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Friday, March 31, 2023

Newcastle: Howe eyeing Loftus-Cheek move

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With just over 24 hours left to run in the January transfer window, a potential priority for Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe could well be to strengthen in midfield, following the news that long-serving stalwart Jonjo Shelvey is set to join Nottingham Forest.

That has left the top-four hopefuls with a real dearth of senior options in the middle of the park, with it no doubt set to be of real concern to both the club and their supporters if fresh faces are not brought in before the end of the deadline.

Reports earlier this month revealed that one potential midfield target that the Tynesiders could be keen on pursuing is Chelsea’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek, with The Telegraph naming the Englishman as one of a handful of Stamford Bridge assets that the Magpies are monitoring.

The 6 foot 4 powerhouse – who has just 17 months remaining on his existing deal in west London – could potentially find his role under Graham Potter reduced if the Blues are to complete the signing of Benfica’s Enzo Fernandez, and competition is already rife amid the presence of Mateo Kovacic, Jorginho, N’Golo Kante and Denis Zakaria, among others.

The St James’ Park outfit may well be looking to capitalise on that situation by striking a deal as a matter of urgency, with transfer insider Dean Jones – in his column for GIVEMESPORT – revealing that Newcastle are ‘very keen’ to sign the 27-year-old, despite doubts as to whether he will be allowed to leave Chelsea on loan.

If Howe and co can get a deal wrapped up for the “special” talent – as described by writer Andrew Gaffney – it could allow the Premier League high-flyers the chance to land a potential upgrade on academy graduate Sean Longstaff, despite the latter having started 16 top-flight games so far this term.

Although Jones noted that Newcastle are currently ‘very happy‘ with Longstaff’s form of late, it is Loftus-Cheek who can arguably offer more in an attacking sense, having outperformed his compatriot in a variety of metrics.

That is illustrated by the fact that the one-time Fulham loanee offers a more dynamic, forward-thinking option. He ranks in the top 5% among his peers in Europe’s big five leagues for dribbles completed and the top 17% for progressive passes received over the past year, while Longstaff ranks in the bottom 2% and top 79% respectively for those two metrics.

Equally, the £120k-per-week Blues ace has also showcased a greater willingness to impact play in the final third, as he ranks in the top 7% for touches in the attacking penalty area, with the current Newcastle man ranking in the top 18% in that regard.

As for their defensive merits, it is Loftus-Cheek who has come out on top with regard to aerial duels won (top 16%) to illustrate his commanding presence in midfield, while Longstaff ranks in just the top 48%.

While the latter narrowly edges it with regards to tackles made so far this season (1.2 compared to 1.1 per 90 in the league), Loftus-Cheek clearly offers that greater, all-round benefit due to his attacking thrust, as well as the versatility to feature on the flanks if required, hence showcasing just what an impressive upgrade he could prove to be.

There may be concerns over the ten-cap maestro’s injury record, although it could well be a risk worth taking for the Magpies.

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