With all the doom and gloom that appears to be around regarding NUFC and missing out on transfer targets, it got me thinking about how we were looking at the start of last season.
With us making our return to Premier League football there was of course a lot of uncertainty as to whether we were good enough to stay in the top flight come what May.
A lot of us supporters were divided over certain individuals ability to perform at the top level, given performances by some of them in our previous fateful Premier League season in which we suffered relegation. There were many debates over whether our season in the Championship had done the likes of Fabricio Coloccini, Jose Enrique and possibly Jonas Gutierrez a world of good or whether it simply made them look better because they were playing at “their level”.
Well certainly now it looks like a season in the Championship done that crop of players a good job in settling down in English football, certainly in my opinion anyway and I dare say the general consensus is in agreement with that.
Anyway now on to the discussion point that I am attempting to make…. If we put out our strongest side for the first match of the season from the squad as it stands, would it be stronger or weaker than the side that started against Manchester United at Old Trafford in August 2010?
Our team that Monday night consisted of;
Steve Harper, James Perch, Mike Williamson, Fabricio Coloccini, Jose Enrique, Wayner Routledge, Alan Smith, Joey Barton, Jonas Gutierrez, Kevin Nolan, Andy Carroll.
Now to keep things simple for the likes of Batty and Big Dave, I’ll be using the same formation and highlighting the battles for certain positions.
Goalkeeper – Tim Krul vs Steve Harper: For me the battle would easily be won by young Dutch keeper Tim Krul. For me he has proved that he’s more than capable of playing in goal in the Premier League and although not every aspect of his game is as high as it could be, he certainly looks safer in goal than Steve Harper.
Right back – Danny Simpson vs James Perch: Err, well, it’s Simpson isn’t it?
Centre-back – Mike Williamson vs Steven Taylor: A close contest in my opinion. I don’t see much of a difference in terms of quality between the two.
Right midfield – Joey Barton v Wayne Routledge: Since moving from the centre to the right of midfield, Joey Barton has made that position his own and I can’t see that changing when we go into the new season. It’s well rumoured that Wayne Routledge will soon move on to a different club.
Centre midfield – Yohan Cabaye v Alan Smith: With one position being vacated by Joey Barton’s move to the right of midfield we can safely say that position would be taken by our enforcer Cheick Tiote. This man, as we know, is a colossus in the middle of the park and has brought absolute strength and quality to the centre of midfield.
This would leave the remaining midfield position as a battle between newcomer Yohan Cabaye and Alan Smith. As commendable as Alan Smith is, in the amount of effort and leadership he brings, he just simply does not have anywhere near the quality that Cabaye can bring to the centre of midfield and I’m sure many would agree is a complete no-brainer. Alan Smith is also another player who has been asked to find another club.
Attacking midfield – Hatem Ben Arfa vs Kevin Nolan: I was one of the supporters who always felt that lots of us were incredibly harsh on Kevin Nolan. He was Captain through tough times and scored many important goals and although he wasn’t the most graceful or mobile player, he never lacked effort or leadership and I still believe he will be a big loss.
Having said that Ben Arfa is absolutely shit hot and leadership aside, every aspect of his game completely outclasses that of departed captain Kevin Nolan. I can’t wait to see this lad in action once again and hopefully next time he scores a screamer I won’t be drunk, having a slash and miss it.
Striker – Demba Ba v Andy Carroll: Newcastle’s latest hate figure Andy Carroll made a great impact in his first proper season in the Premier league. He was another player who was questioned about whether or not he could make the step up from the Championship but it wasn’t long before Carroll was scoring regularly and giving the best centre backs in the Premier League good old fashion scrap.
But later in the season Carroll decided that his future lay elsewhere and that probably leaves our strongest striking option as Demba Ba. Ba looked a decent enough player in his time at West Ham and managed to score a few goals in a short space of time playing in the worst side in the Premier League. I think he will do a good enough job for us, but I’d much rather have Andy Carroll as our striker. He doesn’t value that No9 shirt as much as us supporters do obviously, but in terms of quality and being a goal scoring threat Andy Carroll wins this battle hands down for me.
So on the whole I personally feel we are potentially stronger team now than we were at the start of last season, although I see a massive gulf in the quality of our strikers. I still think this is the position where we really need to strengthen because Ba has not spent long in the Premier League and has worrying doubts over his fitness.
If we bring in a decent striker I feel that we’ll be in the position to finish higher than we did last season and will be capable of finishing comfortably in the top half of the Premier league. There is a long time between now and the end of the transfer window and there may be players both coming in and going out but so far so good in my opinion.
So looking back, I feel we have moved forward. Do you?