Heading into the 2012-13 season, the mood around Newcastle United was one of expectation. Having finished fifth in the Premier League the previous season, many expected the Magpies to be challenging for a European place once again, perhaps even pushing a coveted top-four finish. However, an incredible run of bad injuries to key players have robbed Alan Pardew of the chance to field his strongest side on a regular basis, leaving Newcastle floundering in the lower half of the domestic table.
Man for man, Newcastle has an incredibly strong first team. Hatem Ben Arfa would grace any team in the Premier League with his wonderful dribbling ability, and Yohan Cabaye is one of the top playmakers in Europe.
Add to those two the likes of Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor at the back and Newcastle have genuine quality in every area of the pitch, leaving their current standing of 14th as something of an unpleasant surprise.
The added distraction of the Europa League hasn’t helped the Newcastle manager field his strongest side too often, although success in that competition could ultimately be the saviour of a disappointing season.
All four of the players mentioned have had significant injury problems that have blighted their seasons. Ben Arfa has made only a handful of appearances as he battles a serious hamstring problem, while Cabaye missed 13 games at the end of 2012, during Newcastle’s worst run of the campaign.
Steven Taylor only recovered from injury in January and since returning, has forced his way into the English national team—a sign of how impressive the big defender has been. Fellow centre-back Coloccini has also missed games, leaving Newcastle to rely on the likes of Mike Williamson and James Perch for key fixtures.
Had the treatment table at St James’ Park been significantly less busy, Pardew would have been looking at a top-six finish for his troops. Losing Cabaye and Ben Arfa for so long severely affected the way Newcastle play, meaning they had to look at other options in order to score goals. With Papiss Cisse not finding the net as often as one might have hoped, that hasn’t been easy.
When Cabaye returned from injury in January, he started to prove just how important he was to his team. Five goals and numerous impressive performances from the Frenchman had fans dreaming of what might have been had their midfield general been fit for a larger part of the season.
Currently sidelined with a minor groin injury, Cabaye is central to everything Newcastle do. Stringing passes from midfield and bursting forward to score vital goals, the former Lille man is the metronome in the Toon side.
Ben Arfa is the more frustrating loss to Newcastle, though. Having missed months of the season with a hamstring injury, he returned to show his talent in the 2-1 away defeat to Fulham, in which he scored a stunning equaliser before being taken off as a precaution.
Making another comeback in the first leg of the Europa League tie with Anzhi Makhachkala, the former Marseille winger suffered a dead leg before a recurrence of the hamstring injury ruled him out for the rest of the season. He now needs surgery to end his injury problems and will be back at the start of next season, where Geordie fans hope he can rediscover his best form.
Heading into the 2013-14 campaign, Newcastle fans will once again harbour hopes of a top-six finish, with lady luck not going against them by way of ruling out their star players with serious injuries. Should they finish where expectations fall, the Magpies will once again establish themselves as one of the top teams in England.
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