Following discussions with Newcastle United's hierarchy, Rafa will now have some sort of idea about the transfer budget available. His view will have been to prioritise the team's playing needs, then to apply the cash. The finance people may have a different perspective.

Perhaps it goes without saying that Rafa will want the business done early. Last season, it was noticeable that Rondon was introduced to the starting line up 10 games into the season, having been unavailable for pre-season training. The points return when he played, if extrapolated to the rest of the season, would have seen Newcastle flirting with European place.

There was a further turning point, with the arrival of Almiron and following the mid season Spanish training camp. The points return for the rest of the season could have seen would have brought Manchester United into touching distance.

Rafa also understands the needs to live within means, a maximum squad size of 25 senior players. To this end most of the players who have been out on loan will not expect to figure in future plans. Almost certainly will be Saivet, Colback, Aarons and Lazaar, will be expected to follow Callum Roberts through the exit door.

There will also be question marks over others, more of which later.

Rafa has demonstrated his willingness to modify tactics, both according to the opposition and needs at different stages of the season. Some players have been injured, some out of form. In many cases, he has been keen to rotate but within the strengths and limitations of each individual. Whether 3, 4 or 5 at the back, 3, 4 or 5 in midfield and 1, 2 or 3 up front. There is a premium on flexibility.

Let's go through by positions.


Dubravka has made the Number 1 strip his own. His form has perhaps led to frustrations among the other keepers, Darlow starting only one cup tie, Woodman starting three, Elliott none at all, the latter almost certain to be on the move..

With only one year left on his current contract, Woodman might expect to seek pastures new, as a World Cup winner at age group level. The guarantee of a loan to a Scottish or Championship club may be enough to extend his contract. To replace Darlow might be a luxury, depending on prices elsewhere but Rafa will want experienced back up.

Central defence

This is an area that Rafa will be broadly happy with, having founded Premier League survival on defensive strength and teamwork. Whether a back three of defensive four, Lascelles, Lejuene, Schar and Fernandez, augmented by Dummett would seem to be enough for most occasions. Ciaran Clark has not started a league game since 15th December, so could be one to make way with the potential for an upgrade.

Wide defenders/wing backs

On the right hand side, there are three real options, Yedlin who provides an extra dimension going forward, Manquillo who has improved under Rafa and Sterry. Although there is room for improvement, this might be considered a luxury position to strengthen, unless Yedlin is considered to move further forward.

On the left, Dummett has already had a mention, being a more defensive left sided player. Ritchie has filled in admirably with Kenedy disappointing this season. The latter is unlikely to return, along with Barreca,making an attacking left back a priority.

Central midfield

Shelvey would have been one of the first names on the team sheet at the start of the season yet found it hard to cement his berth, largely through injury but through the form of others too. It would not be a huge surprise if he were he to leave for a significant fee, particularly since his skill set is not directly replicated in the squad.

Diame looks fairly certain to depart, not having played sufficiently to trigger a contract extension. Hayden has widely been reported as seeking a move closer to his partner and child.

That leaves us with Ki and Longstaff, perhaps Shelvey too. Rafa will be keen to add quality and experience to provide further options, although short term cover could come from perhaps Schar moving further forward. This is a position that might not filled cheaply although there are some possible targets, who might include Samaris or Mata on a free but with high wages, and Cairney from Fulham.


Ritchie has already gained a mention, having adapted to more of a wing back role and perhaps doesn't have the pace that Rafa would like to penetrate. Almiron has become a natural choice, apparently capable of playing through the middle or on the left. Atsu provides cover with further room to fulfil potential whilst it remains to be seen if Murphy is still considered one for the future.

Question marks hover over Ayoze, with speculation that he is seeking a high value transfer to a Mediterranean environment with Murphy having been out on loan and still looking as though Premier League might be a bridge too far for him. Whilst Joselu has worked industriously, Rafa will surely want to upgrade.

There must also be a question mark over Gayle who has been out on loan. Could he fill Ayoze's role? He must be a target for Ambitious Championship clubs or those with parachute payments, his tack record at that level almost providing a guarantee of goals.

That leaves Muto whose season was rudely interrupted by the Asian Cup. After only 5 starts, it is too early to write him off and remember his only goal was against Manchester United.

These have got to be the highest priorities for Benitez, making Rondon permanent becoming very much a `no-brainer'.


Much depends on movements out as to how much of an overhaul is needed. Rafa will see urgent need to strengthen up front, the middle of the park and at least left back with possibly right back, defender and goalkeeper.

There is another factor that comes into the equation, the number of home grown players in the squad. Regular starters among the likely remainers are Dummett, Lascelles and Ritchie. Shelvey if he stays qualifies, as do Sterry and the 3 goalkeepers, Elliott, Darlow and Woodman whose futures may be in doubt. Hayden seems more than likely to leave, not to mention loanees who may or may not be a part of future plans.

The transfer market sees a premium for home grown players, that premium potentially being exaggerated with proposals from the Football Association if Brexit goes ahead for future seasons.

This certainly looks like being a complex window, the need to move quickly being accentuated. Should Ashley and Charnley fail to reach an agreement with Rafa, any successor might find the

situation even more challenging. Failure to adequately reinforce last summer could come back to haunt Ashley.