Newcastle Celebrate After Sissoko's Winner Against Chelsea
Since investing heavily in the January transfer market, Newcastle United have seen their fortunes on the pitch undergo a huge transformation. After bringing in Mathieu Debuchy, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Massadio Haidara, Yoan Gouffran and the impressive Moussa Sissoko, Alan Pardew has watched his side take six points from six and pull themselves further clear of the relegation zone.
There is no doubt the Magpies look an entirely different side from the one that had failed to win away from home all season and the new French contingent has been a key part of the turnaround. Sissoko manhandled Chelsea this weekend and enjoyed a stunning home debut, finishing with two goals and handing his new side their biggest win of the season so far.
But one of the keys to Newcastle’s recent success has not been one player, instead it has been the quality of the squad Alan Pardew now has at his disposal.
Newcastle crashed out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle in January when they were outplayed by Championship side Brighton and Hove Albion and it left Pardew knowing that he had to strengthen in the upcoming weeks.
The likes of Mehdi Abeid, James Tavernier, Gael Bigirimana and Sammy Ameobi all played major parts in the defeat and it left Pardew with a clear thought that they simply were not ready for the first-team squad.
If we compare the squad in that game to the one that was chosen against Chelsea this past weekend, the difference is remarkable.
Aside from the Brighton game being in a different competition and therefore a lower priority, Newcastle now have a genuinely talented pool of players all vying for a starting place. Throughout the last two months, Pardew has had a number of injuries and problems to negotiate, meaning the squad was made up of players who were fit rather than ones who deserved to be representing the Magpies.
Now though, for example, Pardew can choose between new signing Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Steven Taylor, who has been fantastic since returning from injury. Before, the Newcastle manager was almost forced into choosing Mike Williamson, whose performances deteriorated as the fixture list piled up over the festive period.
The defensive choices Pardew now possesses are just one example of the depth of the new-look Newcastle squad. Arguably the strongest area of the Magpies' squad since January is midfield, with Moussa Sissoko leading the way with his stellar performances since signing from Toulouse.
Pardew now has the option of rotation, meaning if one of his star players isn’t performing to their highest level, they are in genuine danger of losing their place in the starting XI.
We only have to look at Jonas Gutierrez’s performance against Chelsea this weekend to see the impact that the new signings have had on Newcastle’s previously untouchable starters. The winger turned in a display of the highest calibre, something Magpies fans hadn’t seen from the Argentine in months.
The reaction from Gutierrez was a direct consequence of his manager’s January spending, as his place could now be taken by Yoan Gouffran, Marveaux or either of the Ameobi brothers.
Remember that Newcastle still have to welcome back arguably their best player in Hatem Ben Arfa and you can see the quality Pardew now has in his once threadbare squad.
To keep up the kind of form his side has shown over the last two games, Pardew will have to wield the axe on his underperformers—of which there are currently none—and keep the message to his squad crystal clear; play well or you will be replaced.
Where will Newcastle finish in the Premier League this season?
The Magpies' manager has more options in attack now too, with Gouffran making an impressive start to his Newcastle career. Watching him in the last two games, the former Bordeaux man looks like a valuable asset to his new side, with his pace and work rate both catching the eye.
Gouffran’s best position remains centre-forward, a role Papiss Cisse is currently filling, but the Frenchman’s performances on the wing have been encouraging.
He has been described as Gabriel Obertan with a brain and the comparison makes a lot of sense. Both men have searing pace, but Gouffran knows when to use his head and link up with the midfield rather than attempt to burst past players whenever he is in possession.
Going into next week’s game with Tottenham, Newcastle’s new squad will be high on confidence as they look to continue their ascent up the table, while also knowing that if they don’t hit the heights expected of them their manager now has other options to use in his quality-laden squad.