Youth rising, second chances & new chapters - a microscope over Newcastle United's squad ahead of their Premier League opener

Newcastle United's squad has a familiar feel heading into Sunday's Premier League opener against West Ham United - and accepting the status quo has been a bitter pill to swallow for Magpies fans.

Signings. What are they, is the cry from Newcastle United fans with the Premier League campaign just a matter of days away. The welcome arrival of Joe Willock is all the Magpies have to show for their summer transfer activity so far.

But what of the status quo? Here's a look at what to expect from the players who limped to an unlikely 12th-placed finish in the top flight last season.

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New chapters?

Ryan Fraser of Newcastle United celebrates with team mate Allan Saint-Maximin after scoring his team's first goal during the Pre-Season Friendly match between Doncaster Rovers and Newcastle United at at Keepmoat Stadium on July 23, 2021 in Doncaster, England.

New season, new beginnings? No new players, of course, but a chance for old ones to make their mark.

Starting at the back Freddie Woodman might well be handed the chance to start the season - in truth, likely bringing forward United's decision on the player - if injury and illness continue to limit goalkeeping options.

The player himself, cannot have asked for a better scenario, despite his loan to Bournemouth falling through. It is not out of the realms of possibility that loan is reignited, mind.

Last season proved a coming-of-age campaign for Jacob Murphy, and more of the same will be expected, while Jamal Lewis needs one of those this time around. His inexperience shone through last season and with that parked, for now, he needs to kick on - and has all the talent to do so.

Elsewhere, it's a tale of three forwards for United, even if many feel the Magpies are light in that department.

Callum Wilson has set a target of 20 goals and you wouldn't bet against his talents - but injuries might hold him back again, while it largely depends on what Allan Saint-Maximin turns up for United this season.

He has all the tools to make the big boys sit up and take notice by adding consistency and professionalism to his game or he might find himself in another frustrating situation next summer. He'd leave if he could but United aren't minded to let him unless a mega offer arrives. It is unlikely to do so this summer.

Joelinton looked to be a cert to head to the exit door at the turn of the year, but from March onwards really stepped up to the physicality of the league and added value to the United frontline. That slight upward trajectory needs to continue.

Second chances?

This season represents a second chance for a number of Newcastle United players for a number of different reasons.

Karl Darlow, Covid recovery-dependent, could be handed the chance to again grab the No1 jersey with both hands, following Martin Dubravka's summer injury.

Frustrated as dropping out of the team at the back end of the season, can Darlow hang on to it if handed the opportunity again? The ball is in his hands.

Matt Ritchie is another player who has another chance. To be fair, it is well-deserved.

The experienced former Scotland international was a revelation at the back end of last season and one of the catalysts for change as United avoided relegation.

This, however, came after a period of time out of the Newcastle team - one which saw him attempt to accelerate a move back to the south coast. That, of course, may yet happen, but for now Ritchie looks set for more first-team opportunities than he was afforded last season, heading into this.

And finally two underwhelming free transfers - Ryan Fraser and Jeff Hendrick - look set to handed the chance to kick-start their NUFC careers. And they need to. Both were poor last term.

Fraser has all the tools to cause problems at this level, but looks like he has to be shoehorned into a position in the side, while Hendrick has proven much of a muchness when it comes to United's midfield options. Bruce needs both to be better.

Youth rising?

Kell Watts and Joe White are two players who have impressed head coach Steve Bruce this summer - the latter raising eyebrows with fans due to some impressive performances off the bench in pre-season.

This could prove to be a development campaign for White, who may remain in and around the squad instead of head out, while Watts' future for now will be played out on loan at Wigan Athletic. Bruce has set his sights on one new defender this summer. But, as yet, progress on that front has been slow.

This campaign could well prove a crucial one in the development of Elliot Anderson, too.

The youngster broke on the scene with some composed, clever displays off the bench for the first-team but injury has prevented him taking the field this summer.

And towering keeper Dan Langley could sneak on a bench or two this season, depending on fitness in the goalie department.

Exit door looms?

Expect a number of Newcastle United kids to be sent out on loan in the coming weeks, some of whom have been mentioned above.

The need to get the likes of Rodrigo Vilca and others minutes is pressing, however one player sticks out like a sore thumb in the United squad.

Looking back over the last 12 months, Matty Longstaff will likely see frustration and stagnation.

Fresh off a protracted transfer wrangle, he looked set to launch his breakthrough year, only for injury to curtail that.

But, even when fit, manager Steve Bruce's mind seemed made up on the player, who has already shown he has the raw talent to be a success in the top flight.

Midfield reinforcements will see his exit confirmed, likely on loan with another new deal a distinct possibility, too.

Sean Longstaff might be one who exits, too – although Rafa Benitez will need to shift some players on before making a move for the older of the two brothers.

Corridor of uncertainty?

As for the rest? There are a number in the United squad who just don't look to fit or whose future seems uncertain.

Top of the pile at the moment is probably Javier Manquillo.

The defender has had a knock this summer, so pre-season has pretty much been a write off. But even when fit last season, the Spaniard barely got a kick. The most likely thing in his favour is the fact, Bruce is not overly keen on having to sign a full-back when other areas are so pressing.

For very different reasons Miguel Almiron also finds himself in an uncertain position.

In this system he doesn't quite fit and despite being one of United's most prized-assets, the player is ill-suited to a midfield role in the 3-5-2.

Elsewhere, Emil Krafth's talents have been questioned by many regular watchers and an offer would surely tempt, while Fabian Schar and Dwight Gayle's new contracts haven't seemed to make them any more secure in this squad. The latter flattered to deceive when handed the chance to shine in Wilson's absence.