Note: We've been working our way down the formation in our position-by-position season preview, and theoretically we've got a post for you every day. Today is supposed to be dedicated to left back, but we're obviously behind. Later today we will publish the left center back article, then post both left back and right wing (we're assuming a 4-4-2 formation for simplicity's sake) tomorrow. That will put us back on track with the holding midfielder on Monday. Smile - the season starts a week from today!
The other day we took a look at right back, and today we analyze another position receiving a lot of attention in the transfer market for Newcastle. After Steven Taylor was injured against Chelsea in early December, the position was a revolving door of sorts, with Mike Williamson receiving most of the starts once he was able to return from injury himself. The return of Williamson to the pitch was a welcome development, but only for a short while, as he struggled to regain the run of good form he enjoyed in the 2009-10 campaign. He consistently lost track of his mark, he lost aerial duels to men shorter than him, and he was simply outmuscled to the ball on multiple occasions. Whether it was a simple lack of confidence, the lingering effects of injury, or the rest of the league finally catching up to him, one thing was abundantly clear: teams were targeting him, especially on set pieces. It was not a good season for Mike Williamson, so it's understandable that depth at the position is a priority. Even if Saylor is 100% after his Achilles' tear (and so far, there's no reason to think he won't be), it's probably for the best that the team look elsewhere for backup. Williamson has had success at this level in the past, so a renaissance a la James Perch or even Fabricio Coloccini before him is a possibility, but hoping for a best-ever season from any player is no way to construct a team.
Alan Pardew has been courting other options, like Douglas or Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, and it's safe to assume that either would get the starting nod over Steven Taylor - he's probably not dangling a bench spot as bait in negotiations. Both are fine players, and purchasing one of them would give the team the depth it desperately needs, but as far as first teamers go, I'm not sure either is a better fit for this team than Saylor. In our microwave world where recency bias reigns supreme, it would be easy to forget just how great Taylor was while he was healthy last year. In the 14 games he played in 2010-11, he was a shot-blocking machine, getting in the way of 28 shots. 10 of those came in the two games prior to injury - 5 against Manchester City, and 5 in that draw with Manchester United where the defense came up so huge in the waning moments. He also averaged 7.9 clearances a game (!) and maintained a passing rate over 80%. Most importantly, his calm demeanor in the middle allowed Fabricio Coloccini the freedom to roam around as he is wont to do, often to cover for some subpar performances out of the left back.
To me, the club is stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to the center back position and the transfer window. Purchasing a capable player at the position will give the team the flexibility they need to field a competent duo in every competition and also provide some much-needed depth. However, I'm afraid that pushing Taylor aside for a new guy runs the risk of alienating a very good player. There's nothing in his history to suggest that he's anything but a team-first kind of person, but Steven Taylor deserves first team football, and I'm sure he knows it. Ultimately, I'd rather the team purchase a player than not, but the situation may need to be monitored closely.