It may be preseason, but Newcastle United have won some silverware! On the back of the bizarre 1-1 (4-4 penalties) draw with Olympiacos, the Toon came out the best over Sporting Braga during a 10 minute stretch in the second half in which 3 goals were scored. 2-1 to the Toon with the winner coming from Ryan Taylor (#OverTheWall) With one more announced/scheduled match in the preseason programme, we should at least have an idea of what things will look like heading into the most anticipated Newcastle season in years.
I thought that at this point in the preseason, it might be a good idea to step back and see exactly where we are on a player by player basis.... and so that's what I've done. I'll start from the back and work forward - and I confess ahead of time a lot of this is going to be based on the Olympiacos and Braga matches save for players that we have small sample size from anyway (read: Gael Bigirimana, Romain Amalfitano, etc.). Given the nature of the preseason matches, it seems easiest to grade the players against what our expectations of them may be instead of to a gold standard of performance, so that is what I've done. Anyway, grading the players - off we go!
Tim Krul: If anyone had any doubt at all that Tim would be the starting goalkeeper for Newcastle this season, his being given the number 1 jersey should pretty much have fixed that opinion. With only the match v. Olympiacos to his pre-season resume this year, there's not much way for his grade not to be influenced by his form in the league last season... and it's hard to get worked up by the relatively soft goal he gave up on Friday. He did step up and save the penalty which ended up being vital in earning the trophy for the Toon (despite the fact that he was at least 2 yards off his line on the saved PK), so there's that. Grade: B
Steve Harper: I sincerely believe that Steve has GOT to be the second 'keeper for this club. Hands down. That said, he went a long way to debunking any argument that I could presently build based on stability, experience and flat out ability on Saturday v. Braga. Poor decisions were the order of the day and I'm not sure if a decent save from Dougleo outweighs the goal- granted it took a deflection, but you just felt like he might have done a little better on it... but if I'm going to forgive Tim Krul based on the past, then I guess I have to forgive Steve Harper. Definitely not supplanting the man who should be the Dutch #1 sooner rather than later. Grade: C
Rob Elliot: If you've been here and read any amount, you probably know my feelings on this player. If not, I can sum it up in a line I wrote last week:
The problem is, if you buy a £100K goalkeeper and he plays like a £100K goalkeeper instead of a £1m goalkeeper, it's just not good enough.
On top of that, the "past" that we have to curve his grade on? Nottingham Forest in the cup last year. Grade: D-
Danny Simpson: The man who would not sign his contract. We'll never likely know the ins and outs of the contract negotiation that seems doomed to fail, but it seems very likely that Danny will at least start the season with Newcastle. I'm glad for this. Although I don't buy into the argument that he was the best RB in the Premier League last year, he's probably solid +, certainly enough for the Premier League which I am willing to concede. He looked good linking up with Sammy on the right of the Newcastle setup on Saturday against Braga, but there will always be lingering concerns about his commitment to tracking back when he gets dispossessed in the attacking third. Also getting some look as potential cover at centre-half (which we saw at least once last year and he did well enough...) Relative to this preseason, there is very little to complain about. Grade: A-
Davide Santon: Davide... when you're good, you're soooooooo good... but when you're not good.... oh dear. Davide has gotten a look at both left and right back this preseason in Alan Pardew's methodical placing of players in any position that they might be asked to cover this season. Left back is of course the role that we bought him for, the role he plays when he has represented his country and the position he prefers... and at times he has looked extremely capable. In the small sample size of this preseason? He looked much more comfortable on the right hand side when AP switched he and Danny Simpson for a half or so. Davide is a bit of a hard one to grade this preseason. He looked really excellent at times and then looked awful in a substitute appearance... Grade: B
James Perch: I will not be the first to note or mention that it is amazing the extent to which a player that many (including myself) felt was expendable this time last year could morph into a player that many (including myself) would be sad to see go. Thus far in the preseason, he has done what James Perch does and looked good enough doing it. He even stood up and was counted during the penalty shootout with Olympiacos. I'll still be hoping that he doesn't need to see extended action anywhere but he is a good player to have. Grade: B+
Ryan Taylor: During his time at left back last season, Ryan often required no small measure of assistance from Jonas which somewhat hampered our ability to attack along the left at times. Jonas, of course, excelled at covering backwards from his midfield position. This preseason, Ryan has seen some time on either side of the back and has looked pretty good overall. There is no way that he would be pushing past Davide or Danny (as it stands right now) for either of the full back spots, but against Braga with Sylvain Marveaux his left side mate, he did not at all feel like a liability as he did at times in the PL last year. I do remember one time that Jonas ended up on the left side back by our area and don't recall what led to that, but I also recall #OverTheWall... again. Grade: B+
Mike Williamson: Mike is another interesting case. When you sit and think about things on emotion only, you really really really hope that you don't have to see for any real amount of time... but when you look at the actual physical evidence, he defence is just fine with him in there. This preseason he has looked solid and against Monaco (the sole clean sheet that we have kept thus far) he was left to lead the center with Danny Simpson sliding in to be his partner and he looked confident. These preseason matches are a grain of salt kind of thing, of course, and the Germany matches in particular were almost more training ground exercises than football matches but all things considered, he has looked solid. Grade: A-
Fabricio Coloccini: Captain Colo has been everything we expect him to be. He's been a leader, he has been cover for teammates, he has been effective on defense, he has been effective on offence. No complaints here. Grade: A
James Tavernier: With the admission of defeat from the club in the Tamas Kadar Affair, James Tavernier has become the de facto "next-in-line" on the roster for centre half consideration. With hopes high and expectations probably a bit lower, it was always going to be easy for Tavernier to be viewed favorably. Being paired with Captain Colo will hide lots of warts as we know, but more often than not Tav looked solid and not at all starry-eyed to be on the big stage (as it were). A couple of slip-ups here and there can hardly be held against him if we'll deal with them from Willo... and he's a tad younger. At the very least, I think he has put himself into a place where very few people would complain if he got a runout in the League or FA Cup for sure. Grade: B
Steven Taylor: Alan Pardew is being understandably cautious with Steven as he comes back from the ruptured Achilles' injury that thrust Willo into the lineup last year so there is little data from the preseason to go by, but in 90 minutes v. Olympiacos he showed all of the qualities that had put him into conversation for a place on Team GB for the Olympics before his injury. He found himself in the right place in the box to sweep home a loose ball for the only goal Newcastle scored in the match and did the defensive things well also. All things considered, it looks like a Steven Taylor/Fabricio Coloccini pariing at the heart of defence is going to re-up for another year and we should feel good about it. Grade: A
Did I get it right? See it differently? Tell me about it below! Stay tuned for the second half of the grading- midfielders and attackers!