Armchair Tactician
By Simon Gallagher
Tuesday 23 Oct 2012 10:50:00
Browse all Simon Gallagher articles

Looking Ahead...


It might sound like an empty cliché, but 2012/13 will be a massive season for Newcastle United. Thanks to a stellar first full season in charge at United, Alan Pardew now faces the monumental challenge of juggling the same duties and restrictions from last year as well as the consequent new heightened expectations.


In terms of the first team, there are very few areas of concern ahead of the season starting – we have a very strong spine in the shape of Krul, Coloccini, Cabaye, Tiote and the strikers, and though the wide areas look like the weakest areas at the moment, the versatility of certain squad members means bringing new additions in isn't quite as necessary as it has been in the past. For the first time in recent memory, Newcastle have six or seven players who would demand selection in any of the so-called established top four.


That doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement, however. Danny Simpson in particular attracted a lot of criticism last year, despite his crucial goal line clearances – he is a solid, but unspectacular right-back, rather cruelly deemed unworthy when compared with some of the League's best right-backs. But, it's easy to forget that Simpson cost a pittance in comparison to the likes of Glenn Johnson or Chelsea's Ivanovic, and he was an ever-present part of one of the tightest back fours for a good part of last season.


He might not be spectacular, and it is probably fair to pinpoint him as the weak link of the team, but Simpson's positive contributions last season cannot be ignored, regardless of his refusal to accept the new deal offered to him to extend his contract. We can probably expect Simpson to leave, if the long-drawn-out Debuchy transfer saga ends positively, which would bring an international class right-back who is a seriously good attacking talent, alongside his defensive abilities (which weren't shown off quite so well in Poland and Ukraine).


If Debuchy comes in – and there is still no certainty at this stage, thanks to the usual two-and-froing that comes with every major transfer deal these deals – Newcastle would have another attacking option, as the Frenchman is an assured crosser of the ball, and showed during the Euros exactly how willing he is to get in and around the box. With Davide Santon on the opposite side, Pardew could potentially


But what if Debuchy doesn't sign? Simpson is likely to leave next summer at the very latest, and Mike Ashley is more than likely to want the cash in for the former Man United full-back before his value drops towards the end of his contract, leaving James Perch and Ryan Taylor to deputise. That wouldn't be the end of the world by any means, as both proved to be invaluable squad members last season, but it would be preferable to get a top class replacement in.


A lot of talk has centred on the fact that Mike Ashley and Derek Llambias have so far failed to pull off any marquee signings, despite a summer of speculation, and daily column inches dedicated to the next big star about to come in through the doors of St James Park. As it stands, with this issue going to press, we have so far signed Romain Amalfitano, Gael Bigirimana and Curtis Good, and have flirted for a good few months with Debuchy, Douglas, Vurnon Anita and even Liverpool's unwanted man Andy Carroll without any movement.


The club have so far made just those three developmental signings, as well as welcoming both Steven Taylor and Frenchman Sylvain Marveaux back from long term injuries – but each has been carefully considered for what they will bring to the squad as a whole. Amalfitano adds pace and attacking flair, despite his lower league experience, Curtis Goood is certainly one for the future and Gael Bigirimana looks like a steal at only £1m with obvious comparisons to Cheick Tiote only suggest good things for the future. All three will push for consideration in the first-team this year, whether just in the cups or for league and Europa league games, and it seems the current policy of bringing in affordable stars with their best years ahead of them might well be continuing to pay off.


Some will still hang on to the lack of a marquee player so far, but Pardew has a strong squad of players to choose from already, and so far none of last year's stars have left – with even Demba Ba's well-publicised release clause now expired (or at least changed up to £15m) – and can probably expect even better second seasons from Yohan Cabaye, Davide Santon and the Senegalese front pair, while Hatem Ben Arfa could well steal the thunder of his team-mates if he continues his progress.


It is arguably more important that Newcastle keep their squad together as much as possible, and the directors and owner are at least making the right noises, stating publicly through the manager that it will take bids of the magnitude of the Andy Carroll transfer to take star players away. And with morale said to be very high at the minute, the likelihood of any players agitating for a move is thankfully being kept to a minimum.


We perhaps have to thank Andy Carroll for the manner of his defection to Liverpool - as well as fellow Liverpool recruit Jose Enrique – because both players proved that the grass isn't always greener at a so-called “bigger” club. They may well have done Alan Pardew some favours in convincing the likes of Cheick Tiote to pledge his allegiance to the cause (even if he undoubtedly has his price).


That could all change of course, and nothing is certain when it comes to the transfer market, but one thing that we learned last season was not to look too far into the future, and to just concentrate on what is happening at our club day to day. And currently, on the strength of pre-season, there are definitely some new positives.


The star of the pre-season so far has been Mehdi Abeid – the French midfielder who had scarce opportunity to make a first-team impact after joining from Lens (though he was brought in as a reserve team player primarily). Over the summer, he has put some weight on, adding further tenacity to balance his undoubtedly classy touch, and eye for a decisive pass and he has proved twice that he can score impressive goals.


Alongside him, Newcastle have Bigirimana and Haris Vuckic pushing for first-team consideration along with Dan Gosling, who too has looked a lot better this summer after a largely disappointing season. And then there's Amalfitano, whose willingness to attack and pace makes him another strong contender for the few attacking slots available.


So despite letting a good deal of the reserve squad go over the summer, including former “big hopes” like Samuel Adjei, the so-called developmental options available are making the squad look a fair sight healthier than at the same time last year.


But it is key to remember that Newcastle have a whole new competition to compete for this coming year, thanks to the impressive qualification for the Europa League, and that the rigours of playing in four competitions and the necessary midweek games that will come if the team progresses through qualification and beyond the group stage. One lesson that has been obvious from past club's forays into that particular competition is the demands it tends to have on the squad, and the resultant threat of a drop in league form.


So squad depth, and rotation are bound to be a conscious part of Pardew's plans for the season, which has made the opportunity to blood fringe players like Abeid, Vuckic, Amalfitano and Bigirimana this summer an even more pressing issue. That they have responded well is particularly positive, and with more players likely to be added to the squad before the transfer window closes at the end of the month


And though we haven't yet invested heavily, we would be wise to remember how little build up there was to several of the notable transfers last summer. Things will come on the horizon before we know it, and even if they don't all come off, we have a squad with the potential to compete well this coming season. 

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