It’s fair to say Newcastle United have enjoyed a somewhat pleasantly surprising first half to the 2013-14 Premier League season. Currently sitting eighth and just six points off the top four, much of the pre-season negativity has been wiped out thanks to some big wins for Alan Pardew’s side.
Now, the Magpies face what could be their biggest month as the transfer window reopens and injuries and suspensions pose a threat to their recent good form.
Since losing to Arsenal on Boxing Day, Newcastle went down to a late penalty at West Bromwich Albion before crashing out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle thanks to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Cardiff City. That means the Magpies have lost their last three and now face a visit from Manchester City while in the middle of their worst run of the season.
The matter is made worse when the selection problems are piling up, too. Pardew has had the luxury of naming a largely unchanged squad for the majority of the season so far but now faces some big decisions to try and keep momentum high.
Mathieu Debuchy’s reckless lunge at the Hawthorns earned him a three-match ban, meaning a new right-back must be found quickly. With regular fill-in Ryan Taylor injured long-term, the candidates for the empty role are thin. Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa is arguably the favourite for the slot, but the former Montpellier defender is more comfortable in the centre of the back four.
The other option is Davide Santon. Newcastle’s first-choice left-back is naturally right-footed, so it could make sense with Massadio Haidara—a player that has been pushing for a first-team place anyway—coming in at left-back. Whoever fills the void left by Debuchy, Pardew must make it work for the visit of Manchester City as well as the trip to West Ham.
Another problem the Newcastle manager must solve is the absence of Fabricio Coloccini. The Magpies captain is set to miss out for another month at least, so it provides a chance for either Yanga-Mbiwa or Steven Taylor to cement a first-team place.
Taylor hardly covered himself in glory in the defeat to Cardiff last weekend, losing his man for the winner and looking shaky throughout. However, the loveable Geordie was playing alongside Yanga-Mbiwa, so the partnership that failed against Solskjaer’s side is unlikely to be the one picked for the visit of City.
Yanga-Mbiwa had started to build up a partnership with Mike Williamson before Coloccini returned from injury earlier in the season, so a return to that pairing may be the most likely outcome for Pardew as he looks to shackle the likes of Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure.
As well as the on-field decisions facing him, Pardew must also try to strengthen his squad while the transfer window is open. The rumours have already started to circulate, as Newcastle look for extra attacking players to help them kick on in the second half of the season.
The main two names being linked with moves to Tyneside are those of Borussia Monchengladbach striker Luuk De Jong and Montpellier midfielder Remy Cabella.
De Jong has endured a tough time in Germany since switching from FC Twente in 2012 and has been linked with a loan move to Newcastle to boost his chances of making the Netherlands squad for next summer’s World Cup.
Tall and powerful, De Jong could be a more prolific version of Shola Ameobi as the Geordie veteran struggles for goals. The 23-year-old has struggled to find the net himself for Monchengladbach (scoring just six times in 23 games) but would be confident of rekindling the kind of form that bagged him 39 goals in just 76 games and a reputation as one of Holland’s best young talents.
Cabella’s name has been linked with Newcastle as Pardew looks to continue his quest to cherry-pick the best talent from France. The tricky attacking midfielder has shone at Montpellier this season, and Newcastle are reportedly interested after successfully agreeing a deal with the same club for Yanga-Mbiwa in the summer.
The 23-year-old could move for around £14m, so Pardew may have to lighten the deal by inserting fringe players Sylvain Marveaux and Gabriel Obertan into the mix.
Pardew will also be keen to wrap up a permanent deal for Loic Remy this month, with the on-loan QPR striker scoring enough to warrant a full-time switch from London. The fee could be the sticking point, as well as other clubs showing interest and turning Remy’s head as he continues to lead Newcastle’s scoring charts.
With the Tyne-Wear derby kicking off February, the next four weeks could be pivotal to Newcastle’s season. Pardew faces a real test to keep hopes high on Tyneside as fans wait to see what’s next for their beloved Magpies.