Last season, Newcastle United finished 5th in the Premier League. A remarkable achievement by modern standards and one to be admired. This season, they've struggled and have not been able to replicate the form they showed last campaign. Why not?
Firstly, they haven’t been clinical enough in front of goal and have failed to pick up 3 points against sides in and around them such as Villa, Reading, Sunderland, West Ham, Swansea, Southampton, Stoke, and Fulham.
This can be put down to defensive frailty; earlier in the season they were without the influential local lad Steven Taylor and, as a result, Mike Williamson had to stand in. The back four leaked unnecessary goals. In addition to injuries, some of the lads who performed so well last season have failed to rediscover that ever-important solidity.
Failures in Transfer Market
What Newcastle didn’t do was strengthen in the summer. Teams that finished around them last year: Spurs and Chelsea as two examples, all strengthened whereas the Toon only brought in one first team regular, Vurnon Anita (who sin’t even that regular!). It was a bold choice to make and Mike Ashley has recently conceded it was too big a risk.
The board were quick to rectify their mistake by delving into the transfer market in January and bringing in quality and much needed depth. If Matheiu Debuchy, Moussa Sissoko, Yoan Gouffran and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa were brought in during the Summer, arguably, the Toon would be in and around the top 7.
Players out of Form
As well as a horrific run of injuries, Newcastle had to deal with key players being out of form such as Cheick Tiote, Papiss Cisse and Fabricio Coloccini. Since the introduction of the new french contingent and the return of Steven Taylor, Newcastle have improved drastically. Offensively, they’ve been more threatening and defensively a little bit more solid.
Not the Europa League!
It would be lazy to suggest that Newcastle have struggled due to Europa League commitments. I disagree with this statement and have evidence to support it. Newcastle have played their fringe side in the early stages of the competition with players such as Gael Bigirimana and Gabriel Obertan given run outs and chances to impress. Tottenham have been more than successful in coping with the demands this season, and if we want to be compared to teams of that calibre, we can’t make excuses like this.
On the plus side, Newcastle are in with a good shout of silverware in the Europa League. Already this season they have beaten Chelsea and Spurs and possess a great European record. Shola Ameobi has scored 15 European goals and with Cisse seemingly coming back into some form, it’d be foolish to rule them out.
If they can juggle the Europa commitments for one more week, beat Fulham and get at least a draw in the derby then they’re in a great position to push on. Unfortunately for the Geordies, Debuchy and Haidara have recently been injured so they may have to rely on James Perch, Danny Simpson or Ryan Taylor who is nearing return from injury.
If they can score a vital away goal in Benfica then Newcastle are in an exceptionally advantageous position because, as the fans know, on their day they can beat anyone at St James’ Park.