Published on Thursday, 23 January 2014 19:00 | Written by Murray Crundwell | Hits: 1052
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Unusual, I know, but to start, cast your mind back in time. Back to the end of the 2011/2012 season, when beaverish defending and a strike force that had both Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba in imperious form led Newcastle to a 5th-place finish in the Barclays Premier League, and also into the Europa League. However, these impressive league statistics and entrance into Europe were to come back to haunt the Toon Army.
The summer of 2012 should have seen Alan Pardew follow up the strengthening process he started 12 months previously in order to get his squad ready for the club’s first venture into Europe since 2007. However, purse strings were tight, and only four players – Curtis Good, Vurnon Anita, Gael Bigirimana and Romain Amalfitano – were signed. On their way out, though, were 21 players, albeit only five first team names, but 21 nonetheless.
Despite this, the obvious lack of squad depth was not really an issue during the team’s Europa League campaign. The Magpies made it through the group stage by placing 2nd in their group behind French side Bordeaux and knockout phase wins against Ukrainian outfit Metallist Kharkiv and big-spending Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala were to follow. The quarter-final stage of the competition was where the run ended as Pardew’s men were beaten 4-2 over two legs by eventual finalists Benfica.
The same can’t be said for Newcastle’s league form, however, as the obvious lack of first team-quality players – as well as long-term injuries to the likes of Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa, Steven Taylor and Ryan Taylor – resulted in a run of 10 losses in just 13 games in the first half of the season.
These two points – a superb run in Europe and poor league form – are tangibly linked. When a side enters European competition, signings must be made and a squad must be strengthened with players who can step in to do a job at any point. Look at the teams who made the final that year – Benfica and Chelsea. The Portuguese outfit, in the 2012/2013 campaign, had no fewer than 10 top-quality midfielders – including the likes of Nemanja Matic, Pablo Aimar and Nicolas Gaitan – and seven forwards to call on, while Chelsea’s strength in depth is often considered the stuff of legend.
To the relief of Newcastle fans around the world, the January transfer window opened and Mike Ashley opened his chequebook to warrant the signing of five French players. Moussa Sissoko, Mathieu Debuchy, Yoan Gouffran, Massadio Haidara and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa came in and were dropped straight into the team.
Premier League form picked up almost immediately, with results at St James’ Park – including a 3-2 win over the then Champions League holders Chelsea – driving wins elsewhere. Even with these close-season victories, The Magpies could only muster 11 wins in the league all term, and wound up finishing in a lowly 16th place, just 5 points above the relegation zone and 2 points above arch-rivals Sunderland who beat them 3-0 in April’s Tyne-Wear derby.
As was the case in the impressive 2011/2012 campaign, Newcastle are not in European competition this season, and it’s clear for everyone to see the difference. Currently sat 8th in the league and just five points off their tally for the entire 2012/2013 season, things are again looking bright for fans in the North East of England.
However, this surge up the table doesn’t bode well for next season. Yes, thinking about next season already, but bear with me.
If the form guide discussed above is to be believed, then a continuation of good form this year may land them in a European qualification spot, leading to a poor season to come in the 2014/2015 season. All very speculative, I know, but the evidence is clear to see, not only in Newcastle.
Wigan, who claimed a spot in Europe by winning the FA Cup last year and were then relegated after poor league form, are finding life in the Championship tough – currently 11th – and extra games in Europe are not helping matters. Swansea, too, are struggling this season having made it into the Europa League after winning 2013’s Capital One Cup, with strength in numbers to cope with games abroad being bounded around by fans as the reason.
Now, with more talk than ever of star man Yohan Cabaye making the switch back to his home country with PSG in a £21 million deal, Newcastle will need to use this money to bring in new faces. Reason being, the Toon Army are looking incredibly strong without anyone really noticing them doing so, and the French core of the side has gelled better than anyone could have anticipated. It would be a shame to have a startlingly good campaign this year only let it all slide by the wayside in the following season.
What can be done to waylay the curse of these extra fixtures and keep league and European form running smoothly? Is it just a case of signing more players in order to ensure a squad rotation system keeps legs fresh, or is that a tactic exclusively reserved for the big names in world football?