The bottom half of the table is too close to call right now, and Alan Pardew’s Newcastle side need to take themselves out of the discussion.
As the season developed, Pardew’s post-match interviews became less about a top-four finish and more about a bottom-three finish. His moves in the transfer window have had a galvanising effect on the team—despite the loss to Tottenham—but Newcastle’s position remains unstable.
Sitting on 27 points, the Toon are four points above the drop zone, in 16th place. However, they’re also only 10 points off seventh place, so the next month is crucial. It’s going to take more than 37 points to ensure survival this time around.
Traditionally, managers will refer to 40 points as the magic number to guarantee safety. This year there is an additional incentive with the new £5.5 billion TV deal coming into action next season, which ensures a drastic increase in money entering Premier League teams.
Of course, Pardew is aware of all this. Anyone thinking that the January actions of Mike Ashley were done out of immense love for the club need to think again.
Speculate to accumulate; that’s how it works this season. Buy your team survival and enjoy the extra income. QPR’s insane wage bill only makes sense in the wake of the new deal, and it’s a risk most owners are willing to take.
The good news for Newcastle is that they have an excellent scouting team led by Graham Carr, so they were able to bring in immediate contributors at good value. Moussa Sissoko and Yoan Gouffran have been the stars of the show thus far, and at a combined cost of around £3.5 million (via shieldgazette.com) represent another victory for Carr and his team.
With all the fawning over Gareth Bale’s performance in the 2-1 victory over the Magpies, it’s easy to forget that Gouffran was a viable candidate for man of the match before being stretchered off.
He had no help from referee Phil Dowd that day, and the only way Spurs were going to beat him was to get him off the field. The kick that did it was unintentional, but it brought about a substitution that changed the Newcastle dynamic. Sylvain Marveaux is not a natural left-winger, but was forced into that role by Sissoko operating through the middle.
Marveaux should be starting in place of Jonas Gutierrez, but Pardew seems to have blinkers when it comes to the Argentine player. Since Gutierrez scored against Chelsea in a useful performance, it’s difficult to see Marveaux getting a real run in the team this year.
Gutierrez is a tireless worker, but his production no longer reflects this. The games against Aston Villa and Chelsea have been his only bright spots in a disappointing season, and Pardew has to give Marveaux his chance.
Midfield gripes aside, Newcastle are actually in good shape coming into the last three months of the season. Their squad is improved following a successful transfer window, and players like Hatem Ben Arfa and Yohan Cabaye returning from injury gives them a further boost.
There have been many jokes about Newcastle becoming a Ligue 1 side, but the fans don’t care what nationality the players are, as long as the results get better.
Looking ahead at the remaining fixtures, Newcastle could feasibly win most of them. There’s an away game at Manchester City that’s unlikely to yield any points, but it’s not a lost cause, either. Liverpool bossed City around twice this year, and the Reds haven’t beaten any of the top 10 sides this year.
A home fixture against Arsenal in the last game of the season is a good opportunity for revenge after the 7-3 drubbing at the Emirates. Don’t expect that result again, especially if Newcastle have more to play for than the Gunners.
There’s away fixtures at QPR and Wigan that could have an effect on the relegation zone—as well as a home game against Southampton—but other than that, the Magpies play mid-table teams from here on out.
Stoke, Fulham, Sunderland and Liverpool are the other home games remaining, while Swansea, Wigan, West Brom and West Ham make up the rest of the away matches. With good performances, the Toon can win all these games and lift themselves to a respectable position by the season’s end.
As an absolute minimum, however, Pardew should expect 18 points from the remaining 12 fixtures, which would leave them with 45. This should be enough to guarantee safety, write off this year as a missed opportunity and return strong next year.
Don’t rule out some deals in the summer window, either. Ashley wouldn’t be naïve enough to think that this year’s lesson in frugality is a one-off, or that January’s signings are enough to see them through another season.