Decisions That Took Newcastle United off the Path to the Champions League
Newcastle United’s Jekyll and Hyde existence over the past two years has intrigued and infuriated the club’s fanatical support in equal measure.
In May last year the Magpies clinched fifth place in the Premier League, qualifying for European competition for the first time in six seasons and finishing ahead of the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool.
Fast forward 12 months, and Alan Pardew’s side found itself in a very different setting. Just five points separated the Geordies from the dreaded drop as they finished fifth from bottom.
A promising start to the 2013-14 campaign has got some Toon stars dreaming of continental competition once more, with man-of-the-moment Hatem Ben Arfa eyeing another top-five finish, as revealed by The Shields Gazette.
But after such a dramatic turnaround in fortunes over the past 16 months, their prospects under Pardew remain typically unclear.
And having missed out on the Champions League by just four points last year, we look at some of the factors that took Newcastle off the path to Europe’s biggest club competition.
The Sale of Demba Ba
Demba Ba’s January departure to Chelsea spelled bad news for Newcastle United, not least because exactly half of their Premier League goals before the New Year had come from the Senegalese striker.
Frenchman Yoan Gouffran was viewed as a solution of sorts following his arrival from Bordeaux but was rarely utilised in the direct role so expertly handled by Ba.
This summer’s capture of Loic Remy on a season-long loan from Queens Park Rangers looks to have added some much-needed bite to the Toon’s attack, but a failure to adequately replace Ba had a debilitating effect.
Without the 28-year-old, Alan Pardew’s men managed just 19 goals in their final 18 games of the 2012-13 campaign—a total that saw them flirt dangerously with the drop until the penultimate weekend of the season.
A Lack of Consistent Investment
Though a flurry of activity in this year’s January transfer window gave Newcastle United a short-term lift, their failure to invest over the past two summers has prompted much grievance on Tyneside.
No fewer than five Frenchmen arrived at St. James’ Park in the New Year, but with no Premier League experience between them, each of them were thrown in at the deep end in the weeks that followed.
The previous summer, Dutch international Vurnon Anita was the Magpies’ only senior signing in a window where strengthening was viewed as vital ahead of a draining Europa League campaign.
That negligence was repeated this year with on-loan Loic Remy their sole newcomer. And in the face of serious outlay from their top-flight rivals, the Geordie fans have every right to feel disgruntled.
Inadequate 1st-Team Backup
In the midst of a mounting fixture list following qualification for the Europa League group stages last term, Alan Pardew’s Newcastle United squad was stretched to its very limits.
Youngsters such as Gael Bigirimana, Haris Vuckic and Adam Campbell found themselves in the first-team picture as the club strived to tackle its hectic schedule.
Their apparent lack of depth saw the Magpies produce a fractured campaign, with a place in the last eight of the Europa League tarnished by their stuttering domestic form.
And while Pardew enjoyed a run of luck on the injury front during 2011-12, he had no such joy when he needed it most as the Toon battled on four fronts last season.
Inconsistencies on the Pitch
Even during their much-celebrated 2011-12 season, Newcastle United were a picture of inconsistency, with the middle third of their campaign littered with conflicting results.
A 4-2 defeat at Norwich City came after a superb battling draw with Manchester United at Old Trafford, while Sir Alex Ferguson’s men were thrashed 3-0 at St. James’ Park the following month—two weeks before a 5-2 loss at Fulham.
There were further examples of disparity, such as the 4-0 defeat at Wigan Athletic that was followed four days later by a 2-0 victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
Such unpredictability ultimately cost the Magpies a top-four place and a seat at Europe’s top table, and it left them facing the far less attractive prospect of the Europa League.