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A Chat With The Opposition: Newcastle United

In light of Manchester United’s game at home to Newcastle United this weekend,  @stiuge sat down with Newcastle United fan and blogger Paul @blackwhiterao to talk about the Toon Army’s start to the season.

First question: Many people thought Newcastle would struggle after selling Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan (I didn’t, since I knew Chiek Tiote and Yohan Cabaye are good enough to fill those spots), are you surprised the way your players stepped up following these changes?

Over the summer, I was worried, not so much by the quality of players we were bringing in, but more the damage to morale that losing the likes of Nolan and Jose Enrique would cause. So it was really encouraging to see the way that the players who were left have really pulled together under Fabricio Coloccini’s leadership. 

Having said that, I don’t think even the most optimistic of Newcastle fans would have predicted we’d be where we are at this stage in the season.

Are you happy with the players Pardew managed to sign during the summer? Which one was the best coup of the lot?

Very happy with the players we’ve picked up. Chief scout Graham Carr (comedian Alan’s dad) deserves a great deal of credit for the hard work he’s put in over the last couple of years. Cabaye in particular looks a real bargain having cost less than £5m – a player we apparently scouted over several seasons to ensure we’d done our homework.

Agree on Cabaye, wonderful signing for that price. Newcastle have surprised many of us this season after some great results of late, and rebuilding of the squad seems to be on right track. What has been the main reason for this great start?

I think our success is down to a combination of factors. We’ve got a really mean defence, which has obviously made a massive impact, though there’s evidence that Pardew’s instilled greater positional discipline and awareness throughout the side.

I can’t imagine anyone, except maybe his mum, thought that playing Ryan Taylor as our regular left-back was anything other than a short term fix whilst we replaced Jose Enrique, but he’s done incredibly well (notwithstanding his five minute blip against Man City on Saturday). In midfield, Cabaye has settled really quickly, and he and Cheick Tiote have formed a really solid platform for the side. 

Up front, Demba Ba’s been scoring, but equally he’s linked well with Leon Best and everyone’s in form and has chipped in with goals.Pardew’s had the luxury of a largely injury-free start to the season, being able to name unchanged sides on many occasions (breeding familiarity and consistency), though our luck now seems to be turning on that front.

You have signed many new players, including Gabriel Obertan from United. Which players do you see making the biggest impact this season?

Of the new boys, Cabaye and Ba have already had a big impact, and should hopefully be able to keep that going. However, at the back Tim Krul has now established himself as our first-choice keeper and a really bright talent. Similarly the partnership of Coloccini and Steven Taylor looks to be a really solid pairing.

Wasn’t easy for Alan Pardew to take over at first, but seems like he’s doing good job at the moment. What are his strengths and weaknesses?

His big strengths are his man-management and tactical nous. The way we played to beat Stoke away showed what he’s capable of, and in general terms he seems to have managed to keep the squad pulling together. He’s also got the defence doing a lot of specific positional training, which doesn’t sound like it should be rocket science, but is an approach that appears to have evaded countless Newcastle managers for years.I think his biggest weakness is his reliance on the people above him. 

The owner and chairman seem incapable of stringing a run of good decisions together and while we’re now run in a far more financially prudent fashion than we were under Freddie Shepherd, that has its consequences inin terms of selling players (e.g. Andy Carroll) and our strict wage structure which means we’re likely to be outbid for players by clubs such as Stoke or QPR. Similarly, if the team’s form suddenly drops off, the owner might see sacrificing Pardew as a quick fix.

Who do you think will be your most important player this season?

Coloccini. He’s been a real rock in defence, but also helps us to build play from the back.

If you could pick two players from the current United side, who would you pick and why?

I would take Wayne Rooney and Nemanja Vidic. Back when we started out blog, Newcastle were in the hunt to sign Rooney from Everton (who was whispered to be favouring us until we sacked Bobby Robson) and he’s still a class act. Vidic is just an absolute monster of a centre-half and would make us even tighter at the back and also give a bit more depth to our defence.

Obvious choices there. Where do you think you will finish this season, do you think European fixtures could be on the cards next season?

Before the season started, I thought we’d have done well to finish 14th. Now, though, after a great start, we’ve shown that we can compete with pretty much every team in the league. After losing to Manchester City, if we lose to you and Chelsea (our next two matches), it won’t have made ours a bad start at all – plenty of other teams will do that.

However, if we can win our home games and pick up enough points on the road I’d hope we could be somewhere around 6th at the end of the year with, hopefully, a decent FA Cup run to show for it. We might scrape a Europa League spot, which would be nice, but I’d be happy with top 8 with a view to kicking on again next year.

Which teams are going to be relegated come May? And which 4 teams will finish in top 4?

Relegation fodder I think will be Blackburn, Wigan and possibly Swansea once they pick up a few injuries. At the top, I suspect that money will tell in the end, with Man City, yourselves, Chelsea and probably Arsenal in the top four. Liverpool might edge out Arsenal if they start playing to Carroll’s strengths and he starts scoring, but otherwise it’ll be more of the same.

I think Spurs could end up finishing 4th. What are your predictions for Saturday’s match?

To be honest, I don’t think your defence is great this year and I’m still not totally convinced by De Gea, so I think we have a chance, but as we haven’t beaten you at Old Trafford for decades, I’ll go for 1-1.

Well we didn’t concede in our last 5 games, until Benfica managed to score those 2 goals on Tuesday! Thank you for answering these questions Paul, good luck on Saturday!

Thanks to @blackwhiterao for the interview, check out his brilliant Newcastle United blog.

By @stiuge

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