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Newcastle United have the talent to get back to the top six

With all the furore and confusion caused by the appointment of Joe Kinnear as Director of Football, it is all too easy to get pessimistic about Newcastle. But the reality is they have the quality in their squad which would be the envy of most clubs. At their strongest, their starting eleven is at least the match of Liverpool and Everton, maybe even a Bale-less Spurs. The majority of their first team have been linked with Champions League clubs on the back of their 2011/12 fifth-place finish. In January they added to that core with France’s first choice right back, two other French internationals and the captain of the defending French champions. The first team is loaded with talent, and with a couple of careful additions, they can easily get back to the top six. Of course, with Newcastle, there is always a tendency towards self destruct. The appointment of Kinnear doesn’t undo the quality they have though. As long as he doesn’t do something ridiculous like sell them all.

Last season was somewhat anomalous for Newcastle. They didn’t build on the fifth place in the summer and when key players were injured or out of form in the early season, panic set in. The first choice team was excellent, but the depth was poor. When Yohan Cabaye is out and replaced by James Perch, there is going to be an appreciable drop off. They did their best to rectify the problems in January, but a big influx of players is always hard to bed in. Never mind mid-season. Alan Pardew didn’t quite seem to know how to use all the players at his disposal and at times they were tactically disjointed. He was caught between trying to infuse the new players and keeping loyal to some old favourites.

Alan Pardew

Playing Cabaye and Moussa Sissoko in the ‘number 10’ role didn’t really work. Sure, Sissoko scored some goals early on, but it’s not his role. Cabaye is a deep playmaker and Sissoko a Yaya Toure like box-to-box bulldozer. Neither have the subtlety and probing ability to play so high up the field. They are the club’s best two midfielders, and he tried to use them further up the field to give them greater influence, but the way to use them most effectively is in their best position. Their best ‘number 10’ could be the bizarrely under utilised Sylvain Marveaux. When he played, he was inevitably involved in goals. He’s not a hard worker, but his floaty, pacey style, combined with a lovely passing range makes him a true threat.

Newcastle can then use Hatem Ben Arfa and Yoan Gouffran as their wide forwards in a 4-2-3-1 and that gives them genuine pace and width. Rather than using Sissoko and Jonas Gutierrez, one out of position and one who works hard but doesn’t possess flair or pace, Alan Pardew needs to use his two quality weapons. Ben Arfa has been linked to Chelsea and PSG and when he was younger Gouffran was linked to Man United. They’ve got the ability to score 7-8 and make 10-12 each, and that would put them with the top names in that area of the field. With Papiss Cisse upfront bringing his strength, pace and beautiful technique, it would give Newcastle more than enough ammunition. Kinnear wants another striker for some reason, but Cisse has enough class. He needs to be trusted and provided with plenty of supply to thrive.

The concern last year was the defence, but again there is class there. Mathieu Debuchy and Davide Santon are top notch at full back and a now refocused Fabricio Coloccini is one of the better centre backs in the league when on song. Tim Krul could be a top five keeper in the league if he keeps improving. There is however, a big problem next to Coloccini. Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa had a few good games, and Steven Taylor is hugely popular but both are erratic and error prone. Newcastle need to invest in a reliable presence. If, as is rumoured, Kinnear has vetoed signing Twente’s commanding Douglas it is a ridiculous decision.

With all this talent on board, Newcastle have more than enough talent to reach the top six. If Pardew uses his players properly, and trusts them to play to their strengths, they can show why they finished 5th. However, this all depends on the new director of football not doing anything rash. They’ve got the talent, they just need to trust it and add sensibly in the manner they have in the past few years.

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Newcastle United: The real success story of 2011/12

While many of the headlines at the end of this remarkable Premier league season have been about Manchester City, the major success story has to be Newcastle United.

The shock sacking of Chris Hughton in December 2010 with Newcastle sitting comfortably in eleventh position made all Newcastle fans confused and angry as to what owner Mike Ashley was trying to achieve with their football club. This was even further highlighted when it became clear that Alan Pardew was one of the favourites to take over. Just 1.8% of fans backed Pardew in a local newspaper poll.

The board pressed on with this appointment only to face more of a fans backlash when they sold star striker Andy Carroll to Liverpool for £35 million in January 2011 and failed to replace him. Newcastle ended the season twelfth, which was a respectable showing for their first season back in the top flight.

Many pundits predicted a similar finish this season for the club after a summer in which they seemed reluctant or unwilling to spend the money they had made by selling Carroll, Jose Enrique and Kevin Nolan. Little was known about Davide Santon, Yohan Cabaye or Sylvain Marveaux, who all arrived for under £5 million. Whilst Gabriel Obertan arrived after a unimpressive spell at Manchester United and Demba Ba on a free from relegated West Ham.

The transfer policy of buying affordable young talent from abroad has worked incredibly well for Newcastle though. When you compare it to Liverpool’s strategy of buying young British talent, the Tyneside club have found better players for a fraction of the price that the Reds paid for the likes of Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing.

Demba Ba has proved the bargain of the season. He had scored 15 goals by the time he left for the African Cup of Nations to propel Newcastle into contention for the Champions League places. He also won Player of the Month in December and was also voted signing of the season by Premier League managers in March. Newcastle again unearthed a superstar with the signing of Papiss Cisse from German side Freiburg for around £10 million in January. The Senegalese hitman proved a revelation with 13 goals in just 14 games this season including a couple of contenders for goal of the season in a 2-0 win against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Whilst these two strikers have grabbed the headlines the contribution of Yohan Cabaye must not be overlooked. Four goals and six assists in his first season means that the France international has become the man that makes Newcastle tick and dictates the tempo of their play.

Alan Pardew must be credited with the way he has organised the team and turned them into one which is very difficult to break down. The spine of their team is very strong from Tim Krul in goal to Fabricio Coloccini and Mike Williamson in defence. Cabaye and Check Tiote give steel and creativity to the centre of the park whilst Ba and Cisse guarantee goals. Added to this strong core are the hard working Jonas Gutierrez and the mercurial talent that is Hatem Ben Arfa.

Pardew has rightly won the Barclays Premier League Manager of the Year and followed it up with the LMA Manager of the Year voted for by his fellow managers.  Pardew has proved himself to be a passionate and tactically astute manager and it was no surprise that this has led to speculation linking him with the England and now the Liverpool job.

Newcastle may find it more difficult next season as teams rise to the challenge of playing them. This summer will be another test for the Newcastle board. It will be crucial for them to hold on to their big players and add more depth to the squad, with the added games in the Europa League next season. If Pardew’s men can do this then they will certainly be in contention for the top four again next season.

By Chris Newman

England vs France: The key battles in this Euro 2012 grudge-match

England have been drawn against old enemies France in Group D of Euro 2012, and the clash on June 11th will have a major bearing on each side’s chances of progression in the tournament. With a month to go before the nations do battle the Three Lions are slight favourites, but it should be a close encounter. With Sweden and Ukraine in the pool also, both teams will look to get an early advantage in the competition.

With the domestic campaigns drawing to a close in the Premier League and Ligue 1, Laurent Blanc and Roy Hodgson will have their squads for the tournament all but decided, with a few decisions potentially still to be made. Les Bleus coach has named a strong looking provisional squad, with a raft of English-based players included, whilst the West Brom man has revealed that he will name his contingent on Wednesday.

Despite the full tournament squads yet to be announced, the main players for both sides are known and will play a key role in deciding the outcome of the encounter. France have a good blend of young talent and experienced heads, and their strength lies in central midfield and in a couple of talented individual attackers. The battle for possession in the centre of the park will be a key element to deciding the outcome, with Blanc able to choose from Yohan Cabaye, Yann M’Vila, Alou Diarra and Morgan Amalfitano in the heart of his midfield. Scott Parker will have a role to play in breaking up the French passing game, whilst the likes of Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard will look to mix it with their opponents.

French matchwinners include skilful wingers Franck Ribery, Samir Nasri and Hatem Ben Arfa, whilst the goalt-hreat will be provided by Karim Benzema. England’s full-backs must monitor the widemen carefully, with a big responsibility falling on Kyle Walker, Micah Richards or Glen Johnson’s shoulders to shackle Bayern Munich superstar Ribery. The centre of the English defence will also be wary of giving Benzema space, as the Real Madrid man is one of Europe’s form strikers currently.

Going the other way, new boss Hodgson will be without his talismanic forward Wayne Rooney due to suspension, and has key decisions to make in attack. With Darren Bent still on the sidelines with injury and on the borderline of missing out, no other centre forwards shout out as sure things. Hodgson will consider the likes of Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge, Jermain Defoe, Andy Carroll and maybe even Peter Crouch to lead his line, but the English attack will be limited due to Rooney’s absence.

The eventual England squad should have pace to burn however, with widemen Ashley Young, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott and Aaron Lennon all with the necessary speed to harry the French defenders. There is also a case for Paul Scholes’ inclusion to add a bit of creativity to the side, but Hodgson will look to his wingers to provide the necessary penetration.

The game is sure to full of natural pride and passion, but England must compete with the technical abilities of the France side to get a result. The odd goal may well decide this game, but it should be an exciting and enthralling match.

Published – Ghana Soccernet

Newcastle, Tottenham and Chelsea look to move a step closer to finishing fourth in the Premier League on Wednesday

With as tight a race for Champions League qualification as in the recent memory, Chelsea, Newcastle and Tottenham all have three games left to play to ensure a top-four finish. The Blues have the FA Cup final on Saturday and their Champions League finale clash with Bayern Munich coming up, but are the form side of the three. The Tyneside outfit have put an excellent string of results together of late, however were comprehensively beaten 4-0 last time out by Wigan. Spurs have had an end-of-season wobble, and are not looking like the side that were challenging for the title three months ago. The race is set to go down to the wire.

Chelsea’s resurgence under Roberto Di Matteo has saved their season, as the Italian interim boss has led the side through a winning run, with only one defeat in 16 games in charge. With the final of the Champions League to play on May 19th, the Blues have a second chance to compete in Europe’s top tournament next term even if they do not finish in the top four, and potentially end one of their rivals’ dreams.

Currently in sixth and a point behind the other two contenders, the west London outfit host Newcastle at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday. Chelsea won the reverse fixture 3-0 earlier in the season, and will look to build on a 6-1 victory over QPR from their last fixture. Fernando Torres scored a hat-trick in the rout to back up his strike against Barcelona from the game before, whilst Daniel Sturridge also got back on the scoresheet. Roman Abramovich will demand inclusion in the Champions League next term, and Di Matteo will need to ensure this to stand a chance of keeping his job on a permanent basis.

Newcastle’s heroics this season are well-documented and the praise afforded to Alan Pardew’s men fully deserved, but the Tyneside team are now starting to realise that they deserve their position amongst the country’s best. The likes of Yohan Cabaye, Demba Ba, Hatem Ben Arfa and Cheik Tiote have played out of their skin this campaign to delight the Sports Direct Arena crowd, whilst Papiss Cisse’s 11 goals in 11 games for the club have given the Toon faithful a new hero.

The game against Chelsea holds extra importance for the Geordies due to their tricky end of season fixture list; Pardew’s men still have Manchester City and Everton to play. A draw would be a good result for Newcastle to keep them above Chelsea, but a defeat has the ability to end their Champions League ambitions.

Tottenham’s capitulation over the last two months has seen the north Londoners slip from having a comfortable and dominant grip on third, to risk slipping all the way down to sixth. The White Hart Lane outfit have been adversely impacted by the speculation over Harry Redknapp’s future, but with Roy Hodgson having being appointed England manager the club’s fans will hope the side can refocus.

Spurs travel to take on Bolton at the Reebok Stadium on Wednesday, and will face a side struggling in the bottom three and desperate for points themselves. With Fabrice Muamba also expected at the game despite his health concerns, the Trotters will be motivated to get a result for their ill midfielder. However, should Spurs get a valuable three points they would open the gap between themselves and at least one of their two rivals, and move to within a point of third-placed Arsenal with Aston Villa and Fulham to play.

Teams’ fortunes are decided at the business end of the season, and Chelsea, Newcastle and Tottenham are only separated by a point in a tight and tense final battle. The London sides seem to have an advantage in the race, but the side to eventually finish fourth will become a bit clearer after the midweek fixtures.

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