I promise to avoid bias in this preview of the Premiership’s greatest team.
At the end of last season
As the surprise package of last season (along with all the promoted teams), Alan Pardew’s side of bargains had forced their way to 5th place, even threatening Champions League qualification for most of the campaign. What made this so impressive was that it was achieved with a team assembled almost completely from the £35 million sale of Andy Carroll to Liverpool the previous January. Although the squad sometimes looked a bit thin (James Perch filling in at centre-back was a memorable highlight), nearly every player did what was needed when called upon.
What’s happened since then?
The squad’s got a bit thinner, although of those who’ve left only Danny Guthrie and Leon Best played any meaningful role last season. To date the only signing likely to go into the first-team squad is Romain Amalfitano, whose highlight reel is like something from the 1960s. Given how stretched the squad became during the final part of 2011/12, the addition of a few more squad players looks a necessity given the addition of (hopefully 19) Europa League fixtures. Attention should especially be paid to whichever full-back slot Davide Santon doesn’t fancy, an extra forward (neither the Ameobis nor Nile Ranger inspires confidence as backup) and a central midfielder to relieve some of the relentless pressure on Cabaye and Tiote.
Thought should also be given to their seeming inability to have two high-performing Senagalese strikers at once. Although this was largely due to Demba Ba being shunted to the left wing following the signing of Cisse, it will be interesting to see how long he is willing to put up with this, though the recent expiry of his buy-out clause hopefully shows a willing on his part to knuckle down and make things work.
Current starting XI
Due to the lack of signings the same as the first-choice XI from the second half of last season. Ben Arfa cutting inside, overlapping full-backs etc. etc. Maybe Amalfitano will come into midfield, I’m not sure how good he is yet.
It seems like forever since Alan Pardew’s ignominious appointment in the wake of Chris Hughton’s sacking, but he has built up immense goodwill for the way he has rebuilt the side after the departures of Carroll, Nolan and Barton. He managed to maintain a solid team spirit with a clear first-choice XI, no mean feat, and if he can repeat the trick of having every squad player fill in like they’ve been playing out of position for seasons, he’ll have to go down as Newcastle’s best manager since Sir Bobby, although this probably isn’t too high an accolade considering the competition.
Where will they finish?
This season could go one of two ways, and much will depend on how many new players are signed, whether the team can hold up to the unfamiliar rigours of midweek European football and if Papiss Cisse can continue his impersonation of Jesus. However, because even 16 years of getting repeatedly crapped on by teams wearing red has failed to dampen what remains of my optimism, I’m going European qualification and at least the quarter-finals of the Europa League.
And I’ll leave you with this.