It looks as though Newcastle manager Steve Bruce is determined to raid Manchester United for a loan deal this January, as he looks to bolster his squad for the second half of the season.
90min has learned that the Magpies boss is interested in taking Phil Jones, Brandon Williams and Jesse Lingard to the north east on a temporary basis, but he will be hamstrung by the Premier League’s rules around domestic loans.
But in order to best judge who would be the most welcome addition at St James’ Park, it’s worth looking at the Magpies season so far.
Like every team this season, Bruce’s side have struggled for consistency. A quietly efficient start and an upcoming Carabao Cup quarter final against Brentford in mid-December had Toon fans optimistic for the season ahead, as they sat on 17 points after 11 games.
But an unforgivable surrender at Brentford in the cup followed by only two points from 15 available in the league has seen that optimism evaporate, and Newcastle now sit 15th, luckily still eight points clear of the all too familiar relegation zone.
With a tiresome and coronavirus hit squad emerging the other side of a frantic Christmas schedule, it is no surprise that Bruce is looking for reinforcements. Given it’s Bruce, it is also no surprise that he is looking at three players who are outcasts at their current club.
Admittedly, the January window is always more likely to consist of loan deals under Mike Ashley, particularly after the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, but identifying this United trio as primary targets seems to be scraping the barrel somewhat.
Phil Jones, for example, would have slipped completely into the footballing wilderness were he not linked to every bottom half Premier League side in most transfer windows. His injury proneness meant he featured in just two league games under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last season, and since then he’s been culled from United’s 25-man squad.
There’s also very little evidence to suggest he’d be an upgrade on a defence that managed to hold Liverpool to a 0-0 draw at St James’ Park not long ago. Sure, the likes of Federico Fernandez, Fabian Schar and Ciaran Clark – deputising for the ill Jamaal Lascelles – are not world beaters, but they are at least switched on and aren’t susceptible to the lapses in concentration that Jones so often displays.
Then there’s Brandon Williams, who is only a slightly more desirable option due to Newcastle’s lack of cover in the full-back areas. Jamal Lewis has struggled for form since his move from Norwich, but it would be disappointing to see the Magpies prioritising the development of a young player from elsewhere, rather than committing to someone they signed on a long-term deal in the summer.
Other reports have suggested that a deal is agreed ‘in principle‘, indicating that Williams is Bruce’s preferred option of the three. But with just one Premier League appearance under his belt for United this season, he’s clearly lacking in match sharpness; and if fitness isn’t an immediate concern, it seems strange that Newcastle are not revisiting Jetro Williams, who was a massive hit at the club last season.
Truth be told, Newcastle’s backline is the least of their problem areas. They can shut up shop when they want to, and they’ve proven under Bruce that they can be tactically savvy and organised. When it comes to chance creation and goalscoring, it’s an entirely different story.
Summer signing Callum Wilson has a nice goal return on paper, but we all know that his tally has been boosted by Newcastle’s generous helping of penalties. 18 goals in 16 games as a club isn’t good enough, and that’s something that Jesse Lingard – completely cast adrift at United – could come in and help with.
He doesn’t score lots of goals, no, but he does make things happen. The 28-year-old is a willing, direct runner with the ball and should be entering the prime years of his career, not sitting on from the sidelines watching.
It wasn’t that long ago that Lingard was a regular in the England setup, and the chance to get himself back in the frame will only come through regular game time. It’s unlikely he’ll earn a recall even if he were to move to Newcastle, but he could do far worse than Newcastle given the calibre of sides he’s also been linked to.
His best goal return in a season is only eight, but when you consider that Joelinton, Andy Carroll and Dwight Gayle only managed six between them last year, Lingard may not be such a bad shout after all.
He’s not the ideal target, but if Newcastle are to pursue a deal for any of the three, he makes the most sense – particularly as two of the Toon’s next three games are at the Emirates Stadium against Arsenal – and who wouldn’t want to see that milly rock on show again?