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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

Manchester City, Newcastle and the biggest Premier League winners of 2011-12

A fantastic last day of the season capped off one of the most memorable Premier League seasons in the recent memory. 2011/12 has had it all; a topsy-turvy title race that literally went down to the wire, a bitter battle for the top four, heroics in the Champions League and a breathtaking relegation battle. Now that the dust has settled, here are Ninety Minutes Online’s top five winners of 2011/12.

Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City mindgames

An incredible title race has been consisted of champions and perennial favourites Manchester United being confronted by cross-town rivals Manchester City, with the noisy neighbours claiming victory on a captivating last day. The Etihad Stadium outfit looks almost unstoppable at the start of the season, with Sir Alex Ferguson’s men struggling to keep up at times, before the Red Devils recaptured the advantage and found themselves eight points clear at the summit. After a derby victory for City, the battle went down to the last day, with two goals in stoppage time by Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero against QPR unbelievably giving the Citizens their first top-flight title since 1968.

Ferguson is usually the king of managerial mindgames, but on this occasion the imperious Italian has seemingly got into the United players’ thoughts, and City provide worthy winners of the 2011/12 Premier League.

Alan Pardew and his Newcastle team

Despite missing out on the top four with a last-day defeat by Everton, Newcastle have been exceptional under Alan Pardew this season, and have defied the odds to be in the race for Champions League qualification. The likes of Cheik Tiote, Demba Ba and Yohan Cabaye have proved to be astute signings, whilst the January acquisition of Papiss Cisse has resulted in a new number nine hero for the Tyneside club.

Pardew and his side must be given credit for finishing above the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool this season and providing some exceptional football at times.

Newly-promoted sides

Norwich, Swansea and QPR faced an uphill battle to stay in the Premier League this season, and many prophesised a speedy return to the Championship for the trio. However, all three sides have proved that they are good enough to cut it in the top-tier, and will look to push on next term. Swansea have been one of the teams of the season, and an 11th place finish, with a stylish brand of football to boot, is an exceptional achievement. Norwich, led by talisman Grant Holt, were not far behind in 12th and also claimed some scalps this term.

Meanwhile, although QPR escaped the drop on the last day, the Loftus Road club have beaten Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea and Liverpool to show their worth. All three will provide motivation to Southampton, Reading and either West Ham or Blackpool for next season.

Roy Hodgson

With Fabio Capello’s decision to walk away from the England manager’s post, a media frenzy has brewed over who the man to lead the Three Lions to Euro 2012 would be. With Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp the frontrunner and favourite, the press had us believing that it would be a matter of when and not if the White Hart Lane supremo took charge.

However, Roy Hodgson’s excellent achievement of lifting West Brom to 10th in the table has been recognised, and the Hawthorns man will now lead England to Ukraine and Poland.

Football

Football has been a massive winner this term, as the 2011/12 Premier League season has been the most competitive, spell-bounding and enthralling campaign for many a year. Whether it was the race for the title, five teams slugging it out to stay in the division, the heroics of the new boys or the quality of the sides in the top six, 2011/12 will take some beating next season.

Honourable Mentions

  • Roberto Di Matteo – The Italian has completely rejuvenated Chelsea since taking over from Andre Villas Boas, and after winning the FA Cup is 90 minutes away from lifting the Champions League crown.
  • Paul Scholes – The ageing veteran came out of retirement to show that he still has what it takes to compete at the top level despite his age. Rumours are circulating that Roy Hodgson will take Scholes to Euro 2012.
  • Arsene Wenger – Many had lost faith in the French manager at the start of the campaign when the Gunners lost four of their first seven games, but Wenger has led the club to a third-placed finish despite the criticism.
  • The FA Cup – With the emergence of the Champions League, over recent seasons the FA Cup has had to take a back seat, but some enthralling games between the nation’s best teams have been a joy to watch this season.
  • David Moyes – The Scottish coach continues to overachieve despite a shoestring transfer budget at Goodison Park, and leading the Toffees to seventh place is an excellent return.

Published – Soccerlens

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.

Jelavic, Cisse and the Premier League’s top five January 2012 transfers

Gylfi Sigurdsson -Swansea

The perfect signing for Brendan Rodgers – the Icelandic playmaker and set-piece specialist is a bright prospect and since signing from German side Hoffenheim on loan, Sigurdsson has gelled straight into the midfield three alongside Joe Allen and Leon Britton, scoring seven goals and claiming two assists in 14 Premier League appearances. His fantastic free-kicks and long-shots makes him a joy to watch and keeping the 22 year-old Scandinavian at the club on a permanent deal will be high on Rodgers’ to-do list.

Steven Pienaar – Everton

30 year-old Steven Pienaar has made a stunning return to Everton, once again acting as a vital asset to the Goodison Park outfit. With his slick ball control and vision, the South African is a player of quality and experience, fitting smoothly on the left of David Moyes’ 4-4-1-1 formation. After a disappointing year with Tottenham, a loan spell with his former club is exactly what he needed, and it will be interesting to see if the north London outfit will want the attacking midfielder back in the summer, or whether he will get a permanent deal with the club that seems to suit him the best.

Nikica Jelavic – Everton

The Croatian hitman has become a fans’ favourite after bagging ten goals in 13 games for the Toffees, including a brace in the magnificent 4-4 draw with Premier League champions Manchester United. After signing from the financially-endangered Rangers, Nikica Jelavic has been vital in Everton’s Premier League campaign, and although still failing to beat bitter rivals Liverpool, David Moyes will be hopeful that they can finish above the Reds for the first time since 2005.

Pavel Pogrebnyak – Fulham

Although suffering a brief injury spell, the Soviet powerhouse, nicknamed Velikiy Po – Po the Great – became the quickest player to reach five goals in Premier League history, scoring five goals in three consecutive matches, including a perfect hat-trick against Wolves. Pogrebnyak has fitted straight into Fulham’s aesthetic style of play, leading the front line with his muscular strength and a fantastic eye for goal. After the departure of veteran Bobby Zamora, Pogrebnyak was the perfect replacement; Martin Jol will want to keep the Russia international at Craven Cottage, but his stint could potentially end in the summer.

Papiss Cisse – Newcastle

After setting the record for the highest scoring African player in a single Bundesliga campaign, Papiss Cisse joined Newcastle from Freiburg for around £10m. Since signing for the Tyneside club, the 26 year-old has made a scintillating partnership with international comrade, Demba Ba, and they will be looking to bag a spot in Europe’s most prestigious tournament next season. There is no doubt Cisse was keen to get to work alongside his Senegalese counterpart and the two upfront have become a force to be reckoned with in the Premier League – in particular Cisse, who has scored eleven goals in eleven games for Alan Pardew’s men.

By Jacob Tucker

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