Season Preview: Newcastle Utd

by Kevin Coleman

Newcastle Utd‘s relegation down to the Championship was seen as impending doom for the club, one that would take years to recover from. Just a few seasons after battling for a spot in the top four, they were in England’s second tier and many pessimistic fans felt that that was it for the Magpies – they were about to “do a Leeds”.

But Newcastle’s year in the second tier may have changed the club for the better. No more high expectations from a side without the financial muscle to compete for honours, while the days of signing expensive talent which didn’t perform over – and the rumours and allegations about the owner and the finances put where it belongs, behind closed doors. Newcastle have been given a second chance after an impressive year in the Championship, it’s fair to say they don’t want to have to repeat that feat.

Newcastle have rewarded Chris Hughton with another year in charge after leading the side to first place in the Championship. The man who’s witnessed a number of managers come and go was installed as boss after Alan Shearer left back in 2009. Hughton has always been a reliable figure at St. James’, staying put despite all the problems that emerged, coming out as a permanent Premier League manager where he’ll lead his charges into Old Trafford in August as the main man for the first time.

The side was very well balanced last season, only conceding a handful of goals, going unbeaten at home while scoring a bucket load of goals. They were very much set up to be un-penetrable and focused on counter attacking with plenty of pacey players in Wayne Routledge, Jonas Gutierrez and full backs Danny Simpson and Jose Enrique. Whether this style will help them in the Premier League remains to be seen, but the youth and energy will see them as one of the more exciting teams to watch next season.

Last season: 1st in Championship
Manager: Chris Hughton
Odds: 750/1
Ins: James Perch (undiscl. from Nottingham Forest), Dan Gosling (free from Everton)
Outs: Wesley Ngo-Baheng (released), Nicky Butt (released), Frank Danquah (released), Jonny Godsmark (released), Darren Lough (released), Callum Morris (released), Fabrice Pancrate (released)

WHAT’S CHANGED?

The squad hasn’t changed much at all, so far anyway. As mentioned earlier, they simply don’t have the financial outlay to bring in the players to add to a thin squad. One new addition is James Perch, who joined from Nottingham Forest. A versatile player who can play in defence and midfield. He should start at right back, at least at the start of the season, with Danny Simpson out injured.

A couple of young players have caught the eye recently, and may appear over the course of the season. Striker Nile Ranger is one who has been particularly impressive, and scored a few goals last season when Shola Ameobi was out injured – but he could be off to Watford on loan. Andy Carroll is another young striker who has impressed, although he is already established in the starting eleven having scored nineteen goals last season in forty-two appearances.

Newcastle have signed Dan Gosling on a free transfer from Everton, however the highly rated youngster is out until 2011 with an injury. Elsewhere in terms of young players coming through, watch out for Ryan Donaldson and Hans Vuckik, a 17-year-old attacker from Slovenia, if they are not sent out on loan.

Tactics: Hughton likes to play 4-4-2 at home, and switch to a 4-5-1 formation when playing away. They have some very quick players, and like to attack from the full back positions while Wayne Routledge provides width on the right hand side. Up front is Andy Carroll and Sheola Ameobi, with Kevin Nolan not far behind in a very attacking central position where his late running and eye for goal scored eighteen last season. When playing away, Alan Smith comes into the centre midfield for Ameobi, while Nolan continues high up behind the lone striker. Counter attacking is a big part of their play particularly down each wing, while Nolan and Carroll in the centre – as well as Ameobi – provide a good goalscoring threat.

Key Player: Newcastle’s key player is Kevin Nolan. His switch into a more attacking role proved a stroke of genius from Hughton, with Nolan’s fantastic positioning sense and determination to get into the box providing a major goals threat. Eighteen goals last season tells it’s own story for a player of his position. Some may say their key player comes in the form of Jose Enrique at left back, who after a poor first few seasons has been terrific, or Andy Carroll leading the line, but Nolan’s form last season in earning promotion has made him a vital player in the squad.

Fixtures: Newcastle couldn’t have asked for a more difficult opening day to their first season back in the Premier League; a Monday evening trip to Old Trafford. However Newcastle will be hopeful that they can get something out of the game, having drawn with them on the opening day two years ago. It’s another tough game a week later as they host Aston Villa at St. James’, before playing Wolves away, Blackpool at home and finally Everton at Goodison Park.

First Five Fixtures: Manchester Utd (A), Aston Villa (H), Wolves (A), Blackpool (H), Everton (A)

Where will they finish? It’s impossible to say, if they take off where they left last season they could finish around the midtable, but with so many sides in the league strengthened this summer Newcastle could be in for a tough battle to avoid relegation. But with a new lease of life, they should stay up. 17th

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