NEWCASTLE UNITED are returning to the Premier League and have already been linked with an incredible number of players since securing an exit from the Championship at the first attempt.

The season is not even officially over and, after word the club’s owner Mike Ashley has given Rafael Benitez the go-ahead to invest in the squad, it is clear the Magpies are going to be busy this summer.

If last summer was hectic then this one is shaping up to be more so for the Spaniard.

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More than 40 players have been linked; from Jermain Defoe to Cesc Fabregas and Pepe Reina to Yaya Toure … the latest to have been was Burnley’s Ashley Barnes yesterday.

Here are five players capable of providing a core to the team; ones Benitez should pursue more than any of the others, and could stand a chance of getting too …

THE GOALKEEPER

Pepe Reina, Napoli

Do Newcastle require a new goalkeeper? It’s an argument that could be debated all summer. Rob Elliot has returned to the fold and Tim Krul’s loan is due to end in Holland, while Newcastle already have Karl Darlow and Matz Sels.

Benitez will not rule anything out and is well aware Reina, a Liverpool goalkeeper until he left in 2014, only has 12 months remaining on his contract in Naples so he would not command a huge fee. Reina will turn 35 at the end of August, so that helps to keep the price down too.

A lot will depend on what happens with Krul, but Reina is a proven international goalkeeper and one who plays with the sort of style Benitez loves, hence why he signed him at both Liverpool and Napoli.

THE DEFENDER

Calum Chambers, Arsenal

The Northern Echo:

The England defender, far left, plays the final game of his season-long loan with Middlesbrough tomorrow and has shown his quality at the Riverside this season.

Arsene Wenger’s future will be clearer after next week’s FA Cup final, but Chambers is a young defender who has proven himself at the top level and he could have to move on again.

Boro are be returning to the Championship, but he has looked the part and has attracted attention from England boss Gareth Southgate.

Another loan could be the most likely option for the ex-Southampton man, although Newcastle should try to strike a permanent deal for the 22-year-old.

THE MIDFIELDER

Tom Cairney, Fulham

The Northern Echo: IMPRESSIVE: Fulham's Tom Cairney

The 26-year-old has, arguably, been the best midfielder in the Championship this season, even if Jonjo Shelvey might have something to say about that. He scores goals, creates and can be used in the middle or further forward.

On his two appearances against Newcastle he dictated play in the middle and he made the Cottagers tick; little wonder then that Benitez tried to sign him in January.

At that stage Fulham quoted Newcastle £20m. The Cottagers don’t want to sell now, and Newcastle don’t want to pay that sum, although there will be a fresh attempt.

THE PLAYMAKER

Gylfi Sigurdsson, Swansea City

The Northern Echo:

At 27 years of age he just creeps into the age bracket that would still make him appealing for Mike Ashley, if the price is right.

The Icelandic playmaker would be perfect for Newcastle and is exactly what is required to fill the No 10 slot which has seen Mohamed Diame and Ayoze Perez struggle to hold down the shirt this season.

The problem Newcastle will have is that he could cost in excess of £20m. He is under contract until 2020 and because Swansea have stayed up Paul Clement will be looking to keep him.

That, though, does not detract from how good Sigurdsson is and how highly Benitez rates a player proven at Premier League level. The availability question will be asked, the task of signing him could be a lot harder.

THE STRIKER

Andre Gray, Burnley

The Northern Echo: WANTED? Burnley's Andre Gray

Strengthening the forward line will be a priority for Benitez, particularly how he is likely to listen to offers for Aleksandar Mitrovic and Daryl Murphy. He needs an extra option to top scorer Dwight Gayle.

Bournemouth’s Josh King is a target and Gray is under serious consideration also; if he could secure the services of both then that would be a real coup.

The Burnley striker has scored ten times this season to help the Clarets stay up and he is set for contract talks after this weekend.

Gray has power, can finish and is a real nuisance. He has experience of the Premier League, so ticks a lot of Benitez’s boxes.

The Wolverhampton-born 25-year-old, who has previously been on Newcastle’s scouting radar but they were put off by his asking price while at Brentford, only has one more year on his existing deal so this summer would be the time to strike. There will be plenty of competition.

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