Saturday, August 9, 2008

EPL Previews: Newcastle United

During the 2007/2008 EPL (suck it, Barclay's!) season, the Toon Army watched the Magpies struggle to finish 12th in the league table, on the "strength" of 11 wins, 10 draws, and 17 losses for a total of 43 points. The return of King Kev to St. James' Park, however, provided the fans with some optimism, and there were high (relatively) hopes for 2008/2009. Unfortunately, this summer has given those fans little reason to think that big things are afoot Upon the Tyne.

The end of this summer period has been marred with talk that owner Mike Ashley is interested in selling the club. Rumours abounded that possible suitors included Reliance Communications owner Anil Ambani (the world's sixth richest man), and a group lead by former Liverpool midfielder Steve McMahon, although both have denied involvement.

Regarding the players, the biggest news has, of course, centered around that irrepressible scamp Joey Barton. After initially being given a suspended sentence for assaulting teammate Ousmane Dabo, Barton was then sentenced to 74 days in jail for assaulting 2 individuals in Liverpool last December. Released on Monday, Barton now faces a 15-match ban from the FA, although he has until August 13th to respond to the allegations.

So, other than Joey Barton, who does Kelvin Koogan have available? Newcastle United Football Club made some minor changes during the summer transfer season. Out are: (1) David Rozehnal (to Lazio); (2) Emre (to Fenerbache); (3) Peter Ramage (to QPR); (4) Lamine Diatta (released); (5) James Troisi (released); and (6) Stephen Carr (released). In addition, Alan Smith has been linked to a transfer to Everton. In are: (1) Danny Guthrie (from Liverpool); (2) Jonas Gutierrez (from Real Mallorca); and (3) Sebastian Bassong (from Metz). Newcastle have also targeted Fabricio Coloccini (from Deportivo La Coruna), and appear close to finalizing a deal.

Guthrie and Gutierrez will provide some offensive firepower as placeholders for the injured Mark Viduka, Michael Owen (seriously? Again?), and Obafemi Martins, while Bassong and Coloccini will shore up the defense. The lone remaining striker is Ameobi, while the rest of the defense consists of Jose Enrique, David Edgar, Claudia Cacapa, Habib Beye, Steven Taylor, and the excellenly-named Abdoulaye Faye in front of keeper Shay Given (backed up by Steve Harper). Once all of the relevant individuals are healthy and caught up to speed at St. James' Park, Newcastle should have a fairly respectable offensive and defensive formation.

Unfortunately for the Toon Army, success in the Premiership requires an efficient midfield, and it is here that Newcastle suffers tremondously. Alan Smith is likely to fuck off to Everton, leaving Geremi, Nicky Butt, James Milner, Charles N'Zogbia, Hillary Damien Duff, and the well-behaved Joey Barton to man the pitch. Although Duff has scored 4 goals in pre-season friendlies, they came in wins against Hartlepool United (4-1, with a hat-trick for Duff) and Valencia (2-1). The lack of a solid midfield will mean that Newcastle will struggle both to produce goals and to defend against a swift counter-attack, which may result in something similar to last years -20 goal differential (45 goals for, 65 goals against).

Even worse for the Magpies is the fact that the rest of their pre-season matches have gone extremely poorly, losing to (and failing to score against) Doncaster Rovers (0-1), Hertha Berline (0-1), and Real Mallorca (0-1). The latter, in particular, may have given Gutierrez pause, seeing as how his former teammates bossed his new ones around the pitch for the full 90 minutes.

Newcastle open their season @Manchester United, v. Bolton, @Arsenal, v. Hull City, @West Ham United, and v. Blackburn. Given their roller-coaster nature, it is possible that they will be 4-2, although it is far more likely that they will be 2-4 (anyone can beat Bolton and Hull City). Ladbrokes appears to be equally unimpressed with Newcastle, having them at 351-1 odds to win the Premiership and 21-1 odds to be relegated. I doubt they will finish that low, and are likely to avoid the race to the drop, but I predict a 14th-15th place finish for the Magpies, sitting on 38 points.

King Kev, however, had better hope that they finish in the top half if he wishes to keep his job.


james said...

Gutierrez wont be adding much fire power, he only had 5 goals in 96 appearances for Mallorca. He should help control the midfield and provide some much needed skill. He's played quite well in the run up to the season and hopefully wont be another on the list of Argentine failures at NUFC.

If Keegan uses Owen in the hole again with Martins up front and Gutierrez, N'zogbia, and Milner providing the service, the attack could be pretty good. It worked well late in the season last year.


The giant problem is depth at the striker position. Owen is consistently hurt, Viduka is old, Alan Smith is off to Everton (reportedly, and not a moment too soon), Andy Carroll is still a year off and Fabio Zamblera(Italy u-21 int'l) is only 18. Oba Martins is incredible, but isnt a stand alone striker and cant do it all on his own. Unless Keegan pulls someone like Eren Derdiyok on the market soon, it's gonna be tough going up front.

strong like bull smart like tractor said...

I'm surprised that Newcastle isn't in the mix to take Pizarro off of Chelsea's hands (rumors I've seen today is that Stoke and Hull are after him). Pizarro would work as a stopgap, and his style would mesh well with Martins, I imagine.

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