For a long time, the center back position was the cause célèbre of the #AllTransfersAWindowTooLate crowd. This ended, to a certain degree, with the purchase of long-time rumored target Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa. It was thrown into some amount of doubt nearly immediately with the Fabricio Coloccini/San Lorenzo flirtation, but looks to have settled in with Newcastle having 4 players who now have Premier League experience and/or international credentials. Exactly how Alan Pardew will deploy them is (as with most things) the question. Let's start with what we do know for certain, and move about from there.
Since coming to Newcastle United in 2010 as part of the player liquidation relating to the Portsmouth financial meltdown, Willo has played a major role along the Newcastle back line. He made 15 appearances in the second half of the Championship promotion campaign, 29 in our first season back in the Premier League, 22 in the 5th place campaign (following Steven Taylor's Achilles injury) and had his low-water mark last season with 12 league appearances (and 7 in Europe).
If you look at the numbers, Mike Williamson was in the back line for a higher proportion of clean sheets in the 2011-12 season than Steven Taylor was... which is part of the weird thing about numbers. If you watch the matches, Williamson is frequently the focal point of attack by opposing sides. Despite relative strength, he is relatively easy to get past on the ground and is one of the quickest to start hoofing the ball forward, often for no reason. It has seemed to be Alan Pardew's intention to reduce Williamson's role in the side, and we can expect to see more of that this season with all three of his fellow CBs above him in the pecking order.
Prognosis: Should only see the pitch in cup matches or in the event of injury.
The early part of 2013 was surely one that Captain Colo would like to forget through personal circumstances and the back injury he sustained performing a bicycle-type clearance v. Southampton. During that injury, I made the statement that I felt Colo being out might just be the best thing for the club as it seemed that a Steven Taylor / Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa partnership looked both solid and seemed to bring out some decent, vocal leadership qualities in Taylor. What a fool I was. As we slipped closer and closer to the relegation zone, it took Coloccini's return to stabilize the back line and provide just enough leadership to get us just enough to stay up. He has long been considered our best player at the position, and little will have changed as the 2013-14 kicks off.
Prognosis: Remains Captain and will be first name on the team sheet at CB every week.
Steven Taylor is about as polarizing a figure as there is across the back line. As universally praised as Coloccini is and Williamson isn't, there isn't an opinion about the man raised in Whitley Bay that can be considered "the prevailing opinion". Regardless of your opinion on him, until the acquisition of Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa the primary question in deciding "who should start at CB" was "Are you better than Mike Williamson". Frequently drawing attention for actions not necessarily directly related to the performance of his primary job function (defending), his propensity for over-the-top celebrations, spray tans and non-conventional methods of passing the ball to Tim Krul:
While his overall skill level probably doesn't meet up to the demonstrative nature of his fist pumps, etc, (don't let silly-season rumors linking Arsenal or PSG with interest in him skew your opinion of exactly what he is), he is a solid Premier League defender, and still better than Mike Williamson.
Prognosis: Largely dependent upon the progress of Yanga-Mbiwa
A full France international and captain of club side Montpelier in Ligue 1 at age 21, Yanga-Mbiwa certainly has the credentials to demand first team consideration at his preferred CB position. After an initial purple patch in his early performances for Newcastle, however, he seemed to struggle with the demands of playing CB in the Premier League. When he was at his best in the 2012-13 season, he was covering at left back for injured Davide Santon, although it seems less likely that left back would be an option with the large amount of time given to Paul Dummett in preseason matches.
If he has been able to get himself up to Premier League speed, there is little discussion that a Coloccini - MYB partnership is not only our most pedigreed but also the most solid possible combination, although Alan Pardew's dependence upon players long-term over potential may see Steven Taylor paired with Coloccini when the club take the field at the Etihad.
Prognosis: Third choice initially at CB with Steven Taylor on a very short leash
Which combination of players would you start at the Etihad?