Season Preview: Newcastle United

August 10, 2012 in Premier League

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Sometimes, the difference between being a joke and being a success is only a matter of time. Rewind to the end of 2010, and look at Newcastle United. Sacking promising manager Chris Hughton and replacing him with the out-of-work Alan Pardew made the club look like a joke. Newcastle selling their best striker and not replacing him, even for £35m, made the club look like a joke. Pardew claiming with a straight face that notorious seller Mike Ashley would pump all of that £35m into the transfer budget made the club look like a joke. Fast forward to August 2012, though, and ask someone which team in the Premier League they’d call a joke. You certainly will not hear the name ‘Newcastle’.

When you look at reasons why they aren’t considered a joke, Newcastle provide some good ones: a fifth-place finish, their credible scouting system that has landed them some great talent from the French leagues, their shrewd transfer policy that has seen them held up as a good example to follow in today’s otherwise petrodollar-fuelled football world, and their penchant for scoring some absolutely stunning goals. I mean, it’s gone as far as Newcastle fans saying that Mike Ashley isn’t even that bad, only a little while after believing him to be the Geordies’ response to the incompetence of Venky’s. The question on everyone’s lips, though, is…can they keep it up? Can they really replicate the form of last year and mount a real challenge for those Champions League places?


Key Player

The important thing about Newcastle’s team is that they now have serious strength in different areas. Everyone knows about the deadly front line of Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse, and to a similar extent, the deadly midfield trio of Hatem Ben Arfa, Yohan Cabaye and Cheick Tiote. But those would be boring answers, so my eye will be firmly on Newcastle’s defence. Capable of being extremely mean, injuries and inconsistency resulted in the Magpies conceding 51 goals in the league last year; not too bad, but still ten more than 4th placed Tottenham, and 11 more than Merseyside duo Everton and Liverpool. With a strong defence, Newcastle could look on building on the goals that their attack is capable of scoring, and I believe that Newcastle do have the personnel to achieve this. In Tim Krul, they have a classy goalkeeper that improves year-on-year, while in Fabricio Coloccini, Newcastle have their own talismanic defender a la Vincent Kompany or Nemanja Vidic. Krul can only work with what’s in front of him, so I’ll go with Coloccini; if he can forge a solid partnership with Steven Taylor at the back, Newcastle could be filling those European qualification slots once again.


Ones To Watch

It’s hard to look past Papiss Cisse for this one. His second goal against Chelsea in Newcastle’s 2-0 victory was one of the best I have ever seen, and his record of 13 goals in 14 games for Newcastle is nothing short of incredible. Such a spell could quite easily be a flash in the pan, though, especially since Premier League defenders are going to be more wary of him this year, so it’s up to Cisse to show that he didn’t use all his magic up in the last half-year. I’d also keep an eye on Yohan Cabaye; it seems strange that no-one has at least enquired about Cabaye after his decent performances for an underwhelming French side at the Euros, but I imagine that unless the Frenchman has got plans to stick about on Tyneside, he’ll be playing for a move to a bigger club this year. He’s capable of some brilliant passes and set-pieces, so definitely one worth watching.


Predicted Transfer Movements

Newcastle have been somewhat reserved in actually bringing people in, especially considering how many players have been touted to join. The grand total of two relatively low-profile signings - Gael Bigirimana from Coventry and Romain Amalfitano from French club Reims - will probably not improve the squad too greatly. A move for Lille’s French right-back Mathieu Debuchy has been on the cards for a while now, and will go some way to strengthening their defence, while I believe that Newcastle may want to look for that third quality striker; Shola Ameobi has never really been trusted to lead the line, and with Drake lookalike Leon Best sold to Blackburn, they will have to look at younger players Nile Ranger and Haris Vuckic. A third quality striker may just help Newcastle climb up the table without pressurising the younger strikers – Andy Carroll, maybe?


Finishing Position

So, the big question answered. Can Newcastle qualify for the Champions League? No. Can they do as well as they did last year? I’m going to say…almost. Chelsea will almost certainly finish above Newcastle this time around, but look at their rivals: Everton will need Nikica Jelavic to be firing on all cylinders to avoid their annual poor form, while as it presently stands, Liverpool have lost more players than they’ve brought in. Newcastle, with maybe one or two reinforcements, will have better strength in depth and should be able to call upon their stars to produce some magic if needed, particularly if some of them are playing for moves. The reinforcements could help push for a sixth place finish, but as it stands, I can see Newcastle finishing 7th.