Newcastle United: 5 Reasons Why the Toon Will Continue to Shock the EPL in 2012
In July 2011, ex-Newcastle United left back Jose Enrique famously and controversially blasted Newcastle's owners and board on its transfer policy and what he perceived to be a lack of ambition. On his personal Twitter, Enrique said (in Spanish):
"The club is allowing all the major players of the team to go...This club will never again fight to be among the top six again with this policy."
And yet today, Newcastle United sit in sixth place, one point above Liverpool, Enrique's current team, who sit seventh.
Since Enrique's outburst, much has changed at Newcastle United. Some major Newcastle players, such as Joey Barton, have been allowed to leave, while other players who arrived in the summer have proven their worth as top-class footballers (and this will be discussed further in the slides).
Through all the changes and the ups and downs, Newcastle seem to have reasserted them as one of the best teams the EPL has to offer.
It's hard to say if they're top-six quality once again like they once were, but with the quality of players they're able to put on the pitch and the consistency in results that they've achieved over the first half of the season, it's safe to say that they're on the way up.
Here are five reasons why Newcastle United will continue to progress as a club in 2012.
Tim Krul: The Best Keeper in the League?
Everyone knows that Newcastle's defenders simply aren't as intimidating as the best defenders that the English Premier League has to offer.
Danny Simpson and Davide Santon are two full-backs who came from impressive youth academies (Manchester United and Inter Milan respectively), but they're still developing, and while Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor are both good center backs, they don't compare to the Nemanja Vidics, Ledley Kings, Daniel Aggers and Thomas Vermaelens of the EPL.
So how have they been able to keep eight clean sheets this season, a total which has only been bettered by Manchester City and Manchester United?
While a lot of credit must go to Alan Pardew for his coaching and Newcastle's defenders for their organization and effort, the majority of the credit deserves to be given to Tim Krul, who has been an absolute revelation for Newcastle United this year.
At the start of the season, Krul was practically unbeatable; he picked up three clean sheets in his first four games, and it wasn't until Nov. 19, 2011, when Newcastle United visited Manchester City, that he conceded more than two goals.
After that, he and Newcastle United went through a rough spell, but he has since bounced back by recording three clean sheets in his last four games, and looks primed to pick up many more before the end of the season.
The EPL is packed with exceptional goalkeepers. Joe Hart currently leads the league with nine clean sheets, Brad Friedel has looked remarkable in goal for Tottenham this season, Pepe Reina is consistently voted one of the top 10 (and sometimes even five) keepers in the world and Shay Given is a highly rated and respected veteran.
But if Tim Krul keeps up this form, he could be better than all of them in one or two years time.
Hatem Ben Arfa was the first French magician signed up by Newcastle United, and it seems that after him, Newcastle United decided that they needed more of the French magic that the young French attacking midfielder brought to the team.
To be sure, not every Frenchman that Newcastle have signed has been a spectacular success for the team; Gabriel Obertan still turns in some frustratingly inefficient performances, and Sylvain Marveaux has not yet been able to prove himself to be a capable replacement for his fellow countryman.
But Hatem Ben Arfa and Yohan Cabaye in particular have added a dynamic element of creativity and unpredictability that few Premier League teams are able to boast of.
Yohan Cabaye has easily been one of the three most important players for Newcastle this season, and his goal against Manchester United will surely resonate with Newcastle United fans for a very long time.
Hatem Ben Arfa has struggled to break into the starting lineup for Newcastle United this season, but he still possesses remarkable creative abilities on the pitch, as he reminded us in the FA Cup against Bolton.
These two players, in addition to guys like Chieck Tiote and Jonas Gutierrez, have helped Newcastle boast one of the more formidable and inventive midfields in the Premier League.
Deadly African Strike Partnership
Newcastle United scored one of the bargains of the summer when they signed up goal-machine Demba Ba on a free transfer from West Ham.
Thus far, the Senegalese hitman has scored 15 goals in 19 Premier League appearances and has been arguably Newcastle's MVP for the season.
Not deciding to simple rest on the shoulders of Demba Ba and allow him to continue to shoulder the majority of the scoring burden for the team, Newcastle decided to sign up his international compatriot, Papiss Cisse, who has himself had an excellent season with SC Freiburg and was runner-up for top scorer of the Bundesliga last season as well.
Although it remains to be seen if these two hit-men can flourish alongside each other, they could potentially form one of the deadliest striker partnerships not only in the EPL, but all of Europe.
At the very least, they definitely possess the individual talent to make it happen.
Positive Squad Building
Since January 2011, many controversial decisions have been made at Newcastle.
Allowing Andy Carroll and Joey Barton to leave have turned out to be two solid decisions made by Newcastle's management, but the sale of Kevin Nolan, even with the rise of Yohan Cabaye in his place, will always have a question mark beside it for Newcastle and non-Newcastle fans alike.
As for Jose Enrique's sale, while it was necessary given his desire to leave, it will also be viewed as a bad move by Newcastle.
Since allowing their famous four (Enrique, Barton, Carroll, Nolan) to leave, though, Newcastle seem to be heading in the right direction.
Demba Ba has been an excellent replacement for Carroll, while Cheikh Tiote and Yohan Cabaye have more than adequately filled in for Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan.
Davide Santon has also been a quiet but shrewd signing by Newcastle to replace Enrique, signing one of the more promising full backs in the game for a fee of no more than £5 million.
And this January, Newcastle United have taken the right steps to continue building.
Papiss Cisse's signing, of course, has already been discussed in-depth, but in addition to this, Newcastle have been working hard to ensure that Fabricio Coloccini, the heart of Newcastle's defense, signs a new contract, and have also been actively recruiting a new central defense partner for Coloccini in the absence of Steven Taylor.
Given the positive growth of the team since the controversy experienced in the January and summer transfer windows of 2011, expect Newcastle United to continue to grow on the back of what looks like it will be a very positive January 2012 transfer window.
Is that even a word? I'm not sure.
But what I do know is that Newcastle United have shown that even when they are in poor form, they are well-equipped and trained to bounce back to victory.
Earlier this season, they bounced back from a 3-1 loss to Manchester City, their first loss of the season, to record a credible draw against Manchester United.
And recently, at the start of the New Year, Newcastle traveled to Old Trafford with only five points out of their last eight games, yet managed to leave Old Trafford triumphantly with a 3-0 victory.
The reason I bring this up is that many people will say that Newcastle United will struggle following their biggest loss of the season against Fulham.
However, I fully expect Newcastle to bounce back with all three points against Blackburn Rovers and Aston Villa and give Tottenham a major run for their money when Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse will probably have their first opportunity to line up alongside each other.