Newcastle United: 5 Bold Predictions for Newcastle's 2011-12 Season
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The 2010-11 season was all about survival and consolidation for Newcastle United after promotion back to the Premier League. Despite the controversial sacking of Chris Hughton and the sale of Andy Carroll, Newcastle survived their first season back in the top flight with relative ease.
The 2011-12 season will be about progression and will be the first real chance to judge Alan Pardew on both his transfers and tactics.
Here are my five predictions for the season ahead.
Hatem Ben Arfa Will Be a Sensation
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Newcastle United were robbed of the mercurial talents of Hatem Ben Arfa last season. He looked so promising after joining on loan from Marseille. Despite Ben Arfa suffering a double leg break against Manchester City, Newcastle felt they had seen enough to merit and made the transfer permanent.
As the season went on and Ben Arfa's recovery succumbed to a series of setbacks, the decision to sign the player to a permanent deal began to look suspect. Now, though, he is back to full fitness and raring to go for the new season.
Ben Arfa has always been thought of as an immense talent but has been criticized in the past for a lack of focus. After having suffered a career-threatening injury, I believe he will be more focused than ever.
Newcastle have now surrounded him with a few key French compatriots, and in my opinion, if he can keep fit he will set the league alight this season.
Alan Pardew seems keen on playing in the hole behind the main striker. If it works out, Newcastle could finally have a replacement for the legendary Peter Beardsley.
Demba Ba Will Be a 20-Goal Striker
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With Andrew Carroll and Kevin Nolan gone, Newcastle desperately need someone to step up and get a lot of goals if they are going to have a successful season.
If rumours are true and Newcastle manage to get Daniel Sturridge on loan, he may well take some of the burden. But it is still likely that Demba Ba will be relied on to chip in a good number of goals.
Two things make this possibly my boldest prediction. Firstly Ba has well-publicised injury problems, which have hampered his ability to pass medicals. There are question marks about how many games he will play and how injury prone he is. The second is the fact that he hasn't scored 20 goals in a season since he left Rouen.
The word from West Ham, though, was that Ba was able to train every week, and his knee injury is manageable. If he stays fit, his past record suggests he can score at a rate of a goal every other game. I have my doubts about him racking up 40 appearances, but I think he can improve that scoring rate.
At Newcastle next season he will have Joey Barton, Yohan Cabaye, Ben Arfa, Jonas Gutierrez and Sylvain Marveaux supplying the ammunition for him. When you compare that to the supply line he had at West Ham last year (who were struggling anyway), I see no reason he can't score goals at an even better rate.
Cheik Tiote Will Be Sold
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At Newcastle United, under the current regime, everyone is for sale at the right price.
Cheik Tiote was a sensation last season and is probably the most promising young defensive midfielder in the Premier League, having drawn comparisons with Michael Essien. He has rapidly become a cult hero on Tyneside and would be a massive loss to the fans.
If Tiote had been bought in the Kevin Keegan or Sir Bobby Robson era, they would have built a team around him. But with the relative lack of ambition of the current ownership, Tiote will rapidly outgrow Newcastle. He is simply too good to stay in a team that looks destined to stagnate around mid-table for the foreseeable future.
While he may have recently signed a six-and-a-half year contract, many see this as simply a way of Mike Ashley guaranteeing a large transfer fee.
With Essien now injured at Chelsea, it wouldn't surprise me if Tiote was sold before the end of August. It would take a miraculous season from Newcastle to keep him here into the 2012-13 season.
Maybe the best Newcastle fans can hope for is to get Sturridge as part of any deal to take Tiote to Chelsea.
Midfield Will Be Best Outside the Top Four
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While there are doubts about Newcastle's strikers for next season and a lack of depth in defence, there is one area where Newcastle look in great shape.
Newcastle boast an array of very talented midfielders, and Pardew will regularly choose five from: Barton, Cabaye, Tiote, Ben Arfa, Marveaux, Dan Gosling and Gutierrez. They also have promising, emerging talents in Mehdi Abeid and Shane Ferguson.
If those players click, Cabaye and Marveaux settle well and Ben Arfa is back to his best, then Newcastle United's midfield could be formidable and very, very exciting. That, of course, relies on Barton and Tiote still being at the club when the transfer window closes!
Alan Pardew Wont Get the Sack!
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Newcastle United have a bad recent record of sacking managers, with only Bobby Robson really given a fair crack of the whip since Kevin Keegan left (the first time). Mike Ashley's record is very poor. Since he took over, Sam Allardyce, Keegan, Joe Kinnear, Alan Shearer and Chris Hughton have all been dispatched in one way or another.
So surely it seems crazy to suggest Pardew will do any better?
In the Freddie Shepherd era, it could be argued that managers were often removed due to a lack of success and a lack of popularity with the fans. The Ashley era is different. He has shown time and time again that the opinions of the fans are irrelevant. The fans would have kept Keegan, Shearer and Hughton, and the latter in particular could hardly be accused of underachieving!
Ashley has now found a perfect manager for his reign. Alan Pardew will play attractive football (unlike Allardyce), won't argue of resist his control and won't demand his own way on transfers (like Keegan) and won't fight player sales or encourage a powerful dressing room (like Hughton).
Pardew will never really be popular with Newcastle fans, who distrust him after the Carrol sale and various player contract issues. He does, however, have a natural charm with the press and is a useful propagandist for the notoriously silent owner.
It would take a truly disastrous season for Pardew to be removed!