I may or may not have thrown a temper tantrum in order to get to write the preview for this position for the Eleven Days of Newcastle. You'll never know. What you do know as well as I do is that this position in particular has been the primary benefit of the "Buy ALL the midfielders" transfer policy that has been instituted in the last couple of years.
Yohan Cabaye will have a pretty firm grasp on this position when he is healthy, and rightfully so. Another of the Bargain Brigade, Cabaye's first season on Tyneside couldn't have been scripted much better. Slotting in seamlessly alongside Cheik Tiote, the pair made a pairing that for most of the season I would have compared favorably to almost every center-mid paring in the Premier League. On a personal level, I still feel that I would be willing to go into a fight to defend my assertion that the pass from Cabaye to Cisse in the Stoke City match was The Best Pass In The History Of Ever™. Given that Yohan Cabaye is my current definition of everything that is great in Central Midfield, we are left to sort out a sizable field of contenders behind him.
During the matches that Cabaye missed last season, it felt a little like driving a car in which the power steering had gone out. It was still a really nice car. It just was a little bit more... clumsy. I'm not entirely certain that we are in a better place so far as a direct replacement if Yohan Cabaye were to go down this season (rubs worrystone/knocks wood as quickly as possible) but I feel that with all due respect to Danny Guthrie, the pieces we have behind him are more likely to mesh quickly than Danny showed the ability to do last year.
Romain Amalfitano - Probably #2 in the hierarchy of players that impressed this preseason, Romain may be the closest that we would have to a direct like for like replacement for Yohan. During the preseason he showed ability to spot and deliver the kinds of balls that we're now used to seeing coming from the midfield and it's not hard to think that it won't take too much time for him to put some polish on his all around game and minimize any drop-off that we would experience if the inconceivable happens. It would not be a surprise if Amalfitano ended up seeing his action early in the season on the right hand side as a substitute, this is certainly the position in which he will settle when the dust clears.
Mehdi Abeid - Out of the extremely young midfield corps (not named Gael Bigirimana) Mehdi has made the most solid step forward towards claiming his spot in the regular first team squad. I'm not sold that Amalfitano should be first in line in this particular midfield position, but it feels a bit like Alan Pardew is still just a step away from trusting Abeid implicitly at this point. Of course, Mehdi is only 19... but I'm willing to play Bigi right away at age 18, so I don't suppose that should really factor in. I certainly think that you'd have a more difficult argument against his inclusion in the 1B team on a regular basis than the argument would be for his inclusion. His progress is putting direct pressure on the next two gentlemen.
Haris Vuckic - Haris is an interesting case. He has not seemed to settle in at the central midfield position and has as a result seen an amount of time in a more forward role (which for the record I see him getting more time at this season than in center mid...). You just get the feeling that he just might be getting passed by with the glut of talent that Cerberus have been accumulating in the last couple of years. I like Haris and I think he's got plenty of talent to play at this level... but if I had to pick odd man out from this group, it might just be him.
Dan Gosling - If there was a player that the departure of Danny Guthrie benefited most directly, it would have to be Dan Gosling. Extremely highly rated and coveted by just about everyone when Newcastle prised him away from Everton through a contract snafu on the Toffees' part, he has been unable to establish himself to this point at St. James' Park. Part of this is because of Yohan Cabaye and then Danny Guthrie, but he has had a torrid time with injuries as well. If he can stay healthy, it seems like Alan Pardew is ready to hand him the first-off-the-bench role that Guthrie possessed last year and we should know pretty quickly exactly what expectations he can have for a long career at Newcastle. Not to be a broken record here, but there are plenty of young players (well.. youngER players) that are standing on the doorstep ready to walk through the door given even the slightest crack.
It is hard to discount any of the players that survived the Great Purge of 2012 - if the club didn't feel that they stood a reasonable chance to recoup their investment in a player, they shipped them out. Players such as Ryan Donaldson, Conor Newton and the aforementioned Wor Jackie award winning Bradden Inman all fit into this category. The glut of talented Central Midfielders between the ages of 18 and 21 is going to be fascinating to watch this year, as a nice little under story to the senior squad.