Newcastle opened their new Premier League campaign with a superb 2-1 win over Andre Villas-Boas’s Tottenham side to further ram home their top four credentials and make a point that they are not going anywhere this term. After surprising everyone by finishing fifth in the league last season, could they potentially go one better this year?
Last season, many tipped the Magpies to struggle but they shocked everyone with how well they played, not only coping with the loss of Steven Taylor very well, but how quickly the likes of Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse settled into life in the top flight up front.
Alan Pardew’s side’s main positive going forward is the fact that Newcastle have a very settled first-team line-up, particularly compared to their rivals for a top four spot, the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea and Liverpool – four teams that you could all say were in a period of ‘transition’.
Nevertheless, the club have been hindered in their attempts to strengthen the squad this summer as they’ve bargained themselves into a standstill a lot of the time, refusing to pay over the top prices for continental talent and only really Ajax’s Vurnon Anita has arrived with the prospect of making a dent on the first-team in the immediate future.
When you factor in that the club is competing on four fronts this term, and with a relatively thin squad, they could struggle to juggle all of the balls in the air at once. Pardew has intimated that he will rely on fringe and youth-team players to help the club negotiate the early rounds of the Europa League, should they make it into the group stages. While this may show a certain disrespect and degree of disdain for Europe’s second competition, it just serves to highlight that the club have a primary focus in mind, which is building on last season’s excellent league finish.
The vultures were supposed to be out this summer for the club’s top players and Pardew has maintained throughout that should they receive what the club to consider a serious offer for one of their star players, that they will probably have to sell, but yet the nucleus of that strong starting eleven remains.
Puzzlingly, nobody ever took Demba Ba up on the £7m release clause in his contract which has since expired and he opened his account for the season with a superbly curled strike against Tottenham at the weekend. Perhaps it’s the fact that it was his first goal since early February and that he hadn’t scored since Papiss Cisse had joined the club which put people off him, which seems a remakably short-sighted approach to take with such a natural talent.
However, this ignores the fact that he has been asked ever since Cisse joined the club to perform a role on the left wing to accommodate not only his fellow countryman, but also mercurial French talent Hatem Ben Arfa, and they’ve moved on excellently ever since Andy Carroll’s big-money departure to Liverpool, boasting one of the most potent, fluid and exciting attacks in the entire league. A move for the £35m striker should be seen as a backwards step for all parties involved, although the links to Dimitar Berbatov are promising.
In the middle of the park, Yohan Cabaye and Cheick Tiote are still there and it beggars belief that neither Manchester club or Chelsea though about pursuing one or both of them this summer, while at centre-back, despite briefly being linked with Liverpool, Fabricio Coloccini still marshalls the defence, with Tim Krul behind him.
Arsenal are still coming to terms with the departures of not only Robin van Persie but also Alex Song, two big players for them last season, and trying to blood in the likes of Lukas Podolski, Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud will take time and there are still concerns over the fragility of their back four.
Over at Liverpool, the opening day 3-0 defeat to West Brom indicated that there will still be teething problems as Brendan Rodgers attempts to implement his footballing philosophy and they are likely to be an inconsistent beast this season, as they have their own European adventure to contend with.
Chelsea saw fit to lavish £65m on the likes of Eden Hazard, Oscar and Marko Marin, but they remain caught between two stalls – trying to win enough to guarantee a return to the top four and the deliberate onus on playing aesthetically-pleasing and entertaining football and it’s a huge season for the club fraught with pressure and weighty expectations.
While at Tottenham, the fact that Andre Villas-Boas is trying to get his side playing at a much higher tempo both on and off the ball, plus the fact that the influential Luka Modric looks set to depart on their lack of depth up front (soon to be hopefully solved by the arrival of Emmanuel Adebayor), and it becomes clear that while a potentially exciting era is on the horizon, they still have problems in the short-term to negotiate.
The fact that Newcastle go into the new season with practically the same side that finished last term in such fantastic form is a point worth noting. For that very same reason, David Moyes’ Everton side also boast a potential threat to the top four and I can’t remember a time in the last ten years where it has been so fluid and possible to breach and force your way in.
The new coaches, styles and systems at their respective rivals could set them back, at least enough for Newcastle to profit in their stead at least and we cannot underestimate the importance that the club keep hold of all of their key players until the end of the transfer window, because if they do, they have the potential to improve upon last season’s fifth-placed finish.
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