Rafa Benitez has got a busy summer ahead of him.
The Newcastle boss needs strength in depth if he is to keep the Magpies where they belong in the Premier League. Fortunately, he has plenty of experience in recruiting for the rigours of England’s top tier. While he has already been linked with moves for former Liverpool charges Pepe Reina and Lucas Leiva, there is plenty of scope for reuniting with plenty of other old faces for the new season.
With Jonjo Shelvey already among the Toon ranks, here’s a full starting XI of Benitez’s former Liverpool signings he could (semi-realistically) sign for Newcastle this summer – with an average age of about 106, what they might lack in pace they compensate with an awful lot of nostalgia…
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1. GK: Pepe Reina
Current Club: Napoli
If the rumours about a move Tyneside for ‘Joe Queen’ turn out to be true, it would be the third time the keeper has teamed up with Benitez in his career.
One of few men to have won the World Cup without playing a minute of football, Reina was signed by Benitez for Liverpool in 2005 – back when both men had considerably more hair.
After keeping over 100 clean sheets in the Premier League, manager and stopper met again in Napoli for the 2013/14 season.
Despite his advancing years, Reina might just prove a solid piece of recruitment for Newcastle, who could use a few more experienced heads in the dressing room.
2. RB: Antonio Barragan
Current Club: Middlesbrough
Wouldn’t have to relocate far, the Boro right back was one of many youth players Benitez brought to Anfield during his tenure.
Barragan may never have made a league outing for the Reds but he has fashioned a solid career for himself at the likes of Deportivo La Coruña, Valencia and now Middlesbrough.
One of few to emerge from the Teessiders season with much credit, he would surely relish another crack at the Premier League and prove a more natural fit than Vurnon Anita at right back.
3. LB: Emiliano Insua
Current club: Stuttgart
Much like Newcastle, the Argentine left back has just won promotion back to the top flight with his current club Stuttgart – and is the only one in this XI under the age of 30.
Insua never quite made the grade at Liverpool despite Benitez giving him multiple chances. His recent career trajectory and seven assists last term, however, suggests he might be useful attacking alternative to Paul Dummett.
4. CB: Martin Skrtel
Current Club: Fenerbahce
The big Slovak’s vital Premier League experience and child-frighteningly angular features could prove a key combination, as Benitez seeks a defensive fear factor on his Premier League return.
Skrtel was playing for Liverpool as recently as 2016 and it would be great to see him team up with the man who took him from obscurity to cult stardom back in 2008.
5. CB: Gabriel Paletta
Current Club: AC Milan
With all the new money flowing into Milan this summer, Paletta might be required to seek new employers.
He made just eight first team appearances for Liverpool before seeking pastures new with Boca Juniors. The limited nonsense Argentine enforcer has forged a reputable career in Serie A with Parma and then AC Milan and could with some luck become Newcastle’s new Fabricio Coloccini…except, you know, without the hair.
6. MC: Lucas Leiva
Current Club: Liverpool
Seemingly the most realistic of the Benitez Babes to reunite at Newcastle, Lucas has been on the fringes at Liverpool for some time despite showing his quality whenever called upon.
Able to play in the centre of defence or midfield, he might prove a shrewd option, if he doesn’t decide, after ten years on Merseyside, to leave England altogether for sunnier climes.
7. MC: Javier Mascherano
Current Club: Barcelona
Mascherano arriving at Newcastle in 2017 would constitute just as big a coup, as when he rocked up at West Ham alongside Carlos Tevez way back in 2006.
Once kept out of the starting XI by Hayden Mullins, the former Argentina captain was given his first real chance to shine in Europe by Benitez, and might just feel like paying his former boss back with a cameo season at the tail end of his career.
Would form possibly the least creative midfield partnership in Premier League history alongside Lucas.
8. MR: Ryan Babel
Current Club: Besiktas
Once tipped as the great hope of the Dutch national team, Babel’s promise as a youngster didn’t quite translate into senior success.
After a few mixed seasons (and a bizarrely sexist Twitter meltdown) following his Anfield departure in 2011, the winger has found some semblance of form in Turkey where he won the 2016/17 Super Lig with Besiktas, scoring five along the way.
9. LW: Maxi Rodriguez
Current Club: Newell’s Old Boys
Never the quickest on the park, Rodriguez’s technique and skill saw him become a fan favourite at Anfield during his two and a half seasons.
Still playing (and scoring) for Newell’s Old Boys in Argentina – this old boy might be just the kind of savvy impact option Benitez needs for the long Premier League grind. Surely worth the gamble just to see if he can do this again.
10. ST: Peter Crouch
Current Club: Stoke City
Stoke’s top Premier League scorer in 2016/17 is demonstrably not done yet. While Birmingham City boss Harry Redknapp is as sure as day follows night to pick up the landline to Crouchy, let’s be honest, Newcastle is the more appealing option.
The beanpolic, beanpolian, beanpolish(?) striker has all the ingredients to be a firm fan favourite for the Toon with a season-long swansong – Think a roboting Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
11. ST: Fernando Torres
Current Club: Atletico Madrid
Rumour has it Torres has already rejected a big money deal to go to Mexico in order to sign on for one more year in the Spanish capital, but who’s to say he wouldn’t be more open to Whitley Bay than the Gulf?
The move would give him a chance to erase the bad memories of Chelsea, and relive the glory days of fan worship in the north of England.