After surprising absolutely everyone last season with a 5th placed finish, it begs the question - was it all just a fluke or have they really just got better?
When they kicked off their campaign against Arsenal last season with a 0-0 draw, no one expected that they would end up finishing 5th and narrowly miss out on Champions League football. With Alan Pardrew at the helm they have bought in plenty of new names, who at the time were relatively unknown but what an appoint Pardrew was, guiding Newcastle to their highest finish in a while.
With the likes of Cabaye, Ba, Ben Arfa and Collocini, Pardrew had a decent little team but they turned out to be much better than decent. Yohan Cabaye was bought in from Lille, Ba from relegated West Ham on a free and Ben Arfa and Collocini had both already been at the club. Few had heard of Cabaye before his transfer to Newcastle but more than enough have now. The classy Frenchman lit up the league with his precise passing and marksman shooting. A great find he was for the Toon. Demba Ba had just finished the season with West Ham and although they were relegated he nearly kept them up scoring a few since he joined. However, Ba had a clause in his contract that stated if West Ham were relegated then he would be allowed to leave for free, Pardrew snapped him up in a reasonably quiet deal but nevertheless an excellent bit of business from the former Hammers' manager. Hatem Ben Arfa had already been at the club before the start of the season however he broke his leg previously after a nasty tackle from Nigel De Jong. It was only really this season when he broke through as he flew past defenders before whipping in a cross. Collocini had been no standout player before this season but things changed and he made himself known as one of the best defenders in the league with his commanding displays at the back.
Was it all a fluke? Did they just have a good season and now they'll return to mediocrity? I personally don't think so, Pardrew has built up a quality squad that will be able to possibly improve next season. Papis Cisse joined and has struggled to stop scoring since, with him and Ba upfront they have easily on of the best strikeforces in the league. Ben Arfa on one wing and Jonas Gutierrez on the other they have quality widemen who are both more than capable of delivering a good ball in. In centre midfield they've got Yohan Cabaye and Cheick Tiote, a good balance in my opinion. Cabaye runs the show slipping passes through whilst Tiote bursts around dispossessing opponents and winning the ball back for his team. In terms of fullbacks they have young Davide Santon who I rate very highly and will be one for the future. It remans very likely that they will sign Mathieu Debuchy and I believe this will be another great signing for the Toon as the Frenchman impressed me during EURO 2012. At centre back they have Collocini who can bring the ball forward, I do however feel he needs a better partner and that is a particular area where they need to strengthen. In goal is Tim Krul who established himself as a top-class keeper last season.
If Newcastle can hang on to their stars and perhaps bring in a centre back, Debuchy and maybe a few more players to add depth to their squad then I think they can go one better next season and reach the Champions League. Last season was not a fluke I feel, simply managerial genius from Pardrew who was rightly rewarded with the Barclays Manager of the Season award.
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