The Magpies owe their superb start to the season to the contributions of their on-form newcomers.
Blackburn Rovers' Liam Feeney (L) in action with Newcastle United's Jesus Gamez
Funny, that. The first time Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley hands control of recruitment over to the manager and the manager alone, the number of overpriced French wingers and utterly forgettable forwards at St James’ has dramatically decreased.
Rafael Benitez signed and signed well in the summer, meshing quantity with quality. But who is the best of a rather good bunch?
11) Grant Hanley
£6 million for one Championship start, per the Daily Mail. And that was the opening day defeat to Fulham. Firmly fourth in the pecking order, Scotland international and former Blackburn skipper Hanley is unlikely to see much game time under Benitez.
10) Matz Sels
Benitez backed his under-fire goalkeeper for a number of weeks but it got to the point where even Newcastle’s solid defence couldn’t paper over the cracks created by Sels.
The Belgian international has not started a league game since October while Rob Elliot’s return to injury is likely to shove him down to third choice with his inability to deal with the Championship’s physicality proving costly.
9) Daryl Murphy
At 33, Republic of Ireland international Murphy was supposed to add Championship experience and a viable height advantage to the frontline.
However, injuries have restricted the league’s 2014/15 top scorer to a grand total of zero appearances thus far while doubts persist about his ability to fit into Benitez’s tactical approach.
8) Jesus Gamez
A Champions League finalist with Atletico Madrid last season, Gamez could well prove to be an inspired signing on Tyneside.
They’ll have to wait to find out though as a collarbone injury is likely to keep the versatile full-back sidelined for some time.
7) Achraf Lazaar
Brought in from Palermo to high expectations, Moroccan international Lazaar found himself well and truly out of the first team picture until a positive performance against Hull in the EFL Cup reminded Newcastle fans that, yes, he wasn’t just a Facundo Ferreyra-esque mirage.
However, Benitez has placed his trust in the divisive yet sturdy Paul Dummett, meaning the swashbuckling Lazaar remains in reserve.
6) DeAndre Yedlin
It was difficult to gauge Yedlin’s progress at North East enemies Sunderland last season. Defensively culpable on occasions, attacking like a high-powered express train on others, one of the stars of the 2014 World Cup is yet to convince a few miles north in Newcastle either.
So far, the USA international has only made seven starts.
5) Mo Diame
The Senegalese powerhouse’s Wembley wondergoal against Sheffield Wednesday earned Hull a place back in the top flight last season but he dropped down a division during the summer to spearhead Newcastle’s Rafalution.
However, the man himself admitted he had been ‘sleeping’ through the season and needed to ‘wake up’. And, recently, he has, with his first Magpies goal against Wigan typically majestic.
4) Isaac Hayden
Barely used at Hull last season, Hayden was expected to remain a regular fixture on the substitute’s bench this season too with Diame and Jonjo Shelvey ahead of him in the pecking order.
However, the versatile enforcer has proved an essential if understated addition, with his discipline and tenacity providing the platform for Shelvey to dictate.
3) Ciaran Clark
If you were looking for a solid, reliable centre-half, Villa Park probably wouldn’t be your first port of call. Yet, Ciaran Clark has repaid Benitez’s faith with interest this season, even managing to keep fans favourite Chancel Mbemba out of the line-up.
Captain fantastic Jamaal Lascelles may get the credit but Clark is a vital cog of the Spaniard’s chugging machine.
2) Matt Ritchie
After Ritchie’s impressive maiden Premier League campaign on the Bournemouth flanks, it looked as if the only way was up. Then again, we didn’t consider the pulling power of Champions League winner Rafa Benitez.
Ritchie set the Championship alight during The Cherries promotion campaign and, while he’s taken a more backseat role this time around, he has been a reliable source of goals from the right.
1) Dwight Gayle
16 goals in 17 games, Glenn Murray’s Championship record of 30 from 2012/13 is under severe threat. It always seemed that Gayle, a truly natural goalscorer, didn’t get the chances he deserved at Crystal Palace but Alan Pardew’s loss is Newcastle’s giddy gain.
A shoe-in for Player of the Year unless Jonjo Shelvey has anything to say about that.