Ah, what a great feeling. We are just a few days from beginning the 2014-15 Premier League season. That sounds even better than a chocolate mousse cake served on a platter of edible chocolate with edible chocolate utensils. Putting the Community Platter match aside, this will be our first real game of the season, and I know you are all excited.
I caught up with Robert Bishop and our friends over at Coming Home Newcastle for a quick chat and preview heading into Sunday's match. You can find my answers for his questions here. Aren't Q&A's just the best?
- B&B: It's been a very busy summer at St. James' Park. How are you feeling about Newcastle's transfer business? Any areas that still need strengthening?
CHN: A summer like this one was sorely needed, and none of us expected that it was actually going to happen. Newcastle now have creativity in the midfield, sorely lacking since Yohan Cabaye, and multiple attacking options, absent since the regression bug hit Papiss Cisse. They replaced Mathieu Debuchy with Daryl Janmaat, which was nice, but the back line needs an overhaul in the worst way. There's still business left to be done, and now the question is about whether or not the job will be completed.
- B&B: After a summer of reflection, how are the Toon faithful feeling about Alan Pardew?
CHN: Well, new players won't make him a tactical genius, but as funny as it sounds, it might help. When he doesn't have the exact right players in the exact right places, he reverts to route one football, which doesn't really work with Newcastle's personnel. He'll still always make inane excuses when things go wrong or try to sell us that a bad performance was actually a good one. That's frustrating and not necessarily causative of bad play, but it doesn't help when everything goes pear-shaped. I'm still not convinced that he's the right man for the job, and neither are most Toon fans, but I suppose it's better than going through multiple managers with the same results.
- B&B: Tactically speaking, what are the strengths and weaknesses of the team?
CHN: It's tough to say, given the large amount of turnover, but we expect that wing play will continue to be a strength. In particular, Massadio Haidara and Remy Cabella have looked dangerous coming down the left, and 18 year-old Rolando Aarons could provide plenty of pace on that side at the end of matches (or he could be relegated to cup duty, who knows). Unfortunately, good wing play dictates a strong aerial presence in the box, which the Magpies lack. Instead, they're likely to continue to force contested shots from odd angles, resulting in a low number quality scoring chances. Another obvious point of weakness, as I pointed out earlier, is the defensive unit. Both center halves are capable of producing great individual performances, but they're not always on the same page, and they're styles aren't exactly complementary. A replacement for the aging Fabricio Coloccini will be necessary sooner rather than later, and it's mandatory that Mike Williamson continues to progress.
- B&B: How do you see Newcastle faring this season? Any goals/targets in mind?
CHN: It's hard to say, given how inconsistent they were last season, but we expect the club to progress out of mid-table mediocrity to at least seriously compete for a spot in the Europa League. Whether or not that happens is anybody's guess.
- B&B: Which Newcastle player should we expect to grumble about moving to a bigger club around January?
CHN: Ha! We'd just like some of them to stay around for a bit and be a part of building Newcastle into a destination club once again. Right now the obvious choice to move on is Cheik Tiote, given the number of rumors that continue to surround him, but I'd watch Tim Krul. Newcastle purchased Karl Darlow from Nottingham Forest this summer and immediately sent him back on a year-long loan, which means that next season they will have a total of four goalkeepers in the squad over the age of 21. Krul has the most value to a potential buyer, and he's been connected to just about any club out there that's got a starter over 35. I'd be sad to see him go, but if Newcastle are safe, it would be just like Mike Ashley to cash in come January.
- B&B: Out of all the English clubs, which transfer do you think will have the biggest impact this season?
CHN: What a great question. A couple of the obvious answers would be Alexis Sanchez, Cesc Fabregas, or even Eliaquim Mangala, a shrewd move I'm surprised hasn't received more praise. It's almost never the obvious answer, though, is it? Instead, I'll look a little further down the table. Mauro Zarate has a chance to make a huge impact for a West Ham squad that scored just over a goal a game last season and will be missing Andy Carroll for several months.
- B&B: What lineup do you expect Pardew to put out on Sunday, and would you change any of it? Where do you see the key battles on the pitch?
CHN: Assuming full health - all of the current reported injuries are ostensibly minor - I'd expect Pardew to go with a 4-4-2, based on recent preseason matches.
Krul | Janmaat, Williamson, Coloccini, Haidara | Sissoko, Tiote, de Jong, Cabella | Rivière, Ferreyra
I think our midfield is better suited to a 4-2-3-1, but Pardew likely wants to (1) play both of his new strikers, (2) play more defensively against a top side.
- B&B: Prediction for the match? Should we make opening the season against each other a tradition?
CHN: I'd rather start with a confidence booster, thanks. I'm feeling optimistic. 1-2 to City.
Many thanks to Robert for his time!