Last season, Newcastle United were one of the teams to watch and under Alan Pardew they played some fantastic football. Their summer signings were perhaps key to their performances as midfielder Yohan Cabaye joined from Lille for £4.3m and striker Demba Ba arrived from West Ham on a free transfer. The former turned out to be one of the buys of the season as Cabaye consistently churned out quality performances in the heart of Newcastle’s midfield. Alongside Cheick Tiote, he formed a devastating partnership and is now widely regarded as one of the finest central midfielders in Europe.
Up until January Ba was the main man for Newcastle with a series of impressive performances leading the line. Despite his second half season slump, Ba still managed to be named signing of the season by Premier League managers and finished as his club top scorer with 16 goals. Newcastle also signed former Inter Milan full back Davide Santon for just £5m and his performances were key to Newcastle recording such a strong start to the 2011/12 season.
The Magpies finished last season in 5th place, they qualified for Europe and finished above European champions Chelsea. They narrowly missed out on qualifying for the Champions League and Alan Pardew won the Premier League Manager of the Season and the LMA Manager of the Year, becoming the first Englishman to win both in the space of one season.
This season however things are a little different. Newcastle are currently 15th in the league, just three points off the drop zone and after a pretty poor campaign, find themselves embroiled in a relegation fight. This year has been awash with disappointing performances and a number of key injuries and while Alan Pardew can cite this all as bad luck, it is something many saw coming at the start of the season.
It is easy to say anything with hindsight, but Newcastle’s activity, or rather lack of it over summer, worried fans from the off. At the start of the summer transfer window, Pardew announced that Newcastle wouldn’t be too active during the window because he “didn’t want to upset the balance of the side” and he “didn’t think it would be fair to the players who played so well this season”. That’s all well and good, but you have to remember that somehow Pardew had managed to bring out some incredible performances from some very average players like James Perch, Dan Gosling and Danny Guthrie. The latter left on a free transfer to Reading and the former two could not be expected to recreate their performances from the previous season.
Also it is worth taking into account that at this stage Demba Ba’s £7m release clause had become extremely well documented and it looked highly possible he would be moving away. The fact that he didn’t is merely irrelevant it was just a gamble taken by Pardew that happened to pay off.
One gamble that didn’t pay off was on Pardew thinking his squad had enough depth to cope with the season ahead. What he seemingly failed to take into account was that now the Premier League would be all too aware of his team’s prowess and he had a demanding Europa League campaign to juggle. Newcastle’s squad depth was suspect enough during the previous season but this year it has been shown up. Just signing Vurnon Anita and a couple of youngsters is not good enough. Look at Swansea for example, a team that like Newcastle over performed last season and actually lost a couple of their star players over the summer. Did they make do with what they had? No, in came a host of new stars to provide fresh competition and now it is Swansea who will be playing European football next season.
January may have provided some respite with a host of new French stars joining the side but it is too little too late for Pardew and the others in charge at Newcastle. If they had made the right signings over the summer and assembled a squad brimming with quality there would be no reason they couldn’t be challenging for European football again. As such, they have suffered from a naivety that they could cope with more football under the same squad and have consequently been punished. This summer will provide another chance to re-build and while this season has been tough for Newcastle, they have some extremely talented players and I wouldn’t bet against them to bounce back strongly from forgettable year.