VAVEL's 20/21 Season Previews: Newcastle look to put goal-scoring woes behind them
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After a summer-long takeover saga which seemed so close yet so far, it was set to be another season of struggle and apathy on Tyneside with growing frustrations amongst fans who were becoming detached from their club.

However, September 8 proved to be a monumental day for Steve Bruce, Newcastle United and the fans. They completed the signing of Ryan Fraser on a free deal while also bringing in his former AFC Bournemouth teammate Callum Wilson for £20 million.

This is a transfer that never made sense to Mike Ashley who always wanted the club to sign players with potential so he could cash in when they began to improve and perform on the pitch. Therefore, the second-highest ever transfer fee for Wilson is a small victory for Bruce.

In a matter of days, Newcastle fans have gone from worried and contemplating a possible boycott when fans could return to games to excited and thinking of breaking into the top half.

The signings of Wilson, Fraser and Jamal Lewis have almost transformed Newcastle's potential on the pitch with all three set to be starters.

As always Bruce will look to guide the Magpies to that magical 40-point mark before beginning to look up the table and hopefully breaking into the top half with his new signings.

Bruce managed to get Newcastle to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup last season before being dumped out by eventual winners Manchester City. He pledged to always play his strongest team in cup games and it could end up with Newcastle making a rare Wembley appearance if he maintains that policy.

Recapping pre-season

Newcastle had four pre-season fixtures in their build-up to the opening game of the season against West Ham United. They won their first two games against Crewe Alexandra (3-0) and Barnsley (2-1) respectively.

The main talking points have arisen from their final two games against Middlesbrough and Stoke City who both struggled at the bottom of the Championship last season.

The Magpies were humiliated 5-1 against Boro and cancelled their second friendly match against the Teessiders a few days later before going down 1-0 against the Potters.

One goal in two games against last seasons biggest underperformers in the Championship signalled signings were certainly needed and these results may have sped up the process.

One major positive for Bruce would have been the performances of Andy Carroll and his two goals, including a mesmerising solo goal vs Crewe. Carroll has also come through all four games unscathed following his first full pre-season in seven years. A fully fit Carroll is something no defender will be looking forward to dealing with.

Transfer business

Before this week Newcastle's transfer activity was less than inspiring having only brought in free agents in areas they did not necessarily need to improve as former academy player Mark Gillespie joined from Motherwell before Jeff Hendrick joined while the club were in York.

However, football changes very quickly and the additions of Wilson, Fraser and Lewis have increased optimism on Tyneside and with all five signings costing a combined total of £34 million, it appears to be great business.

In terms of outgoings, there have only been youngsters Kelland Watts and Freddie Woodman who have headed out on loan to Plymouth Argyle and Swansea City respectively.

Woodman was eager to return to South Wales as he knew first-team appearances would be hard to come by at Newcastle and after impressing last season he is back with Swansea looking to gain promotion to the Premier League.

Jack Colback and Jamie Sterry have left the club after their contracts were not extended with the former signing for Nottingham Forest. Also, none of the four loanees from last season have returned permanently on Tyneside.

Danny Rose is still looking for a move away from Tottenham Hotspur, Jetro Willems is still recovering from a season-ending injury with Eintracht Frankfurt, Valentino Lazaro has joined Borussia Monchengladbach after not being given reassurances of starts at Newcastle and Nabil Bentaleb never did enough to earn a permanent contract with Newcastle.

Who is Newcastle's key player?

The Magpies have struggled for goals over the last few seasons, excluding the 2018/19 season when they had Salomon Rondon and Ayoze Perez as an attacking duo.

Therefore, the signing of England international Callum Wilson is a significant piece of business for Newcastle and arguably the highest-profile of signing they've made since Michael Owen.

Wilson scored eight goals last campaign, more than Dwight Gayle, Joelinton and Andy Carroll combined and something Bruce will be looking forward to seeing.

The England international will be the focal point and the main man with the pressure of a city on his shoulders which has proven too heavy for many players gone by. However, arriving with a proven track record Wilson will be looking to hit the ground running and with support from Miguel Almiron, Fraser and Allan Saint-Maximin he could be in for a great campaign.

A breakthrough talent

Last season's breakthrough star was Matty Longstaff with goals against Manchester United in both fixtures launching him into Premier League stardom, but who could follow his path this campaign?

Simply put, it could only be one player. Dan Barlaser is another rising star in the centre of midfield, having learnt his trade on two successive loan spells at Accrington Stanley and then Rotherham United last season.

He was an instrumental player for the Millers as they won League One and gained automatic promotion back to the Championship. As showcased in pre-season Barlaser has an eye for a pass, is great in the tackle and has a superb footballing brain knowing where to be at the right time.

If he is to break into the first team it would be in place of Jonjo Shelvey who operates in a similar role but replacing him with Barlaser would be a smart move both on and off the pitch for Newcastle as they look to build for the future and cut the wage bill.

Key dates

Every fixture will be important for Newcastle as every point is vital in their target of Premier League survival. But their key dates are between December 5-19 as they face Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion, Leeds and Fulham in that period of time.

These are the type of games the Magpies must be targeting maximum points from if they want to progress from just a Premier League survival club every season.

They must be at least competitive all four games if they are to stand a chance of surviving and with the signings made Bruce will be hopeful of going at least unbeaten during those fixtures before Christmas.

Saturday, 5 December - Matchday 11 | Aston Villa vs Newcastle

Saturday, 12 December - Matchday 12 | Newcastle vs West Brom

Tuesday, 15 December - Matchday 13 | Leeds vs Newcastle

Saturday, 19 December - Matchday 14 | Newcastle vs Fulham

Writer's verdict

A better style of forward-thinking football is to be expected on Tyneside with the signings made by Bruce. However, it is way too much of an ask for a push higher up the league with the likes of Wolverhampton Wanderers and Everton the front runners to mix with the top six.

It is set to be a solid season for Newcastle as they aim to stay clear of the drop zone and progression is expected with four signings made that will always improve the Magpies on the pitch.

I'm tipping them to finish 12th.