Reports today suggest that Andros Townsend will soon be a Newcastle player. If that happens - and if his arrival signifies the end of the club’s January spending - it will have been a good window.
Ten days ago, Steve McClaren added Jonjo Shelvey to his midfield, adding a necessary new dimension to a limited unit. Vurnon Anita and Jack Colback have their merits and their uses, but Shelvey is in a different weight-category as a footballer. His attribute range is broader and he’s able to effect the game from deep in a way that makes him a unique asset to McClaren.
So if the Shelvey transfer solved a problem, the Townsend move amounts to building on that new strength. The Tottenham winger is a very direct player: quick, uninhibited and more skilful than generally assumed. He’s at his best in one-on-one situations and, you suspect, McClaren’s plan will be to use Shelvey’s elaborate and reliable passing range to isolate the winger with full-backs as often as possible.
That’s a very smart upgrade to have made because, this season at least, they’ve had to use centre-based players to provide width. Moussa Sissoko has periodically been used on the right side of the advanced midfield trio, in spite of not being an orthodox winger, and Giorginio Wijnaldum - although more commonly deployed behind a lone forward - has also occasionally been shuffled over to the left.
Townsend is stronger on the right as an inverted winger, but can also play from left. The way to evaluate this deal, then, is to appreciate the fluidity he brings to St James’ Park. On one hand, he’s capable of playing in a range of different position - a trait which few contemporary Newcastle players share - but he’ll also diversify McClaren’s existing options and facilitate some mixing-and-matching within that attacking “four”.
With Henri Saivet also now at the club and Newcastle holding a diverse range of forward options (Aleksandar Mitrovic, Papiss Cisse and Ayoze Perez all present different challenges to a defence), this team is starting to look like a real threat. They aren’t reliant on one attacking player and they can no longer only win games in a single way - there’s a healthy eclecticism to them.
Emmanuel Riviere and Yoann Gouffran don’t seem particularly involved in McClaren’s plans, but could also be added in, and Rolando Aarons is a developing player who will presumably become relevant when fit. Papiss Cisse is currently a long-term absentee, but will obviously feature once he recovers.
Even without those players, though, Newcastle now have the luxury of depth at the top of their formation and have (superficially) eliminated one of their long-term problems. A lot of the evils still remain in the North-East and until the cancerous Mike Ashley tumour has been properly removed the club should be treated with scepticism, but there is at least some evidence that lessons have been learned.
Remember Derek Llambias’ naive posturing on this issue and his insistence that he and Ashley had discovered a magic formula which disproved squad-depth as a concept? This current group is as far away from that as the club have been in the last decade.