With all the furore and confusion caused by the appointment of Joe Kinnear as Director of Football, it is all too easy to get pessimistic about Newcastle. But the reality is they have the quality in their squad which would be the envy of most clubs. At their strongest, their starting eleven is at least the match of Liverpool and Everton, maybe even a Bale-less Spurs. The majority of their first team have been linked with Champions League clubs on the back of their 2011/12 fifth-place finish. In January they added to that core with France’s first choice right back, two other French internationals and the captain of the defending French champions. The first team is loaded with talent, and with a couple of careful additions, they can easily get back to the top six. Of course, with Newcastle, there is always a tendency towards self destruct. The appointment of Kinnear doesn’t undo the quality they have though. As long as he doesn’t do something ridiculous like sell them all.
Last season was somewhat anomalous for Newcastle. They didn’t build on the fifth place in the summer and when key players were injured or out of form in the early season, panic set in. The first choice team was excellent, but the depth was poor. When Yohan Cabaye is out and replaced by James Perch, there is going to be an appreciable drop off. They did their best to rectify the problems in January, but a big influx of players is always hard to bed in. Never mind mid-season. Alan Pardew didn’t quite seem to know how to use all the players at his disposal and at times they were tactically disjointed. He was caught between trying to infuse the new players and keeping loyal to some old favourites.
Playing Cabaye and Moussa Sissoko in the ‘number 10’ role didn’t really work. Sure, Sissoko scored some goals early on, but it’s not his role. Cabaye is a deep playmaker and Sissoko a Yaya Toure like box-to-box bulldozer. Neither have the subtlety and probing ability to play so high up the field. They are the club’s best two midfielders, and he tried to use them further up the field to give them greater influence, but the way to use them most effectively is in their best position. Their best ‘number 10’ could be the bizarrely under utilised Sylvain Marveaux. When he played, he was inevitably involved in goals. He’s not a hard worker, but his floaty, pacey style, combined with a lovely passing range makes him a true threat.
Newcastle can then use Hatem Ben Arfa and Yoan Gouffran as their wide forwards in a 4-2-3-1 and that gives them genuine pace and width. Rather than using Sissoko and Jonas Gutierrez, one out of position and one who works hard but doesn’t possess flair or pace, Alan Pardew needs to use his two quality weapons. Ben Arfa has been linked to Chelsea and PSG and when he was younger Gouffran was linked to Man United. They’ve got the ability to score 7-8 and make 10-12 each, and that would put them with the top names in that area of the field. With Papiss Cisse upfront bringing his strength, pace and beautiful technique, it would give Newcastle more than enough ammunition. Kinnear wants another striker for some reason, but Cisse has enough class. He needs to be trusted and provided with plenty of supply to thrive.
The concern last year was the defence, but again there is class there. Mathieu Debuchy and Davide Santon are top notch at full back and a now refocused Fabricio Coloccini is one of the better centre backs in the league when on song. Tim Krul could be a top five keeper in the league if he keeps improving. There is however, a big problem next to Coloccini. Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa had a few good games, and Steven Taylor is hugely popular but both are erratic and error prone. Newcastle need to invest in a reliable presence. If, as is rumoured, Kinnear has vetoed signing Twente’s commanding Douglas it is a ridiculous decision.
With all this talent on board, Newcastle have more than enough talent to reach the top six. If Pardew uses his players properly, and trusts them to play to their strengths, they can show why they finished 5th. However, this all depends on the new director of football not doing anything rash. They’ve got the talent, they just need to trust it and add sensibly in the manner they have in the past few years.