United currently sit in 3rd place in the league, with over a quarter of the season behind us. The so-called pundits have tipped our unbeaten streak to come to an end for weeks now, but so far we have proved them all wrong. The question is though, just how far can Newcastle go?
For a few weeks now, people have beginning to sit up and take notice of Newcastle. Our early season form surprised many, but led to most suggesting we ‘hadn’t played anyone yet’. Despite this being highly insulting to the teams we have played, I feel it is incorrect.
Last season Newcastle finished 12th; teams that finished around us included Stoke, West Brom, Sunderland, Fulham and Everton. So far from those teams we have beaten all of these, except West Brom who were are yet to play. For me it doesn’t matter that we haven’t played ‘anyone’ as the teams we need to beat are the ones who were in and around us last year. If we do this, which we have, then it shows a marked improvement on last year, and can only point to a higher finishing position come May.
What is also interesting is that had we played the same fixtures last year as this, we would still be searching for our first win, illustrating our improvement may be more marked than some pundits say.
Since our win over Stoke last week, the experts have started to take note. Stoke hadn’t lost at the Britannia all season, so for Newcastle to go there and win so comfortably was a warning to others to take United seriously. People are now beginning to wonder if we could finish in the top four, having occupied a Champions League spot for five or six weeks.
For me, Newcastle won’t finish fourth. I don’t want to put a dampener on it, but we simply don’t have as much strength in depth that the bigger teams have. Take City for example. Their bench for the 6-1 annihilation of rivals United was as follows:
Costel Pantilimon, Pablo Zabaleta, Aleksandar Kolarov, Kolo Toure, Samir Nasri, Nigel De Jong, Edin Dzeko
Apart from ‘keeper Pantilimon, and perhaps Zabaleta, I would argue that all five of the other players would walk into every team in the league. It’s the same for the other teams at the right end of the League. Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham all arguably have enough quality players to field two or three teams capable of doing well in the Premier League. Newcastle don’t really have this luxury. An injury to someone such as Demba Ba, or Fabricio Coloccini and very suddenly our team is heavily weakened.
I do feel however, that Newcastle can be the best of the rest. Take off say, both Manchester clubs and Chelsea, and I feel Newcastle can finish in the chasing pack or slightly behind them, with the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal and Spurs. Anywhere between 4th and 8th is a realistic aim for us. Even if you say that the ‘big 6’ mentioned finish above us, that leaves us in 7th; hardly a bad position.
If we are to do that, we need to beat the teams below us, which is when the suggestion that we haven’t played anyone is again shown to be untrue. Assuming finishing in the Champions League positions is beyond us, then the teams we need to be beating to finish between 5th and 8th are the teams who will finish 8th downwards, ie; Stoke, Fulham, Everton, Sunderland, Villa, Blackburn, Wolves, Wigan, QPR; all of whom we have taken points off.
If you look at it that way, we have played ‘someone’. We have played the most important games. Those sort of teams will also get beaten more often than not against the likes of Man City, Man United and Chelsea, so even if we do lose our first game at Manchester City, it doesn’t matter too much. We aren’t competing against City, we are competing against the teams who will be the best of the rest, who hopefully come May, we will be leading.
Thanks to Ben Johnson for sending this one in. He’s hoping to become a regular contributor so I’m sure you’ll all join me in welcoming him on board.