After the incredible 6-1 win against Manchester United, Manchester City are now the leaders of the Premier League, five points clear of their Mancunian rivals. However the surprise story of this season so far though is Newcastle United, with the Magpies in fourth on 19 points.
Last season the North East outfit finished 12th in a tumultuous season. Former manager Chris Hughton, who had taken over as manager after their relegation to the Championship, was sacked in December 2010 after a 3-1 loss to West Bromwich Albion. Former Charlton Manager Alan Pardew took over the helm and was not a popular choice with the fans. He was widely criticised by the fans through the media on things such as 606, the football phone-in show, for his tactics; particularly when his team went a goal down. Now it is safe to say that Newcastle is a football mad city and the fans are very passionate but it was sometimes unfair to criticise the manager. Along with this shock managerial change Newcastle United were rocked by the loss of top goalscorer Andy Carroll to Liverpool on the final day of the January transfer window. They then managed to consolidate their position in mid table, but fans were still unhappy with Pardew. So after last season seeming like a bit of a debacle, even though the Magpies did achieve their aim of survival, what has changed for them to be able to make such an impressive start this term?
Amazingly their great start has coincided with the loss of two of their most influential players in the summer transfer window. Kevin Nolan left to relegated West Ham for a fee of £3 million to reunite with his former manager Sam Allardyce despite Nolan being the club captain last season. They also lost the talented but temperamental Joey Barton to QPR after his spat with the board. However the club have signed plenty of talent in the summer which has led to their great beginning to the season. Demba Ba came in on a free transfer from West Ham and has already scored 5 goals in 8 league appearances this season. Gabriel Obertan was brought in from Manchester United. The pacy French winger looking more impressive for Newcastle than he did for the Red Devils although it still seems his final product is lacking. Fellow French midfielders Cabaye and Marveaux came in during the summer from Lille and Rennes respectively. It has led to a francophone midfield and frontline for Newcastle along with Hatem Ben Arfa who has recently returned after his horrific injury. All these players have looked superb and are starting to forge a great understanding between one another.
The whole team seems to be playing with a good team spirit and pretty much every player has looked impressive individually so far this season. Goalkeeper Tim Krul has claimed his place in the team, with great saves as seen in this past weekend’s game with Wigan. Pardew has now gotten the team playing a 4-4-2 formation at home with Ba and Best looking strong up front. Great service is provided by Gutierrez and Obertan for the strikers together with wing backs Coloccini and Ryan Taylor so Ba so can get on the end of more crosses and score plenty of goals. Centre midfielders Cabaye and Tiote have looked to have taken an uncompromising stance in midfield with both players looking good with Cabaye scoring a great winner against Wigan. Pardew has really got the team playing in a style that suits them which is leading to them being able to win games and perform well.
Many Pundits are now saying that the Toon army should be giving owner Mike Ashley some credit for what he has done. Personally I think that they should give him some credit for getting rid of Carroll for a ridiculously high fee and finally giving Pardew the funds to bring in players. Understandably fans are still reluctant to give credit to Ashley with many more wanting to praise the players and Pardew. Fans are still annoyed with the way Ashley treated Hughton and previously Kevin Keegan and for the way he initially handled himself when wanting to sell the club. Not forgetting his cringe worthy exploits he got up to in a Chinese Restaurant, look it up, but it wasn’t a nice site.
Newcastle are the surprise package of the Premier League so far, but whether they will be able to hold on to a top six spot come May is another question but if they carry on with the same spirit and style of play it is a possibility. Some will argue that they have had easier fixtures so far this season, which is true with them playing seven of the bottom seven already, but you can only play what is in front of you and they did claim an impressive 2-2 draw against Tottenham on October 16th. They have shown vast improvements due to their style of play and summer signings and top 8 is a definite possibility but top 4 may just be out of their reach due to the stronger Tottenham and Liverpool as well as Arsenal vying for 4th spot.