The World Cup talents Newcastle should be scouting in Qatar – Five ones to watch

The World Cup starts today, which feels strange midway through the season. For the last few international tournaments, there has been a relief to stop worrying about Newcastle United for a month, but that isn’t the case this time. The team are third and flying. There couldn’t be a worse time to stop for an international tournament. 

That said, it gives an opportunity for the recruitment team to scout players for the next month. Below we discuss five players that they should be keeping an eye on. Some have been linked before. Others haven’t. 

Edson Alvarez (Mexico)

One of the short term objectives for our recruitment team will be a defensive midfielder. During the summer, Alvarez was linked with a move to the club, in addition to being linked with Chelsea. It is clear that he is rated across European football, due to his performances for Ajax and Mexico.

At the World Cup, he will be competing in a tough group, facing Argentina and Poland. There will be an opportunity for Alvarez to show his quality against such opposition. 

In possession, Alvarez looks to play simply, finding his team-mates with short passes. His pass accuracy of 87.6% underlines this. He can progress the ball forwards quickly too, with an average of 4.81 progressive passes per ninety minutes, placing him in the 83rd percentile among players in his position. This season, he has been more attack-minded for Ajax, with two assists. 

Without the ball, he is aggressive, as you would expect from a player with five bookings already in the Eredivisie. He averages 2.48 tackles and 1.55 interceptions per ninety minutes. Meanwhile, he averages 3.72 successful aerial duels, putting him in the 99th percentile in his position.

Alvarez looks to be a perfect fit for the Premier League. He would be well suited to playing in Eddie Howe’s 4-3-3 as the sitting midfielder.

Manuel Ugarte (Uruguay)

Another defensive midfielder worth watching this winter is Manuel Ugarte. The Sporting and Uruguay midfielder is 21, with lots of potential. As he is playing outside of Europe’s top five leagues, he is a player we would be able to attract to St James’ Park.

Ugarte offers a less complete game than Alvarez, but he would add two key characteristics to our midfield. He is reliable in possession and he is tenacious when his team doesn’t have the ball. That would be expected from a Uruguayan midfielder.

His pass completion is a very healthy 91.8%, showing that he often chooses to play short passes into his midfield colleagues. Ugarte can carry the ball though, with an average of 1.83 completed dribbles per ninety minutes, putting him in the 95th percentile. 

When the other team have the ball, he is aggressive in trying to win it back. He averages 3.8 tackles, 2.15 interceptions and 1.97 blocks per ninety minutes. All put him in the top 2% in his position, showing that he is intense without the ball.

Teun Koopmeiners (Netherlands)

Over the next two years, there could be a need to add another number eight to the squad. At the moment, we are well stocked there, but as we progress into European football, the squad needs depth. The club may choose to sign one soon and keep Bruno Guimaraes in a deeper role.

Teun Koopmeiners should be a player we look at. He has emerged as one of the most important players for Atalanta in Serie A, as they attempt to return to the Champions League. This winter, he will play a similarly important role for the Netherlands.

This season, he has scored four goals and contributed one assist in the league, showing his greater attacking role. Koopmeiners averages 0.12 expected goals (xG) and 0.17 expected assisted goals (xAG) per ninety minutes. Further to this, he averages 3.55 shot creating actions per ninety minutes, underlining his creativity.

At times, we do lack creativity in our midfield. One solution could be to add a player like Koopmeiners. If Atalante don’t qualify for the Champions League this season, he could be one we target in the summer.

Jeremy Doku (Belgium)

There have been a lot of links to Jeremy Doku in recent years. The Belgian international fits very well with the profile of winger our supporters love to watch. There are a lot of similarities with Allan Saint-Maximin, although he favours playing on the right.

Injuries have hampered his development, but he is still only 20. This season, he has played only 165 minutes in Ligue 1, as Rennes have handled him with care. The Ligue 1 team have built a good attack without him, which means he could be available for a reasonable fee.

Roberto Martinez loves him for Belgium. He will be used as an impact sub, as his pace and directness causes things to happen on the pitch. During their quarter-final defeat to Italy, it was Doku that came on and changed the game, causing the eventual champions a lot of problems. 

His limited minutes means it is difficult to take much away from his statistical profile over the last year. An average of 7.04 successful dribbles every 90 minutes gives some idea into the type of player he is.

Noah Okafor (Switzerland)

The Austrian Bundesliga is a league we should be watching closely, as there is often an array of exciting players learning their craft there. Noah Okafor looks to be the next one off the ranks, after the Swiss international scored three goals in the Champions League group stages. 

In the league, he has scored seven goals to date. He can play across the forward line, but he has been predominantly used as a centre forward. During matches, he likes to drift wide in an attempt to isolate opposition defenders in one-on-one situations. Okafor is a powerful runner with the ball and he likes to beat players on the dribble.

His goal-scoring often comes as a result of his movement around the penalty area. Okafor is excellent at holding his runs to get into space at the right times. 

The main reason why Newcastle would be interested is Okafor’s work off the ball. He is a willing presser, who understands when is the right time to shut down passing angles. This is a tougher skill to coach, therefore Okafor is well placed to succeed at the highest level.

As a squad player to add competition to our forward line, Okafor is worth considering.

Stats taken from Whoscored and fbref (powered by Opta)

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