NEWCASTLE UNITED will make Eintracht Franfurt striker Sebastien Haller their number one target as they look to transform their attacking options in the January transfer window.

Rafael Benitez has discussed transfer matters with both Mike Ashley and Lee Charnley in recent weeks, and is hoping the January window will witness a marked change of mind-set from those above him in the St James’ Park hierarchy.

The Newcastle boss has identified a new centre-forward and an attacking midfielder as his key priorities at the start of next year, and while he would also like to strengthen his squad at left-back, the last few matches have confirmed the need to focus on the final third of the pitch.

Benitez has instructed his head of recruitment, Steve Nickson, to focus on a small number of attacking targets, and while he is still to receive a firm indication of just how big his budget will be – something that has been a source of frustration throughout his Tyneside reign – he is understood to be hopeful that Newcastle’s long-standing transfer record will finally be broken at the turn of the year.

Ideally, he would like to rekindle his interest in Nicolas Pepe, but having opted against making a move for the French forward last year, Newcastle’s recruitment team have accepted he is now outside their range.

Pepe is arguably the most in-demand player in the whole of France’s Ligue 1 after scoring seven goals in 11 league matches for Lille this season. His efforts have seen him linked with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Arsenal in recent weeks, and he is expected to command a fee of around £40m if he leaves his current employers in either January or next summer.

While his name has been removed from Newcastle’s list, Haller’s still features extremely prominently, and the 24-year-old is set to become the Magpies’ key target over the next couple of months.

Like Pepe, Newcastle have scouted him extensively over the last couple of years, and there is growing confidence that he can be prised from his current German employers, Eintracht Frankfurt, despite having signed a four-year contract when he joined them from Utrecht in the summer of 2017.

A tall, athletic striker, who is a former France Under-21 international, Haller has scored six goals in nine Bundesliga matches for Frankfurt this season, a tally that leaves him joint-third in the German top goalscorer standings behind his team-mate, Luka Jovic, and Borussia Dortmund’s Paco Alcacer.

Dortmund have been credited with a potential interest in his services, although their attacking riches might restrict his first-team opportunities if he were to switch employers in the Bundesliga. His ability to lead the line would make him ideal for Benitez’s preferred playing style on Tyneside, and it is telling that Newcastle have already scouted him on a number of occasions this season.

Benitez is adamant he wants to sign players with experience of a leading European league, as he does not want to pitch untried youngsters into what is likely to be a battle against relegation in the second half of the season.

However, his options are limited by his inability to make another domestic loan. Newcastle already have two players on loan from English clubs – Kenedy and Salomon Rondon – and cannot sign another loan player from a team in either the Premier League or Football League. They can, however, make loan signings from abroad.

Benitez is a long-standing admirer of Watford’s Troy Deeney, but it is unlikely that Ashley will sanction a major financial outlay on a player who turned 30 in June. The Newcastle boss has also made injuries about Danny Ings and Daniel Sturridge in the past, but the former has looked out-of-sorts with Southampton this season and the latter is becoming an increasingly influential presence in Liverpool’s first-team squad. As a result, a move for either is unlikely.