Newcastle United are believed to be aiming to add five players to their squad this summer as Eddie Howe’s side prepare for a return to the Champions League.
There is said to be a desire to add a right-sided centre-back, two midfielders, a forward that can play out wide and a full-back to their squad – and it is the latter of those targets that comes under our radar as the Magpies aim to strengthen their options on the left-hand side of one of the Premier League’s meanest defences.
As it stands, Dan Burn is Howe’s first-choice left-back, despite being viewed as a centre-back that can play there rather than the other way around. The form of the former Brighton star has restricted Matt Targett to a backup role and there has been some suggestions he could be allowed to depart this summer if a suitable bid is presented.
Former Norwich City left-back Jamal Lewis is almost certainly to be heading for the exit door over the coming weeks and months and although stalwarts Paul Dummett and Matt Ritchie are likely to be around next season, they are unlikely to be heavily challenging for a starting place during a hectic campaign.
Several players from at home and abroad have come under the Magpies radar in recent months, with Arsenal’s Kieran Tierney, Internazionale’s Federico Di Marco, Monza’s Carlos Augusto and Bayer Leverkusen’s Mitchel Bakker all said to have been watched by United recruitment staff during that time. But is another player that has been tentatively linked with a move to Tyneside that we are assessing today – Stuttgart defender Borna Sosa.
Despite Stuttgart’s struggles at the wrong end of the Bundesliga table as they only maintained their top tier status with a play-off win over Hamburg, Sosa has produced some eye-catching statistics that compare favourably with some of European football’s most renowned left-backs.
Although we have to take into account his side being under pressure more than some of his fellow defenders around the continent, the Croatia international has averaged more defensive third tackles than the likes of Liverpool’s Andrew Robertson, Napoli’s Mario Rui and Barcelona star Jordi Alba and has a higher successful tackle percentage than all three of those players.
Comparing his to his would-be United team-mates Dan Burn and Matt Targett and Magpies target Tierney also sees Sosa compare favourably, with the Stuttgart defender creating over two times the average shot creating actions (5.02 per game over 25 league appearances) of the that trio and coming out on top with successful ball carries (41.0 per game), attacking take-ons (1.52 per game) and touches (75.0 per game) in the attacking third.
To further show Sosa’s real attacking threat, a comparison with United captain Kieran Trippier brings some intriguing results, with the pair creating a similar same number of goals for team-mates (Sosa – 12, Trippier – 10), although the current Magpie has created three more than the Croatian from set-pieces.
Narrowing down to vital statistics, Sosa scored twice last season and his 12 assists means he averaged a goal involvement in just under one in every two games in all competitions. His goals created in the Bundesliga ranked him third highest among defenders, with his total of seven only surpassed by Werder Bremen’s Mitchell Weiser and Hoffenheim’s Angelino. His ability to press high and comfort on the ball would fit into an Eddie Howe side and Sosa would bring experience of featuring at international level after gained 14 caps for Croatia all coming over the last two years and he featured heavily in his side’s run to the semi-finals of the World Cup last season.
The message coming out of Newcastle on a regular basis has made it clear the Magpies hierarchy are consistently aware of the challenges provided by Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations as they balance their attempts to continue their progress of the last 18 months with financial restrictions. Qualifying for the Champions League and recently announced sponsor deals have created some breathing space as they look to strengthen Eddie Howe’s ranks ahead of what will be an exciting season at St James Park.
Although Arsenal’s Tierney does seem to be their preferred option to enhance their options at left-back, an agreement has so far remained out of reach, with Newcastle said to be keen to secure a deal worth around £25m, a figure that falls short of the valuation the Gunners have placed upon the Scotland international.
Although Sosa would not provide the Premier League or European experience provided by Tierney, he does have experience of playing in high-level fixtures and his physique and style would not make him look out of place in this current Magpies sides. The financial side of the deal would work for Newcastle too, with Sosa coming a reported asking price of around £15m and a somewhat modest current weekly wage believed to be around £15,000 meaning United could offer an increase without any trouble.
The smart money seems to be on an agreement being found to take Tierney to Tyneside, with recent reports suggesting the next fortnight could be ‘crucial’ for the deal to be completed – but a move for Sosa could be a shrewd piece of business for the Magpies if they are unable to secure the Gunners star.