two red cards be­fore Christ­mas, Shelvey didn’t pick up a sin­gle book­ing in the top flight after that. Swansea es­capee Ki Sung-yueng will add nous along­side the 26-year-old, with Isaac Hay­den an­other op­tion.

5 KEEP IT TIGHT A T THE BA CK

Dubravka, Las­celles & Co. formed the top flight’s sev­enth-tight­est de­fence in 2017-18, de­spite the Mag­pies be­ing third-low­est in the pass com­ple­tion and pos­ses­sion ta­bles. They won more aerial bat­tles than any­one ex­cept Burn­ley and Stoke – teams who ex­pe­ri­enced very dif­fer­ent cam­paigns, ei­ther of which is open to New­cas­tle.

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