The Magpies go into the new season on the back of a summer of discontent which could bode ill for their fortunes. After a number of new faces arrived at the start of the transfer window, little progress has been made in the past few weeks. The pre-season preparations have also been problematic with players unable to travel to the States and a number of injuries to contend with. As if to make matters worse, key duo Joey Barton and Jose Enrique have both gone public with their views on the club’s lack of ambition.
Despite promises that the full £35 million received for Andy Carroll in January would be spent, so far only a small proportion of it has gone on new players. There is certainly a Gaelic flavour among the new arrivals with all five of the summer signings of French descent. Possibly the most eye-catching is Yohan Cabaye, who should add some class to the Magpies’ midfield if he can adapt to the pace of English football. Former West Ham striker Demba Ba showed that he can score goals on a regular basis last season although there are doubts over his long term fitness. French wingers Gabriel Obertan and Sylvain Marveaux both arrive with a point to prove as well as pace to burn.
It remains to be seen whether manager Alan Pardew can hold on to the club’s top players. With owner Mike Ashley running a tight ship there is an emphasis on keeping the wage bill at a sustainable level. Former captain Kevin Nolan has departed to West Ham due to a longer contract being offered. Enrique and Barton both have less than 12 months to run on their current contracts but it looks unlikely they will remain in the north east. The Barton saga has threatened to overshadow the start of the new season for the Magpies although the player still appears committed to the cause. The situation has led to the club issuing legal warnings over future postings on social networking sites.
The pre-season games have hardly run smoothly with the opening fixture against Darlington over-shadowed by crowd disorder. A trip to America was hardly a universal success with a trio of players left at home due to issues with their visas. Newcastle’s preparations were concluded with a home fixture against Fiorentina that had to be abandoned due to a waterlogged pitch. They have hardly been the ideal way to prepare for what could be a difficult 2011/2012 season.
The biggest fear will be that the Magpies do not suffer from second season syndrome that recently afflicted Birmingham City. One of the main priorities before the end of current transfer window will be to bring in another striker to take the burden of scoring away from Ba. The midfield looks stronger than last season with the likes of Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa set to provide increased creativity. Ben Arfa should be like a new signing and he will operate in the hole off the main striker. Similarly to last season the biggest priority should be to avoid relegation with a European push unlikely unless money is made available.
Key signing – Yohan Cabaye: The midfielder arrives from France with an impressive reputation after winning the league with Lille. He is already a full international with the Les Bleus and can score and create goals. Cabaye is likely to perform the role of playmaker for the Magpies this season.
Key departure – Kevin Nolan: With the departure of Nolan to West Ham the Magpies have lost both their captain and their top goalscorer. The attacking midfielder has been an important presence on the pitch weighing in with almost 30 goals in the past two seasons. He will also be missed in the dressing room as a leader.
Simpson – S.Taylor – Coloccini – Enrique
Barton – Tiote – Cabaye
Marveaux – Ba – Ben Arfa
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