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.