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Opinion

Reality check on quality of squad for Newcastle fans

1 year ago
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Newcastle fans saw their team overachieve last season.

With 44 points it was higher than anybody anticipated, with big wins over Man Utd, Arsenal and Chelsea in the last few months.

The 10th place was also far above what anybody could have confidently expected, though that top half finish was achieved with the lowest ever points in a Premier League season for 10th position.

Newcastle weren’t world beaters but neither were they a ‘Championship team’ as pundits repeatedly said, some still saying it even as they were beating that trio of top six sides in late season.

Hopefully most Newcastle fans are under no illusions as to how last season was on a knife edge, despite the final points total.

So many things fell right in that second half of the season that kept Newcastle up.

Jonjo Shelvey and Mohamed Diame had been really poor  and then suddenly came together and both played out of their skins.

Very lucky to have two loan players in Kenedy and Dubravka who could come into the team and instantly become our best players.

The Lascelles and Lejeune partnership really gelled in those final months, massively helped with having Dubravka behind them.

Newcastle were also very very lucky in having so few injuries to key players. We all saw what happened when Rafa tried to play squad players towards the end of the season, the drop in quality from his first choice team was striking.

This past week has seen another reminder that points towards last season seeing that group of players overachieving.

With all the World Cup squads announced, Newcastle have only the one player at this summer’s World Cup.

Ironically, Aleksandar Mitrovic didn’t even start a Premier League game last season.

Having players at international tournaments isn’t the be all and end all but when you take in all factors, it can be a major flag as to where you are at as a squad.

Back in 2014 at the tournament in Brazil, the following had played at Newcastle in the 2013/14 season: Tim Krul, Cheick Tiote, Mathieu Debuchy, Moussa Sissoko, Yohan Cabaye, Loic Remy and Shola Ameobi.

That season, after beating Stoke 5-1 at St James Park on Boxing Day, Newcastle had 33 points from 18 games and were three points off sixth and six points away from the top. The season fell away when Mike Ashley sold Cabaye the following month and brought nobody in, eventually getting only another 16 points from the final 20 games and ending up 10th,

The fact remains though, that leaving Shola out of the equation, you had half Newcastle’s team out at the World Cup in Brazil.

Cabaye, Krul, Tiote, Debuchy, Remy, and yes even Sissoko, were all excellent that season, at least until Cabaye left and the season collapsed. Some great highlights in that opening half of the season, with the win at Old Trafford the pick, Newcastle easily the better team on the day.

Remy may have had no scruples about choosing when he played or not but 14 goals in 24 Premier League starts is a world away from the striking deficiencies at Newcastle this season.

In the form of that season, Cabaye, Tiote, Debuchy, Sissoko, Remy and Krul would all be easy choices to get into this current Newcastle team. Yes Dubravka has been excellent but after 12 games you can’t say that he is better than what Krul was at that point.

My intention isn’t to bring doom and gloom but as a warning that Rafa Benitez has to be properly backed this summer.

That 2013/14 Newcastle team could have been the basis of a very good side, if they had been kept together and Mike Ashley had shown ambition at that point.

Instead, the lack of ambition was like a poison and the following season, Newcastle only survived on the last day, beating West Ham 2-0 with Jonas Gutierrez starring.

We have already lost Kenedy who was so influential in that second half of the season just gone, Newcastle need strengthening in most areas of the pitch, not necessarily to replace people, but to at least provide competition.

As I said earlier, having in reality no (active) Newcastle players at the World Cup this month isn’t the be all and end all – but it shouldn’t be ignored (FYI both Huddersfield and Brighton have three each going to Russia, Southampton with four).
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