Friday, August 12, 2011

View from the Home End

Now that Ben has assessed our competition (here and here), it's my turn to cast an eye over our own club as the season draws ever close.

Firstly, let's assess the squad. At the end of last season, our Premier League future secure, we rather flopped over the finish line thanks to our home draw with the Baggies. From the squad that took us to mid-table, we've shipped out the talismanic Kevin Nolan and waved goodbye to Jose Enrique. Given the recent Twitter saga, we might also be bidding farewell to ASBO, although rumours would suggest that he's not that keen on a move to Stoke (even if they can offer European football). We've also flogged to Wayne Routledge to Swansea and Kazenga LuaLua has gone on loan to Brighton for a third (and probably final) time. Spanish waster Xisco has also finally gone, albeit I'd long since written him off as a bad lot.

In their stead, for once we moved early in the transfer window and secured the services of Yohan Cabaye, Sylvain Marveaux, Mehdi Abeid and Demba Ba, all of whom have shown promising flashes in pre-season. We've now added Gabriel Obertan into the mix.

What we have singularly failed to do is replace Rocky, who departed in January, or bring in a replacement for Enrique - both of which really need to happen before the transfer window closes at the end of the month. We could also do to find some cover at left-back.

If we can't add a further striker, we'll be left with Ba, Big Lad, Lovenkrands, Best and the seemingly unwanted Ranger, which doesn't seem the most inspiring bunch, truth be told. Similarly, we now need to move quickly if we're not to be left struggling along without a recognised left-back until January.

What we do now have is an abundance of midfield quality, with Cabaye and Mr T the likely fulcrum around which our team will turn next season, with cover in the form of ASBO (if he stays), Gosling, Smith (assuming we can't get rid of him) and Guthrie. Out wide we can call upon Spidermag, Marveaux, Obertan and Ferguson (when he recovers from his injury), plus ASBO and Hatem Ben Arfa.

From what Pardew has been saying, it looks like we might be leaning towards playing Ben Arfa in a classic number 10 role, behind a lone striker (most likely Ba or Big Lad), with the possibility of Haris Vuckic, Obertan or even Little Big Lad deputising in his stead.

At the back, Steven Taylor and Sideshow Bob look a solid central pairing, with Danny Simpson and a new left-back (hopefully) out wide we look a decent side. The difficulty comes when you scratch the surface, with the injured Ferguson, James Perch or Ryan Taylor the only senior cover down the flanks, and Mike Williamson available in the centre. While Williamson had a decent first season, he struggled at times and he'll need to show more this time out if he isn't to slowly drift down the pecking order.

On the youth front, James Tavernier came back from his loan spell at Gateshead with his reputation improved, but has now gone out on loan again, but Tamas Kadar looks to be falling out of favour, and may well be looking for a loan move to get some pitch time.

Between the posts, Pardew still needs to pick between Steve Harper, Fraser Forster and Tim Krul, with one of them likely to be disappointed. Whether either of the two youngsters will be satisfied acting as understudy for the other (or for Harper once he overcomes the niggling injuries which have beset his preseason) remains to be seen.

What that all means is that, on paper, we look a stronger side than the one we assessed 12 months ago, albeit shorn of Rocky's goal threat. Of greater significance, though, is the impact which our pretty terrible pre-season (visa issues, injuries, Twitter, the monsoon, player sales) have had on our morale. If the team spirit has gone, then this could be a long hard slog of a season. Games at home to Arsenal and away to 5under1and hardly represent an ideal means of easing ourselves into our league campaign, and if we're still on zero points after those two, there could well be some discontent in the stands.

However, what I love about the start of the season is the fact that everyone starts even and no matter what has gone on over the summer, kick-off represents the start of a potentially great season (they're all potentially great until the grim reality kicks in). So let's focus on the positives. Pardew looks a decent man-manager, and if he can add a striker and a left-back before the end of the month, it could be a very good year. With a whole host of mediocre teams making up the bulk of the Premier League, there a plenty of winnable games out there.

Ha'way the lads!

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Anonymous PJ said...

Considering our policy, any reason we aren't in for Trezeguet (free agent)? Considering how Ba was asleep yest. and Big Lad (as usual) ineffective we need at least 2 more strikers. Between our youngsters/Ryan Taylor we might squeak to Jan'12 even w/o Erik Pieters (at left back) but I don't see us winning matches w/o another central defender and 2 strikers. Why we don't want to try out Phil Airey/Vuckic when Ben Arfa is injured is beyond me esp.if we don't want to spend money on players.

9:46 a.m.  
Anonymous PJ said...

Btw nowhere in India/S.E.Asia is a Newcastle shirt available. How do I get my hands on one w/o flying down to the UK? As a bonus, this year's shirt seems quite good (for a change)!

9:48 a.m.  
Blogger Ben said...

Trezeguet would fit the bill as far as a free transfer would go - but his wages would be too high and he's also too old for our current transfer policy. Airey's a different type of forward to Ben Arfa (and on loan at Hibs anyway), but Vuckic might expect a look-in.

Not sure about a shirt - they must be available for a reasonable price online, though.

10:02 p.m.  

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