Premier League Preview: Newcastle
Lessons from last season
Where to start? Sign players (done), don't headbutt opponents like manager Alan Pardew, take cups seriously and win at least one derby against Sunderland. But Newcastle have a lot to prove to their fans after a shocking second half of the campaign last time around. So what should be the first lessons? Getting back to basics first and foremost. Newcastle couldn't defend properly, and they were shot-shy at the other end, too.
Therefore, there is plenty of room for improvement all round for Newcastle and Pardew. The derby defeats still rankle with fans, and Sunderland start the season with bragging rights. But that's not the only problem. The board's questionable policy on cup competitions and not fielding a strong side needs to be addressed if fans are to be kept happy.
Predicted starting lineup
There is a fresh feel to the squad and a bit of pace in Emmanuel Riviere and Remy Cabella, while Siem de Jong brings aerial power and goals. Jack Colback's arrival from Sunderland also offers some grit and determination in midfield, something that was badly lacking last term. So there are three dimensions in Pardew's squad all ready. Youngsters such as Adam Armstrong and Adam Campbell are also another year older, while Rolando Aarons is a fresh face from the reserves who has been promoted during the closed season.
Dave Bellows comes in as the new head of fitness from Everton, and Pardew hopes that will result in an improved injury record at Newcastle. Pardew is also looking to play with a more expansive style of attacking this time around. Last season, he was criticised for playing in a negative manner with some poor home defeats that left United looking predictable -- not least in derbies.
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There is more strength in depth this term in some areas with squad players now available to Pardew. Riviere should bring an added goal threat, while De Jong has been appointed vice captain and adds more experience from his Ajax days. Keeping players such as Fabricio Coloccini and Tim Krul is a key factor for Pardew. He may have survived the Argentine moving on by bringing in an affordable replacement or trying to get more out of Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa. But getting in another Krul would have cost much more.
Losing Mathieu Debuchy wasn't half the blow it might have been had Daryl Janmaat not been swiftly signed up from Feyenoord. And at left-back there is competition, with Massadio Haidara, Davide Santon and Paul Dummett all vying for the one spot. Pardew's biggest poser could be in midfield with Cheick Tiote, Colback and Vurnon Anita battling for defensive spots. Cabella, Moussa Sissoko and Yoan Gouffran offer competition out wide. In attack, Pardew has Riviere, Papiss Cisse and young Armstrong available but could dip back into the market soon. Last but not least, United will still have the backing of 50,000 home fans at St James' Park.
Newcastle still have teams interested in their players, with Sissoko a wanted man with Monaco keen on taking him to Stade Louis II. It would be a big blow if the powerful box-to-box player ended up quitting after 18 months. Tiote and Krul also have beady eyes on them from sides in Europe, but United have one month to hold on. Tiote, especially, knows that at 28 chances of a big-money move will be limited, and it seems a long time since Manchester United scouted him under Sir Alex Ferguson.
It is in attack where the big question marks are lying. United really need a proven regular goal scorer in their ranks. No. 9 Cisse didn't get much service last season when he did play and was devoid of confidence by the time Pardew finally gave him the nod.
If Cisse doesn't feature it places a lot of pressure on Riviere to score goals, while De Jong has always chipped in with a few goals throughout his career at Ajax. The other worry that is if Krul is injured, the Magpies don't have too much cover. Rob Elliot has done OK when he has come in as an understudy, but it is just youngsters Jak Alnwick and Freddie Woodman after that. Therefore, United are just a couple of knocks away from a keeper crisis.
Another weakness for the season could be Pardew's frail grip on dressing room spirit. They didn't seem to be playing for him last season at times, and getting the new players in his corner and keeping them there could save his job.
Manager - ESPN FC profile
Alan Pardew ended last season under immense pressure after leading United to seven defeats out of eight. His team turned from Champions League contenders to mid-table fodder in the space of weeks. FA Cup hopes were ended at the first hurdle against Cardiff City in what should have been a winnable game for Pardew. His FA Cup record is shocking, with just one win in four years since taking charge of Newcastle and third-round exits against Brighton and Stevenage on his list. And then there are the derby defeats -- three in a row means he's the first man in decades to keep on losing to the men from Wearside.
Managers have lost their jobs for less at the club. But most of all the fans have lost faith in Pardew for his refusal to give crowd favourites such as Hatem Ben Arfa and Cisse a run in the team, and also for his tactics. Excuses from the manager haven't helped, and he's blamed everybody from the local media to injuries and even last season's Europa League. He needs a winning start.
De Jong comes in as a potential leader -- something the Magpies were desperate for last season. He skippered Ajax to good effect, and he will now look to assist Coloccini in getting the most out of his dressing room. He brings goals to the table, too, and another thing Newcastle lacked last season in aerial power from set pieces. If he can reproduce the form and goal-scoring prowess that made him a regular goal scorer in the Dutch league, then Newcastle have a real star on their hands. He also grabbed three goals in two games in Champions League matches against Manchester City two years ago -- so Newcastle's first-day opponents have been warned.
Predicted finish: Ninth
With the players Pardew has at his disposal, he should at least repeat the top-10 finish he achieved last time around. The top four is still well beyond Newcastle at the moment, and even the top six would be a push, given that Newcastle refused to spend the big bucks.
Yes, they have spent some money, but they have yet to land the marquee type of striker who would really get their fans excited. That said, this squad should be capable of delivering an overall performance that maintains that top-10 slot at least. Pardew's board would probably be happy enough to keep their Premier League place to ensure TV revenue and prize money is flowing.