This time last year Newcastle were in the midst of a battle for fourth spot in the Premier League alongside Spurs, Arsenal and Chelsea; a battle that saw them eventually finish fifth and gain entry into this season’s Europa League. Whilst the European campaign has probably been the one bright spot of the season, it has come at a cost. A season that promised so much is now drawing to a close with Newcastle dragging themselves over the line bit by bit, trying to avoid relegation by the skin of their teeth.
So, providing Newcastle do manage to avoid the drop, obviously they won’t have the distraction of a UEFA Cup campaign to deal with next season; but what else needs to be done to avoid a repeat of this disaster of a season and to bring the smiles back to St James’ next year?
Keep El Captano Colocccini
If Newcastle are to improve on this minger of a season, keeping hold of their captain is imperative. Coloccini is the leader of this Newcastle side and easily the best defender at the club; but, for too much of this season there has been a question mark over his head. In January it was widely reported that for personal reasons Colo wanted to return to Argentina and to his hometown club San Lorenzo; an impossible dream with San Lorenzo unable to come anywhere near affording their local hero. Whilst there were many rumours, these 'personal reasons' were never divulged, whatever they may be the club cannot afford to lose their star defender. With Coloccini sidelined the past few weeks, Taylor and Yanga-Mbiwa have been starting centre-backs, whilst the Frenchman is still adapting to English football, it is clear neither are in the class of the Argentinean. For that reason, whilst it may be tricky, Newcastle must do all they can to help their skipper through this tough period and try to reach a compromise that suits both parties until El Capitano is settled and happy once more.
Bring Home the Prodigal Son
This suggestion is probably the most divisive of all I will put forward. There are those at St James’ who hope never to see Andy Carroll back in a Black and White shirt ever again, and then there are those who would welcome the big man home with open arms. As far as I’m concerned, he’s the best young player my club has produced since Paul Gascoigne and I’d have him back in a heartbeat. More importantly however, we need him! Since Demba Ba’s departure in January Newcastle have lacked any presence up front, Cisse is a poacher with occasional flashes of brilliance but can’t hold the ball up to save his life; and to say Shola flatters to deceive is beyond polite. Carroll is a far better player that is given credit for, yes he is a big Centre-forward but he can play football and of course possesses that beast of a left foot. The back end of this season has seen Andy’s form return at West Ham, and it is that kind of unplayable presence I would like to see back at St James’ Park next year alongside Cisse.
Left-Back: Santon Out/Haidara In
The left-back position has been a problem for Newcastle since Jose Enrique’s departure in 2011. Right-footed Davide Santon was brought in as a replacement and after a slow start began to look the part. As this season has gone on though the Italian’s form has dipped, after being targeted by many sides as the weak link in the back four, it has been down the left hand side where Newcastle have conceded more than their fair share of goals. As is the way with many modern day full-backs, whilst Santon is good going forward, defensively he is a worry. Massadio Haidara is the alternate option and looks a very good prospect, but is still on 20 years old and very raw. Jonas Gutierrez has also played left back this season but after the horror show at home to the Mackems a fortnight ago; I can’t see Jonas starting there again anytime soon. Personally I would like to see Haidara given a proper run at left-back next season, in his handful of appearances this term he seems to have all the attributes to be a good defender; and as the old saying goes, if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.
Sort Out The Set Pieces!!
When I tell you that Newcastle are the only team in Premier League not to have scored from a corner this season, you get the jist as to just how bad our set piece's are; in a word, abysmal. If whoever is on corners/free kicks actually manages to beat the first man (which is an achievement in itself this season!), then the only plan is to hit Taylor/Williamson at the back stick and hope for the best. For a Premier League quality side with their fair share of six-footers it’s simply not good enough. At the moment Newcastle are far too reliant on Ben Arfa, Cabaye and Cisse to bail them out. When you consider the amount of goals scored by the likes of Ivanovic, Terry and Luiz at Chelsea this season, it’s these ‘extra’ goals contributed by others that can really make all the difference during the course of a season; especially when competing against the mid-table rabble in this ultra-tight, most mediocre of Premier Leagues.
Get Up For The Cups!
Whilst Newcastle's chances of actually going all the way and winning were slim, this year’s Europa League run did briefly raise hopes of that potential, elusive trophy so evasive since 1969. This city would erupt if Newcastle even won the League Cup, so to see Swansea win it, and then Wigan make it to the F.A. Cup final; I think it opened the eyes of many fans that a trophy IS actually possible. The past few years have seen Newcastle go out at the early stages of both cups to lower league opponents after fielding weaker sides, next year I want to see Alan Pardew place more emphasis on the cups and give them the respect they deserve by really having a go in both. Whilst the big clubs will usually dominate, if you can get through the first few rounds you never know how the draw may open up and offer that golden opportunity, just as it has for others this season.
Whilst currently I am also very concerned about the overall fitness of the squad, as well as Alan Pardew's ability (or lack of!) to change a match tactically; on the back of last season’s achievements, I am prepared to give the benefit of the doubt on both accounts, but only for the time being.
The extra 14 competitive games that the UEFA Cup has demanded on Newcastle's thin squad has stretched them to their limits this season in terms of numbers and energy. Whilst I am not advocate of hiring and firing managers, if the same issues are prevalent again next season, then bigger questions will be asked of Pardew. All the good will gained from last season will only stretch so far, things need to improve and they need to improve greatly.