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Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Newcastle United: What do you need to stay in the top four?

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Move over Kevin Keegan, there’s a new messiah in Toon. Alan Pardew may have been treated like a Mackem on his arrival at St James’ Park but the former West Ham and Reading boss can simply do no wrong at St James’ Park now. Pardew has taken a team that was tipped by many for a relegation scrap this season and guided them to third in the Premier League. Those who claim there are no English alternatives to Harry Redknapp for England manager haven’t obviously looked very far.

Optimism was in short supply at the start of the season on Tyneside. The fans felt that they had failed to replace Andy Carroll properly, their top scorer Kevin Nolan had dropped down a division to join West Ham and the impressive but controversial Joey Barton was about to be on his way too. However, Alan Pardew has got to grips with the players at his disposal, drilled it into them what he demands of them and he has proved the doubters wrong by leading Newcastle to their best start to a top flight campaign for 16 years.

Surprisingly their success has been based mainly on their tremendous defensive unit. The Mags have conceded only eight goals this season – the best in the Premier League – and that is remarkable given Newcastle’s past attempts at trying to thwart attackers. When Bramble and Boumsong were at the club the fans were always waiting for one of them to make a monumental blunder. Now with Taylor and Coloccini looking like world beaters, confidence in the squad is sky high and Newcastle look like they can take points off any team.

Newcastle’s Champions League credentials will be given a stern examination this month with trips to Manchester City, Manchester United and entertaining Chelsea at home. If they emerge from these games unscathed, the Mags must be considered as genuine contenders for a top four finish. If they do slip up then it will only serve to show Mike Ashley that the £35 million he cashed in for Andy Carroll must be reinvested in the squad.

But what does Alan Pardew need to do to keep his side in the top four? With the transfer window due to open within weeks, you can guarantee that Pardew will be looking at potential options.

One area that Pardew has no problems with is his goalkeeper. Tim Krul has been immense this season. His reactions are first class, he is good in the air and quick across the ground. Poor old Steve Harper must have been over the moon to see the back of Shay Given but injury has allowed Krul to steal his number one jersey and with Harper now on loan at Brighton it doesn’t look like he’ll be winning back his place any time soon.

Defensively Newcastle have also looked solid. Steven Taylor and Fabricio Coloccini have been rocks in the heart of the defence while Ryan Taylor has also chipped in with a few crucial goals and Danny Simpson has played an integral part in the Mags’ success. Maybe Pardew will look at bringing in some more cover as the demands of the season continue and injuries and suspensions kick in.

Newcastle have looked stretched in recent weeks in the midfield area. The inspirational Tiote and the influential Cabaye and Marveaux have picked up injuries recently but whereas Tiote is expected to be fit in time for the visit to Manchester City, Cabaye and Marveaux are real doubts. Danny Guthrie has filled in admirably for Tiote while the return to fitness of Dan Gosling couldn’t have come at a better time. Ben Arfa is also getting back to match fitness while Jonas Guiterrez has been an ever present but Pardew could well try and reinforce his midfield options.

Up front must be Pardew’s number one priority though. He has lost Shola Ameobi and Leon Best through injury while the Mags are also looking to offload Nile Ranger as soon as possible. Former West Ham striker Demba Ba has come good after a slow start at St James’ and has two hat-tricks to his names already. Not bad for a player who had failed a medical at Stoke City.

In the past week Pardew has been linked with a double raid on Tottenham for strikers Jermain Defoe and Roman Pavyluchenko. The pair would reportedly cost Newcastle £20 million but it could be money well spent if they could keep the Mags in the hunt for a top four finish. They are both fantastic finishers with experience of the Premier League. Pavyluchenko would give Newcastle a height presence while Defoe is one of the best finishers in the game. But would that be the type of player you would like to see at St James’?

The one thing that Pardew must be congratulated on is the fact that he doesn’t buy players because of their name and past reputations. I mean, not many people would have heard of the likes of Cabaye and Marveaux before they arrived at St James’ Park. Now they are winning rave reviews every week. Pardew’s also not the type of manager to spend over the odds to snare a player. Unless he can get them for a decent price and he firmly believes that they can improve his squad he won’t go near them. Some then may query the link with the Spurs duo but who could honestly say that Best and Ameobi are better than Defoe and Payvlyuchenko?

Of course Newcastle will need a certain amount of luck to continue their fine run. They only need to look down the road to see what can happen if you take the foot of the pedal in the top flight. Last season Sunderland were riding high and looked like ending the season with a place in Europe. However, Bent’s departure put paid to that and they were caught up in a relegation dogfight.

Newcastle will not want the same thing to happen to them this season, but with a water tight defence, Pardew’s men should remain one of the toughest teams to beat. But are there any areas of the squad that you believe need improving if your excellent run is to continue?

Calling all Newcastle fans. Who would you like to see Pardew bring in to St James’ Park? How would you rate the job Pardew has done on Tyneside? Danny Simpson recently said that Newcastle’s main aim this season was to finish in the top 10. Following your awesome start, what do you think is the minimum requirement now? How confident are you of Newcastle continuing their remarkable run of form and competing for a Champions League place come May? Whatever your view we’d love to hear from you.

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