On the back of his freshly signed 8-year deal with Newcastle United, Alan Pardew will lead his new charges into one of his old stamping grounds at the Madejski Stadium in Reading. There were some hard feelings when Pardew left Reading for West Ham, and he will be looking to leave hard feelings again as his Newcastle United side will look to get their season well and truly on track against the club that currently props up the Premier League table. While Reading are finding life tough in their new competition, it is perhaps a sign of elevated expectations that Newcastle's 8 points through 5 matches has left the club's supporters feeling like the club have been a little lethargic and not up to par.
In the league, Newcastle are coming off of their first victory since a season-opening win v. Spurs (a 1-0 victory over Norwich City), while Reading are still seeking a first victory in the Premier League, most recently losing 1-0 to West Brom. Midweek, however, Reading earned a Premier League caliber win in the [insert sponsor here] Cup, showing some moxie to peg QPR back and earn a 3-2 victory which just might have them feeling like they can make some noise against last year's 5th place squad. While Newcastle bowed out of the [insert sponsor here] Cup to Manchester United, Newcastle fans will be hoping that Papiss Cisse will be joining compatriot Demba Ba on the Premier League goal trail following his goal against Man U in the cup and perhaps more specifically, the audacious juggle-shot (foot to knee to overhead kick) that had David De Gea well and truly beaten, if not the cross bar. It was the kind of instinctual effort that had been missing from the Senegalese's game thus far this season.
5 Good Points
1 - Can Newcastle Capitalize On Potential Shaky D?
Reading have conceded 9 times in the league to this point - 5th worst this season. While Newcastle United striker Demba Ba sits tied second on the goal scoring chart, there hasn't been much production from the rest of the squad who have provided only an additional 2 goals to this point. Reading have already dropped Adam Federici who was their no. 1 starting the season, but his replacement Alex McCarthy has conceded 6 in his three starts (including the 3-2 victory v. QPR in the cup).
2 - Can Reading Capitalize On Potential Shaky D?
Reading are not without a goal-scoring threat of their own, having added Russian striker Pavel Pogrebnyak over the summer. Though signed from Vfb Stuttgart, Pogrebnyak played on loan with Fulham last year, scoring 6 in 12 appearances for the Cottagers. He has maintained a 1 goal in 2 matches ratio at Reading this year with 3 goals in 6 appearances, but only one of those coming in the league. Like our own Papiss Cisse, he's sitting on a missed penalty in the last week as well, having missed the opportunity to make it 4-2 v. QPR midweek. Having preferred CB pairing Coloccini/Taylor available will certainly give Toon supporters reason for optimism, but Newcastle have kept only one clean sheet in 5 matches and have conceded 6
3 - The Closer I Am To Fine
Newcastle United will be getting a step closer to healthy this week, which can only be considered good news. International break injuries to Tim Krul (elbow) and Fabricio Coloccini (hamstring) look to have healed; Tim was to have returned to training on Wednesday with a view to returning to the lineup v. Reading while Captain Colo played a role against Manchester United, leaving after an obviously scripted 60 minute appearance. He will need to look sharper than he did against ManU, but that was the whole point of running him out in a cup competition that we were never going to put too much effort into, right? RIGHT? Additionally, Danny Simpson was to have returned to training on Thursday and may return to his regularly scheduled RB position. Add Cheik Tiote to the mix of returning players, and Newcastle may just have all of their best XI available at the same time for the first time since the opening match of the season v. Spurs.
4 - Cheik, Baby Cheik, Baby 1, 2, 3
Yet another niggling injury has prevented our favorite midfield enforcer from playing very much yet this season, and the times that he has played have been... disappointing. In 30 minutes v. Norwich last weekend, he looked hell bent on making some invisible quota of fouls (that seemed most likely based on a 90-minute idea) and looked uncomfortable on the ball. Midweek v. Manchester United, he looked a shadow of the player that did an absolute number on Wayne Rooney in Newcastle's 3-0 victory in January (link NSFW... couple of choice words in the music). If we accept that particular performance as Cheik Tiote at 11... we don't necessarily need him at 10... but a 7 or 8 would be both amazing and better than what we've seen thus far.
5 - Stuck In The Middle With You
I say stuck... but only insofar as I have mentioned the central midfield recently in a different preview, and it becomes cogent again due to the fact that in the [insert sponsor here] Cup match with Manchester United, we had absolutely no answer for Anderson and Cleverly in the middle of the park for a vast majority of the match. Granted we have rarely had our fist choice of Tiote/Cabaye on the pitch at the same time this year... but if Tiote is ruled out again for some reason, I think that it might be time to give a Romain Amalfitano or Mehdi Abeid or even Gael Bigirimana a start ahead of Vurnon Anita... Anita has looked useful at RB.. but twice already Pardew has felt compelled mid-match to shift Anita from DM to RB in favor of James Perch. This is probably not something that you want to see repeatedly in the player who is thought to be a potential long-term replacement for Cheik Tiote.
Alan Pardew will not be the only person on the pitch at the Madejski with ties to the opposite side- former Newcastle man Danny Guthrie will be in the middle for Reading... and will be looking to let Alan Pardew know he made a mistake in casting his lots behind Cabaye and Tiote. (Also- one time Toon "target" Adrian Mariappa could be on the pitch for Reading... although I don't feel we ever were truly in on him, it does bear mentioning that the Jamaican was *immense* v. the United States several weeks back)
On paper, this one looks like the kind of match that Newcastle United should take care of if they truly want to be perennial contenders for Europe. As we know from last year, however, this is not the way things always work with the club. We frequently have trouble against opponents that we "should" beat, and in particular, we've not had the best go of it against freshly promoted sides in recent times. All of that and the fact that the match is on the road are enough to give even the most casual Toon fan reason to pause and consider what may play out on the pitch (blah blah blah matches not won on paper and whatnot).
Newcastle United FC
Currently: 2-2-1, 8 points - 10th place
Out: Ryan Taylor (knee)
Probable: Cheik Tiote (calf)
Projected XI (4-4-2): Krul | Simpson, STaylor, Coloccini, Santon | Ben Arfa, Cabaye, Tiote, Jonas | Cisse, Ba
Projected Subs: Harper, Ferguson, Bigirimana, Marveaux, Obertan, Anita, Sammy Ameobi
Currently: 0-1-3, 1 pt - 20th place
Out: Federici (knee), Roberts (calf)
Projected XI (4-4-2): McCarthy | Gunter, Pearce, Gorkss, Shorey | McCleary, Guthrie, Leigertwood, McAnuff | Le Fondre, Pogrebnyak
Projected Subs: Taylor, Hunt, Mariappa, Church, Karacan, Robson-Kanu, Cummings
What Will Certainly Not Happen
It's been hard to get a bead on the lads this year... but we've shown glimpses of getting it together. I think this match might not be the one where we get it all the way together, but I think it's probably our best performance since Spurs.
Newcastle United 2 (Ba, Ben Arfa) - 0 Reading