English Premier League preview: Newcastle United

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English Premier League preview: Newcastle United
Last season’s Football League Championship winners are a team that never should have had that tag in the first place. One of English football’s most historic clubs, it was a sorry sight to see Newcastle United relegated from the English Premier League. However, at the first time of asking, Chris Hughton led his team back into the big time and the top-flight is all the better for it.
With some of the most passionate fans to be found anywhere, Newcastle are one of the most colourful clubs in the country despite their black-and-white strip. If that devotion found its way into the board room then Newcastle would easily be flying high in the EPL. However, with owner Mike Ashley looking to keep his club in the top division of English football on the cheap, Newcastle face a tough ask to climb back among the big boys. But after impressing in the Championship last season, there is little reason to believe why Hughton cannot do the same again this term.
The key to Newcastle’s transfer policy has been to bring in youngsters who can give the team a burst of energy and vitality while they can simultaneously be developed and sold on for a profit. It’s a smart business strategy, but whether the gambles on relatively untested youngsters James Perch and Dan Gosling pay off are another matter.
An exception to that rule is the signing of 36-year-old Sol Campbell. The former Arsenal player had been criticised by fans for his weight when he arrived for pre-season training, but should he re-capture the form he showed for the Gunners last season he will be a considerable opponent in the centre of defence.
Loan signing can shine
Another way for Newcastle to bolster their numbers on the cheap is to look at loan signings – an option they have exercised with the imminent arrival of France international Hatem Ben Arfa. The Ben Arfa deal, if it goes ahead, will be quite a coup for Ashley and Hughton. Italian giants AC Milan are said to have an interest in the speedy Olympique Marseille winger, so for a newly-promoted team to secure his considerable talents – even if only for a year – is quite a triumph. The 23-year-old could bring industry and creativity to Newcastle’s midfield and has pedigree too, having won four Ligue 1 titles with Olympique Lyonnais before securing a fifth with Marseille.
Of Newcastle’s current crop, the midfield is particularly strong, while the defence needs more cover. If Joey Barton can stay fit and out of trouble, he will have his chance to show that he is a talented player able to utilise his range of passing to help Newcastle soar up the league.
Another striking option needed
In attack, Hughton desperately needs another striker. Andy Carroll forged an excellent partnership with Peter Lovenkrands during the second half of last season but if either of the pair are injured then their back-ups are of questionable quality particularly the disappointing Spaniard Francisco Jiménez Tejada (Xisco). Carroll is a terrific young talent who has a big future ahead of him. His 17 goals in 39 league games last season is a great record, but whether the 6ft 4in frontman can repeat that feat on the bigger stage of the EPL remains to be seen. Lovenkrands, meanwhile, chipped in with 13 goals last season and should be a menace to most defences in the EPL. That lack of cover is alarming, however, and Hughton would be best served to plead with Ashley for cash to bolster the front-line before the transfer window slams shut.
It is the impending arrival of Ben Arfa which will excite the Toon Army and give them optimism they can push for a place in the top half of the table – a feat which is by no means beyond them.
Prediction: 11th



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