Season Preview 13/14: NEWCASTLE UTD

ben-arfa-arsenal-and-chelsea-wanted-meTwelve months is a long time in anybody’s book, but last preseason feels like a lifetime ago to most Newcastle fans. Fresh from the optimism of a fifth-placed finish and losing out on a Champions League place thanks to Chelsea’s defensive triumph in Munich, Alan Pardew was enjoying the adulation of the supporters as he looked to engineer the Magpies’ best opportunity at silverware in many a season.

But after a season where a limited squad was stretched to the limit in pursuit of Europa League progression, Newcastle’s Premier League form took a dive, only securing safety in the penultimate game of the season.

An injection of new players from France saw a slight improvement in form in the winter months, including a Moussa Sissoko-inspired 3-2 win at St James’ that could have been the early signs of improvement. However, numerous rumours of squabbles and cliques in the dressing room saw Newcastle slide towards the trap door at an alarming rate, with their miserable season capped by a 3-0 mauling at home to a revitalised Sunderland in the Tyne-Wear derby.

A summer post-mortem resulted in Pardew keeping his job – just. The 52 year-old is the bookies’ favourite to be the first out of a job, thanks mainly in part to chairman Mike Ashley’s decision to appoint an outspoken Director of Football above Pardew.

6id8h12ji89iLast Season: 16th
Odds: 1000-1
Ins: Olivier Kemen – (Metz, undisclosed)
Outs: Danny Simpson (QPR, free), James Perch (Wigan, undisclosed), Shane Ferguson (Birmingham City, season-long loan), Mehdi Abeid (Panathinaikos, season-long loan), James Tavernier (Shrewsbury Town, one-month loan).

What’s new

The most exciting piece of news to come out of St James’ Park this summer has been the appointment of Joe Kinnear as the Director of Football, but for all the wrong reasons. In his last stint on Tyneside in the 2008 – 2009 season Kinnear was most fondly remembered for his tirade to gathered journalists in which he swore fifty-two times. After his unfortunate departure due to ill health in February of 2009, Kinnear has been in the footballing wilderness for over four years, perhaps best shown by Kinnear himself in an interview with TalkSport soon after his appointment as Director of Football.

The interview was designed to quieten the ill-feeling from the mass of Geordies questioning the wisdom of Mike Ashley, but Kinnear only allowed the fans’ mistrust to be confirmed when he said that ‘Ben Afri and Yohann Kebab’ were ‘very solid’ and that ‘Shola Amamobi is getting better and better, he’s a good young kid.’

He also claimed that he brought Tim Krul to the club, when in fact it was former boss Graeme Souness three years previously, and perhaps most impressively that he can ‘open the door to any football manager in the world.’ To top it off, Kinnear told the Newcastle fans that he has ‘certainly got more intelligence than them’.

After that failed attempt at good PR, not much has been heard from Kinnear, who has presumably taken a holiday when one considers the lack of activity on Tyneside this summer. The only arrival at St James’ has been that of 16 year-old Olivier Kemen from Metz, who is unlikely to feature in the first team any time soon.

Despite Papiss Cisse now resolving his issue of the club using on the front of their shirts, there is still an urgent need of a striker, with the club failing to replace Demba Ba since his move to Chelsea in January. With Cisse and Shola Amoebi as the club’s only recognised senior strikers, it is painfully predictable to see Newcastle line up with only a single striker week in, week out.

When considering last season’s goalscorer stats, it is alarming to see that Demba Ba was the club’s top goalscorer with thirteen strikes despite his January departure. The fact that Cisse scored only eight times should really have meant Newcastle should have pressed ahead with reinforcements a little sooner in this summer transfer window.

Newcastle have apparently shown interest in Bafetimbi Gomis of Lyon, who would be the all-action forward needed to lead the line. But with the club saying they are unlikely to go any higher than £7 million and the 27 year-old demanding wages of around £70,000, a late move for Aston Villa’s forgotten man Darren Bent is the most likely solution to the striker problem.

This week, Newcastle have taken a step to bolstering their attack with the loan addition of Loic Remy from QPR. The relegated player showed glimpses of great ability after his January transfer from the French top flight.

Tactics/starting XI

As shown last season, despite a strong looking starting XI, Newcastle have very little in reserve. Expect to see a 4-5-1 with width on a regular basis.

Tim Krul is the club’s undisputed number one, with the back four of Debuchy, Taylor, Coloccini and Santon only being challenged by the versatility of Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa.

The five in midfield see either Cheick Tiote or Vernon Anita patrolling the space in front of the back four, with Yohann Cabaye and Moussa Sissoko providing the distribution and energy. Out wide sees Hatem Ben Arfa cutting in from the right, with Jonas Gutierrez doing likewise from the left.

Up front sees Papiss Cisse foraging alone up front, with brothers Shola and Sammy Amoebi in reserve alongside another academy graduate in Adam Campbell.

How Loic Remy fits in will remain to be scene.

Strongest XI: Krul – Debuchy, Taylor, Coloccini, Santon – Ben Arfa, Cabaye, Tiote, Sissoko, Gutierrez – Cisse

Key player

Hatem Ben Arfa. Once again, much of the Magpies’ creative hopes hang from the mecurial Frenchman, who on his day, could slot into the midfield of any Premier League side. The only problem is keeping him fit; last season the 26 year-old played nineteen times, hampered by a hamstring injury suffered in December. That Ben Arfa has only played forty-five times in three seasons on Tyneside is telling, and hopefully this is the season that he can prove himself to the Premier League.

Keep an eye one

Yohann Cabaye – if he stays. Manchester United’s fruitless pursuits of Thiago and Cesc Fabregas have meant that David Moyes may have to look closer to home to bolster his midfield – and Cabaye’s name has been mentioned along with that of Moyes’ former employee Marouane Fellaini.

Fabricio Coloccini has long been a rock at the heart of the Newcastle defence, but there were rumblings in January that he wanted an immediate return to Argentina. That he decided to stay on for one last season on Tyneside is testament to the defender’s heart, and expect plenty of whole-hearted displays from the adopted Geordie.

Opening fixtures

Newcastle begin the 2013 – 2014 season with a tough trip to the Etihad Stadium, where Manuel Pellegrini has managed to add another £90 million worth of talent to an already star-studded squad.

Following on from that daunting start, Newcastle have three winnable home fixtures in their next four outings, with West Ham, Fulham and Hull all making the trip to Tyneside, with a trip to Villa Park sandwiched between these. A return of nine points from these opening five fixtures is certainly attainable. Anything less, and Alan Pardew will find himself under immediate pressure.

Where will they finish?

With no new additions on the horizon, another season of struggle looks imminent at St James’. Although teams around them have strengthened – most notably Norwich, Southampton and Sunderland – Newcastle will have a real battle to stay away from the drop zone.

BPF Prediction: 11th

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