Newcastle United have not enjoyed the same flying start to the Premier League season in 2012 as they did in 2011, but a somewhat encouraging second-half performance will have Toon fans hoping that the team has found a little bit of the magic that helped them to such a great start last season. Upon his return to a stadium and club that he served so very well, Chris Hughton will be looking to exact some measure of revenge, surely, as he (among many others) would have felt harshly done by when he was terminated by Mike Ashley during the 2010-11 season.
1 -The Broken Record
I've mentioned before the obvious: we're not nearly as fortunate with injuries as we were early last year. The injury news looks mixed for the match with Norwich - Captain Colo will still be out with his injury picked up while on international duty with Argentina... but the bigger news could be the return of Cheik Tiote. In the two league matches since his injury v. Tottenham, the midfield has looked mostly listless and lacking... well... that certain bite that Tiote brings. Early returns on Vurnon Anita as DM are not encouraging and James Perch is serviceable, but no Cheik.
2 - Accepting Squad Rotation
@I was not aware of this until I started looking around at the upcoming match, but Demba Ba didn't start at Everton.@ There are story lines that you can pretty well count on will be drummed up in regard to Newcastle United every. single. year. regardless of the club's league position or perceived status. Among these is the ever-present: [Star player] wants to leave. Demba Ba's agent has stoked the fires on the latest round of these stories following Ba's exclusion from the starting lineup at Goodison Park. How well the squad accepts the rotation policy that is going to be necessary until we manage to exclude ourselves from all extraneous competition (read: Europa League) so that we can settle back in to the standard starting XI will dictate in large measure how much success we can expect to have this year. Alan Pardew was lauded for his man-management skills last year and this season is testing these skills severely already. Now would be the time for that "team spirit" we heard so much about last year to kick in.
3 - A Look At The Table
The season is young, and there is little reason yet for any fan base to panic. For some clubs (Southampton, for instance), there are some very real concerns, to be sure, but for our heroes (11th heading into the weekend) and Norwich City (16th), results have been passable, by and large. Norwich dropped their season opener (and Hughton's debut) 5-0 to Fulham, but since then they have seemingly shored things up with three consecutive draws (1-1 v. QPR, 1-1 v. Spurs, 0-0 v. West Ham). Newcastle are also on the back of consecutive draws and will be looking for their first victory since the season opener v. Spurs.
4 - What Happened v. Fulham?
As I mentioned, Fulham put 5 past John Ruddy and Norwich in the season opener. The second was a header off of a corner kick (a goal of the sort that we will never score again) and the fifth was a penalty (which you cannot count on earning in any particular match), so we will exclude those. A look at the first, third and fourth goals will give reason for encouragement.
Goal #1: Long diagonal ball from near midfield finds attacker (Damien Duff) who found himself in space due to inattentive defending. A goal a la Papiss Cisse?
Goal #3: 20-yard effort takes a deflection off of Norwich defender and wrong-foots Ruddy. You wouldn't ever count on a deflection like that, but you could certainly see Yohan Cabaye or Hatem Ben Arfa taking a shot similar to this one.
Goal #4: One-touch finish off a through-ball from a touch of tiki-taka midfield play. Perhaps the tiki-taka part would likely be a bit out of character for Newcastle in that particular location on the pitch, but the final ball is very Yohan Cabaye-to-Demba Ba.
5 - The Influential Central Midfielder
In the Fulham match, Moussa Dembele (now with Spurs) exerted tremendous influence through the center of the park. His 70 successful passes in 73 attempts were part of a match where Fulham out-passed Norwich by a nearly 200-pass margin. The somewhat nebulous "Player Influence" chart in FourFourTwo's StatZone app shows that Dembele was not the most influential player on the pitch that day. That player was Mahamadou Diarra, Fulham's (now injured) Mali international defensive midfielder. Enter one Cheik Ismael Tiote. The return of Newcastle's own midfield enforcer could prove key if Newcastle are to succeed in Chris Hughton's return to St. Janes' Park. His ball winning skills, tackling acumen, fouling smarts and his enabling his midfield mates to take a more natural shape will allow Newcastle to play much more to their strengths than they have been able to in their last two league matches.
Newcastle United FC
Currently: 1-2-1, 5 points - 11th place
Out: Ryan Taylor (knee), Haris Vuckic (groin), Danny Simpson (hamstring), Tim Krul (elbow), Fabricio Coloccini (hamstring)
Probable: Cheik Tiote (calf), Papiss Cisse (illness)
Projected XI (4-3-1-2)*: Harper | Anita, STaylor, Williamson, Santon | Cabaye, Tiote, Jonas | Ben Arfa | Cisse, Ba
Projected Subs: Elliot, Ferguson, Bigirimana, Marveaux, Obertan, Gosling, Sammy Ameobi
Norwich City FC
Currently: 0-3-1, 3 pts - 16th place
Out: Lappin (ankle/foot), Bennett (knee), Whittaker (ankle/foot)
Questionable: Pilkington (knee)
Projected XI (4-4-2): Ruddy | Martin, Barnett, Bassong, Garrido | Snodgrass, Howson, Johnson, Pilkington | Holt, Jackson
Projected Subs: Rudd, Turner, Fox, Tierney, Hoolahan, Morison, Kane
*I don't mean this formation to imply HBA as a centralized behind-the-strikers player - my thought is to give him that free-roaming roll that Pardew has given to he and others (Jonas and Obertan, notably). Will he do it? Maybe... Do I think it could be devastatingly effective? Yes.
Newcastle would do very well to be wary of Norwich - you may recall that they came into St. James' Park last year while we were flying high and dealt us a rather embarrassing 4-2 defeat. In theory, however, this is a match that Newcastle United supporters should be looking to take three points out of - and a welcome three points they would be at this early stage in the season. There is a lot of season left, but keeping touch with the upper half of the season would be in the team's best interest.
Wild-a#$ed Guess (WAG) for the match tomorrow:
I think that Newcastle are able to build on the second half at Everton.
Newcastle 3 (Ba, Cisse, Saylor) - 1 Norwich City (Morison)