The 2011-12 Football Season – Rob Pears Previews Newcastle’s Chances

So, it’s back. Saturday afternoons on The Sports Zone of playing lots of music and talking about cricket, golf and tennis are over. Those sports are all entertaining, but this is quite simply a footballing city.

So, what can we expect from Alan Pardew’s men this season? Well, as any regular listener will know, I love a good statistic, so I’ll start with them.

Newcastle United are entering their 18th Premier League season, and the ominous-looking season opener at home to Arsenal will be their 655th match played in this division.

To this point, the Magpies have mustered up 952 top flight points and have scored 940 goals, conceding 834 in the process. In their 328th home game this Saturday, they’ll be looking for home win number 176, and looking to avoid draw number 84 and especially loss number 70.

As for the comings and going on Tyneside this Summer, two big players have left. The first was last season’s captain Kevin Nolan, unable to agree a new contract with Ashley and Llambias – both of whom seem to be coming more thrifty by the day – and so chose to reunite with former boss Sam Allardyce at West Ham. Nolan was one of the players instrumental in instilling a very noticeable team spirit last season, and I wonder where that’ll come from this year.

Also surely leaving is Jose Enrique, who at the time of writing is having a medical at Liverpool. I believe that the clubs have agreed a £6,000,000 fee for the Spaniard, so with Shane Ferguson possibly out this weekend, who will start at left back?

There have been arrivals as well as departures, however, and it seems that Frenchmen have been Alan Pardew and Graham Carr’s obsession this season.

France international Yohan Cabaye has looked steady in midfield during pre-season, while Sylvain Marveaux will probably start the season on the left of midfield due to to the injury sustained by Hatem Ben Arfa in Kansas recently.

Gabriel Obertan (right) made 28 appearances for Manchester United, but he is largely unproven in England and his signing is a gamble, says Rob Pears
Gabriel Obertan (right) made 28 appearances for Manchester United, but he is largely unproven in England and his signing is a gamble, says Rob Pears

The third French signing is Gabriel Obertan, a 22 year old winger who will likely play on the right side of midfield, but he’s unproven in England and at best his signing is a gamble.

Our final first-term signing also holds a French connection. Demba Ba has arrived from West Ham United, and as he scored 7 goals in 12 outings for West Ham last season, Pardew may look to him to score the goals that Andy Carroll would be scoring had he not left for Liverpool in January.

However, I – and I imagine many other fans, too – are still of the opinion that this is not enough, and that the Carroll money hasn’t been spent on players as we hoped.

Those at the top of the club’s hierarchy tell us that the Carroll money has gone on other things, presumably meaning wages and agent’s fees, but surely television and fan revenue is supposed to fund such expenditures? Whatever the case, more money needs to be spent now, and quickly. Enrique needs to be replaced, and I feel that we still need another striker.

It’s been a chaotic pre-season, with the pitch invasions at Darlington, several players not being allowed on the American pre-season tour due to Visa problems, and then a wash-out in the only home pre-season game against Fiorentina. I haven’t even mentioned the Joey Barton Twitter rant, which has turned a key player into a possible free transfer departure, although it’s not clear if he’ll leave the club at this stage.

Looking back at last season, you could say that the club over-achieved, by finishing mid-table when most fans were forecasting a struggle against relegation. I believe a lot was down to the team spirit of the time, which I feel will be lacking this season.

In honesty, I’ll be happy just to survive this time around, which despite our problems, I feel is attainable because we’re surely better than the three promoted teams and Blackburn Rovers.

I’m most worried right now, however, about the first couple of games of the season. Arsenal at home is our opening game, and if you believe that February’s 4-4 thriller can be repeated, it’s available at 225/1 with Paddy Power! More realistically, however, we’ll do well to get anything out of that game.

After that is the first derby match of the season – at the Stadium of Light – and for the first time in a long time I’ll be happy to get anything out of it. Our new signings will still be settling in and they won’t get much time on the ball in the derby, however I hope that I’m wrong!

So, where will we finish? I predict about 16th, however I hope I’m wrong about that too.

Rob will be live on NE1fm every Saturday from 2 til 5 PM throughout the season with The Sports Zone, featuring live updates from this season’s Premier League games and news from around the sporting world.