Before the 2011/12 Premier League season got under way, many people were sceptical about Newcastle’s ability to have a big impact this year and compete with the big teams in the division. With the squad they had, and the concern still lingering over finding a replacement for Andy Carroll, the debate was whether they had the quality to replicate last season’s finish of 12th in the table. However, after a superb start to the new campaign, Alan Pardew’s side appear to have renewed confidence, possibly forcing a re-evaluation of the club’s expectations.
Newcastle remain unbeaten in the league this season after 9 games, which is largely down to their sturdy defence. Particularly at the start of the season against Arsenal, Sunderland and QPR, they looked very assured and comfortable on the pitch, conceding only 2 goals in their first 5 matches. Players such as Danny Simpson, the two Taylors and Coloccini have all looked in much better shape, upping their game and taking control in tightly contested games, with confident displays from Tim Krul between the sticks. They seem to now have a well balanced and committed team with a focus and attitude that perhaps wasn’t necessarily expected of them pre-season.
But it’s not only as a defensive unit that the Magpies have excelled themselves so far this season. There were mutterings of discontent amongst fans that they were lacking in fire-power somewhat, with Lovenkrands, Ameobi and Best not being the most consistent of goalscorers. But, after his period of fasting for ramadan, in stepped Demba Ba who has put in some fantastic performances. Boosted by determined and functional shifts by Tiote, Cabaye and Gutierrez, plus the return of the skilful Hatem Ben Arfa, Newcastle’s league season appears to be coming into fruition.
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However, there is a definite sense of anticipation and caution surrounding the club’s early rise to the upper echelons of the league table. They know that the division is tight and provisional at this early stage, with the potential for change just around the corner. No-one at St. James’ Park is getting carried away yet, with their feet firmly on the ground in time for some difficult fixtures up ahead, the next month or so may be about damage limitation and thinking about the long game.
Having not encountered any of the ‘big guns’ as of yet, naturally they find themselves with a clump of difficult matches. In November, Newcastle greet Everton and Chelsea, whilst travelling away to both Manchester clubs. Before that they face a tough game away to Stoke at the end of the month.
This run of tough fixtures may well see the club end up no better than mid-table come December time. Around the busy Christmas period, it is not a great time to be heading into games with poor form and a need to pick up valuable points. However, if Alan Pardew can remember the form from the early part of the season and instil a gritty determination and team spirit, I think that his team will be coming out of the festive period with their eye on the top half of the table.
The key to picking up points may well be their consistency and keeping players fit and fresh. Although they will be facing tough opposition, it is important to play the same way and not try to leak too many goals. If they maintain their style of play and keep in form players playing well, then it should give them energy going into the new calendar year. By rotating the squad or adapting the tactics too much, even if they get a lashing by one of the top teams, it could be like having to start from scratch and build up the momentum once again. I think the key to Newcastle’s season will be seeing how persistent they are and how well they can bounce back after their resolve has been tested, which we haven’t really seen yet.
Written by Harry Boulton
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