Key Man: Hatem Ben Arfa
Predicted position: 12th
Joe Kinnear. Papiss Cisse’s sponsorship row. The looming threat of an alleged French clique.
At first glance, the aforementioned issues seem to be the perfect ingredients for a recipe for disaster, the sort of chaotic environment Newcastle fans have grown accustomed to in recent years.
And yet, despite a rather troublesome summer, the Toon Army is looking ahead with a lot more confidence than many ever thought possible when Kinnear was ushered into the club by Mike Ashley two months ago.
Kinnear’s antics since rejoining the club aren’t likely to win him any new friends in the North East and while the 66-year-old might still not have mastered how to pronounce or spell the names of some of his players, he hasn’t interfered with Alan Pardew as much as everybody assumed when he was appointed.
Newcastle endured a disappointing season last year, when a thin squad coupled with a European campaign and a seemingly interminable series of injuries had the St James’ Park’s faithfuls for way longer than they would have hoped.
Having agreed to wear the logo of a payday loan company on his shirt, Papiss Cisse will be hoping to rediscover the form that made him a fans’ favourite on Tyneside. The Senegalese netted 13 times in his first 14 Premier League matches for the club, but only managed 8 in 36 appearances last campaign.
Cisse is likely to be partnered up-front by Loic Remy who, having turned out a move to the North East in January, arrived on loan from QPR, where he scored six goals in 14 Premier League appearances last season.
Fit-again Hatem Ben Arfa and Yohan Cabaye will be crucial for Alan Pardew’s team this season, as both were solely missed last season. The former missed the majority of last season with a hamstring injury that deprived Newcastle of their creator in chief, while Cabaye was hampered by a series of minor injuries.
The Frenchman has attracted interest from PSG, Monaco and Manchester United but, at the time of writing, he remains at the club and Alan Pardew will hope to hang on to his midfield lynchpin during the final two weeks of the transfer window.
Cabaye is crucial to Newcastle’s gameplan as the Frenchman is the man who makes the team tick, whether Pardew chooses to opt for the 4-4-3 formation he deployed in 2011-12 when Newcastle finished 5th, or the 4-3-2-1 and 4-4-2 line-ups he thinkered with last year.
Tim Krul, Fabricio Coloccini, Moussa Sissoko and Cheik Tioté constitute a very healthy backbone upon which Pardew will be desperate to build a team capable to improve on last season’s 16th place.
The Newcastle manager is still hopeful of signing Bafetimbi Gomis from Lyon, a striker of proven quality but one that would bring the number of French players in the dressing room to 11.
An increasing number of French players in the dressing room could be a problem for Alan Pardew, but should the Magpies fly up the table, not many will notice whether the players prefer French wine to Newcastle Brown Ale.