TALKS might have been going on for months behind-the-scenes and some deals are already firmly in place, but the summer transfer window officially opens today.

With the end of the World Cup approaching, clubs will step up negotiations in the hope of striking the perfect deal.

It can be a painstaking process, with the chief executives, agents and footballers all striving for a transfer that suits them. Without a mutual agreement, transfers will break down and Newcastle United, Sunderland and Middlesbrough have all hit problems already this summer.

Loading article content

The weeks are passing and there is little sign of major progress. All three North-East clubs have made at least one signing, but the big deals that Alan Pardew, Gustavo Poyet or Aitor Karanka have hoped for have not materialised.

Just what does need to be done to improve fortunes? What areas should they look to fill quickly? Here are the three biggest concerns that Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough should be addressing.


1. Two new strikers

How much is Mike Ashley willing to spend on a new striker? If only you can get them on a buy one get one free basis ... that would be ideal for the retail tycoon.

Hertha Berlin’s £9.5m-rated Pierre-Michel Lasogga and Lyon’s France international Alexandre Lacazette, who Newcastle value in the £10m bracket, are the top targets following Bafetimbi Gomis’ decision to go to Swansea City.

Ashley might be reluctant to buy them both, but Pardew could do with them them even if they have already paid £1.6m to Tenerife for young Spaniard Ayoze Perez.

With Perez untested at Premier League level and Papiss Cisse far from convincing for the best part of a year, Newcastle cannot get away without spending big on attacking reinforcements this time around.

2. Midfield options

On the face of it, Newcastle have plenty of midfield options. Jonas Gutierrez has returned from Norwich and Jack Colback has arrived from Sunderland, meaning there are nine first team squad members available to fill four midfield positions. Many of those are versatile.

The reality, however, is completely different. Pardew would be more than happy to offload Hatem Ben Arfa, Gabriel Obertan, Sylvain Marveaux and Gutierrez, so the atmosphere will be far from ideal if those are who he must depend on come August.

3. Short of defensive cover

There are doubts surrounding the future of Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, so a different centre-back could well be required. As things stand Newcastle are pretty well stocked with defenders, they could just do with an alternative right-back.

Frenchman Mathieu Debuchy could quite easily be a target for bigger spending clubs before the transfer window closes after his World Cup outings, with Arsenal among those keen.

But even if he stays, Pardew could do with a defender more familiar with playing right-back week in and week out.

Best Newcastle team from current squad (4-4-2): Krul; Debuchy, Coloccini, Williamson, Santon; Sissoko, Tiote, Anita, Gouffran; Cisse, Sa Ameobi.


1. Few alternatives defensively

The arrival of Billy Jones, following his release from West Brom, has done little to improve Sunderland’s defensive options. As things stand he would be more likely to start on the left than his preferred right.

He is the only recognised full-back available to Poyet following the departures of Phil Bardsley, Andrea Dossena and Marcos Alonso, although work is ongoing to try to bring the £2m Fiorentina defender back to the Stadium of Light. They need him - just like they also need a new centre-back.

2. A winger is required

Without Fabio Borini’s drive and industry down the flanks, Sunderland would like at least one more winger. Sunderland must decide whether to offer £10m-plus for Liverpool’s Italian or pursue other directions.

Poyet does have the option of fielding Seb Larsson out wide again, but a greater wish would be to see Emanuele Giaccherini deliver on a consistent basis for the first time since his £8.6m switch from Juventus. It's hard to imagine any club coming in, paying as much and matching his weekly wage.

Adam Johnson is the only other winger available to the Sunderland boss.

3. Are strikers good enough?

The Black Cats have five strikers. But how many of those are any good? Connor Wickham showed towards the back end of last season that he possesses the talent to succeed in the Premier League, but now he needs to build on signs of progress.

But can Jozy Altidore or Ignacio Scocco deliver in England for a full campaign? Will Steven Fletcher rediscover the sort of form he showed in his first season after his £12m move from Wolves? And then there’s Danny Graham ...

If Poyet does not want to rely on any of the above, he needs to add a couple more strikers, which has led to links to Moussa Sow.

Best Sunderland team from current squad (4-1-4-1): Mannone; Roberge, Brown, O’Shea, Jones; Cattermole; Johnson, Larsson, Gomez, Giaccherini; Wickham.


1. Who will play up front?

Like Newcastle, the biggest problem facing Middlesbrough is Karanka’s striker ranks, or lack of them. Marvin Emnes is on his way to Swansea City, Danny Graham has returned to Sunderland following his loan and Lukas Jutkiewicz will be sold to a decent bidder.

That leaves Kei Kamara, who is not in the manager’s plans, the peripheral Curtis Main and deep-lying forward Lee Tomlin as the options up front. They missed out on Adam Le Fondre, Lewis Grabban and David Nugent, so as things stand it is little wonder Jutkiewicz has gone nowhere.

2. Full-back competition

Juanfran’s decision to reject the overtures from Teesside has not gone down well.

Middlesbrough are rethinking their options, having felt they could land the Spaniard for a deal potentially worth around £2m. Turning down the opportunity to sign Jozsef Varga on a permanent basis has left a hole to fill.

But Middlesbrough are also looking for somebody capable of pushing George Friend for his place on the opposite side, so the best option could be to target a versatile player capable of playing left-back as well as elsewhere.

3. Not enough pace in the middle

Midfielders Grant Leadbitter and Dean Whitehead have their strengths but neither possess the sort of speed that Middlesbrough have lacked in the middle for years.

Further forward the likes of Albert Adomah and Mustapha Carayol can turn defensive in to attack quickly, but through the middle Karanka could do with a quicker pair of legs to mix things up following Nathaniel Chalobah’s exit.

It is also far from certain that Leadbitter, interesting a number of clubs, or Richie Smallwood, wanted by Rotherham, will be still at the Riverside in August.

Best Middlesbrough team from current squad (4-2-3-1): Konstantopoulos; Williams, Woodgate, Ayala, Friend; Whitehead, Leadbitter; Adomah, Tomlin, Carayol; Jutkiewicz.