Newcastle United were dealt a major blow earlier this week, when their star striker Dwight Gayle was taken off 30 minutes into the game against Aston Villa, due to a hamstring problem. The former Crystal Palace man was making his comeback against Villa, after a spell on the sidelines, but seemed to have aggravated his condition and it has been confirmed that he will miss up to at least one month of action for the Magpies.
The 26-year old striker joined Newcastle last summer from Crystal Palace for a fee reported to be in the range of £10 million and has soon established himself as a key cog for Rafael Benitez’s side. Gayle has so far scored 20 goals for the Toons in 24 Championship appearances along with two assists. However, it was until he was ruled out of action after sustaining an injury against Brentford in January. And on his comeback, the Englishman caused more worries for the fans. Gayle will now miss at least six games for Newcastle, that include key clashes against promotion rivals Brighton, Huddersfield and Reading.
With such an important period ahead for Magpies, the loss of Gayle comes as blow for Benitez and his team. But for them to continue their march towards promotion to the top-division, they will need to soldier on without their top goalscorer. So, who should be the man to replace Gayle in the Newcastle line-up? Who should Rafa rely on to deliver goals for his side as the business end of the season approaches? We analyse.
The obvious choice for everyone will be Serbian striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, who replaced Gayle against Villa on Monday night. The 22-year old has struggled for goals this term and has only mustered four strikes from his 18 Championship appearances. But he has impressed with his link-up play having laid on 18 clear-cut chances for his teammates, three of which have culminated in goals. The Serb scored Newcastle’s only goal in the 1-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers two weeks back but did not have a great outing against Villa.
But given his imposing presence in the penalty box and with the quality of wide players that Newcastle possess in Matt Ritchie and Yoann Gouffran, Mitrovic seems to be the ideal pick to come in for Gayle.
There could be a case made for Ayoze Perez to lead the line for the Magpies with Mohamed Diame slotting in at the No. 10 position. The Spaniard has mostly been utilized as a secondary striker, operating behind Gayle, and has impressed in that role. He has scored five goals and assisted five more this term, from 25 appearances in the Championship.
Slotting in behind him will be Mo Diame, who has displayed his capabilities of operating in an advanced midfield role. The 29-year old has netted two goals and has chalked up two assists to his name and has shown that he can control the proceedings, playing off the main striker. But he struggled to have a great impact against Villa on Monday night.
Utilizing Perez and Diame could provide Newcastle with pace and energy in the attacking third of the pitch, but it seems unlikely that Benitez would go for this combination given Perez’s lack of physicality up front and Diame’s form blowing hot and cold.
Third striker Daryl Murphy is the outside option. But the veteran has scored only twice this season and it seems highly improbable that he will be asked to start. Instead, Benitez might count on the 33-year old to make an impact coming on from the bench.
Considering all the options, it seems that the best way forward for Newcastle to go would be bringing in the talented but mercurial Mitrovic into the fold in place of Gayle. The Serbian will provide a much direct threat going forward and with his strong presence up front. The likes of Perez will be afforded more space and time to make an impact, playing behind him. Gayle will surely be missed by Newcastle, but, in a firing Mitrovic and Perez, Benitez has enough firepower at his disposal to keep their title and promotion flames burning bright.