It was a tale of two halves last season. The first half of the season saw the French international trio of Yohan Cabaye, Loic Remy and Mathieu Debuchy push the Magpies up the table Wins over Chelsea, Spurs and Manchester United in the season’s first half saw the club 8th with 33 points, only 3 points behind Liverpool in 5th as 2013 came to a close. The 19 matches played in 2014 were a much different story. With rumors and then the eventuality of Yohan Cabaye’s departure and a crucial injury to Loic Remy left Alan Pardew’s men crippled. They could only manage 16 points from the season’s second half when matching their first half production would have seen them beat out Manchester United for the 6th spot. The failure of the team to buy reinforcements in January was widely criticized and the results backed up that criticism and left everyone wondering what might happen over the summer.
Predicted Finish: It is worth noting that Newcastle’s finish was only disappointing in comparison to their exceptional first half of the season. Generally predicted to be in the 11-14 range by pundits, finishing 10th looked bad only when looking at how the team arrived there.
Quick Review: The season was never going to end well. Joe Kinnear was brought in, theoretically, for his ability to make hay in the transfer market. The manager, who had done nicely in recent windows both financially and in bringing in cheap talent, didn’t seem to want him. No one seemed to understand exactly why the appointment was made. When it went predictably wrong, the damage was already done and Newcastle lost a year in what has been a remarkably effective rebuilding program. On the pitch, Mathieu Debuchy continued his strong play after coming over from Lille in January of 2013 but the failure of players like Hatem Ben Arfa, Moussa Sissoko, Papiss Cisse and Yoan Gouffran to build on some promising flashes of talent meant that the squad was too thin to withstand losing Cabaye and Remy for all of and most of the second half respectively.
Departures/Likely Departures: The only significant departure over the summer is likely to be 2013 prized signing Mathieu Debuchy. The January transfer will likely come close to netting Newcastle United double what they paid for him less than 18 months ago.
Needs: The list of needs isn’t as massive as you might think for a club that was on a relegation pace is 2014. What this transfer window needs is some high end excellence though. Not an easy thing to do when you don’t have Champions League football to offer and the money associated with Champions League football to spend.
Forward: The loss of Loic Remy was evident from the moment that he was lost to injury. How much of the issue was Remy’s early-season scoring knack and how much was Cabaye’s ability to find his French teammate in the right places is unclear but what is clear is that Papiss Cisse is way off the form of his first half-season at Newcastle and no one else that ended the season on the roster is capable of leading a Premier League attacking line.
Attacking Midfielder (or two): The loss of Yohan Cabaye can’t be overstated for Newcastle. He has more talent than usually available to a mid-table team and subtracting his passing, set pieces, creativity and goal-scoring from the equation took Newcastle from above average to below average. That Cabaye was helping make up for the failure of Ben Arfa to mature into the world-beater that he was predicted to be made Cabaye’s absence even that much more pronounced. Finding “another Cabaye” is going to be difficult on Newcastle’s budget but finding two players to equal what the combination of Cabaye (good) and Ben Arfa (bad) provided shouldn’t be out of reach.
Right Back: Assuming that Debuchy is indeed leaving for Arsenal, Newcastle will need to replace their right back with an above-average player.
Center Back/Left Back: I’m not sure what to make of Davide Santon and Fabricio Coloccini at this point. There seem to be consistent rumblings that they want to go back to Italy and Argentina respectively. If I’m Newcastle, that’s a lot of risk to not to have a strong back-up that can cover both spots, especially with Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa also rumored to be on his way out the door (which isn’t a bad thing). The solution here doesn’t have to be a new starter but definitely someone who you wouldn’t mind starting a string of matches. Maybe Paul Dummett becomes this player but if it were me, I’d want one more.
Summer So Far: The good news for Newcastle is that the transfer team seems to be up to old tricks again. Recent signings of Siem De Jong and Remy Cabella provide versatility in the attack with both players seemingly able to play multiple positions in what could become a difficult attack to counter as players switch roles on the fly. Jack Colback adds more attacking impetus in midfield and, at 24, comes in on a free as he should be entering his prime. Daryl Janmaat should be officially signed by the time this piece is published. The Dutch right back is coming off a strong World Cup performance and should be a worthy replacement for Mathieu Debuchy. Unless Pardew envisions the 6’1” Siem De Jong playing as a central forward, it seems reasonable that Newcastle will be spending the rest of the summer searching for the sort of player that can replace Remy as the focal point of the attack.