A blueprint to return Newcastle United to the Premier League’s top six

Newcastle United have arguably been the Premier League’s most unpredictable team over the last couple of seasons, with the St James’ Park outfit experiencing vastly contrasting fortunes.

The Tyneside team finished ahead of European champions Chelsea in 2011-12, ending up in fifth place in an incredible run for Alan Pardew’s men.

Last season a dip in form and a spectacular collective drop in confidence saw the Toon in danger of being dragged into the relegation places. A 16th placed finish, five points above the bottom three, represented a very disappointing campaign after the heroics from the year prior.

This term has been an amalgamation of the two. The first half of the season saw Newcastle win away to Manchester United and Tottenham, and beat Chelsea at home, with Pardew’s men looking like very serious contenders for European qualification again.

Following the forced sale of key playmaker Yohan Cabaye to Paris Saint-Germain in the January transfer window, the St James’ Park side has dramatically fallen from grace.

Ten defeats from 14 games since the closure of the transfer window has a significant section of the Newcastle fans calling for Pardew’s head – and they have every right to be upset given the manner of the team’s performances.

During this period the side have only scored nine goals in 14 games, shipping 29 in the process.

A continuation of recent form next term could see the Geordies in relegation trouble. However, there are some measures that the club can take to give them a fighting chance of replicating 2011-12’s exploits next season.

Stick with Alan Pardew

An unpopular move potentially with a sizeable proportion of the club’s fans it may well be, but the current manager has already proven that he has the ability to steer the club to the higher echelons of the division.

The responsibility for the team’s lack of heart in recent months must lie predominantly with the players, as Pardew has shown more will-to-win and dedication to the cause than those representing the club on the pitch.

Given access to much-needed funds and backed to deliver, there is no reason that Pardew cannot be the man to lead the club forward.

Recruit through the spine of the team

Not replacing Cabaye in January cost Joe Kinnear his job and has been a major reason for the side’s free-fall; a creative central midfielder must be the priority in the summer.

However, there are a number of other areas that need to be strengthened also, predominantly through the centre of the side.

Newcastle have a rich history of powerful, clinical and imposing strikers that struck fear into the hearts of opposition rearguards. There are none in today’s contingent.

Making Loïc Rémy’s loan move permanent would be a major coup, but a new number nine to harbour a hefty chunk of the goalscoring responsibility is needed.

At the back, Newcastle have two excellent full-backs but could really use a central defender of stature to shore up their leaky rearguard.

Empower the side’s leaders

Fabricio ColocciniCabaye may well have been the footballing talisman during his time in the North East, but the side is lacking heart currently.

Fabricio Coloccini has had his issues this term and has been subject to continual rumblings of a return to Argentina. His recent admission that he is committed to the club for next term must be music to the fans’ ears.

Newcastle must also rely on the likes of Cheick Tioté and Steven Taylor to suitably inspire the rest of the squad. At the moment the team is not reproducing that passion of the fans on the pitch.

Cut their losses on the French contingent

The sheer number of recruits from French football at Newcastle in recent times has been astounding. However, for every Cabaye, Rémy or Mathieu Debuchy there has been a Gabriel Obertan, Sylvain Marveaux and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa.

A number of the additions from across the English Channel have not shown either the ability or dedication to play for the club and would be best returned to whence they came.

It looks like the end of the line for Hatem Ben Arfa also. The ex-Marseille attacker is a mercurial talent, but his attitude has left a lot to be desired of late.

The France international is a match-winner; that is not in question. But, with Pardew’s 4-4-2 system not favouring him, of late, more often than not he has been a source of a problem rather than a solution.

Regain some home pride

St James’ Park has been one of the most difficult places to go to in English football in the past, but recently it has been an open invitation to collect three points.

Newcastle’s fans are some of the most passionate and ardent in the country and their support has always acted as a 12th man.

However, the manner of 4-0 home defeats to Tottenham and United this term and 3-0 losses to local rivals Sunderland and Everton has destroyed that longstanding reputation.

Newcastle’s players need to be reeducated in just what it means to step out for the club on home soil. The reciprocal level of effort must be a pre-requisite for those that want to stay at the club and for new stars coming in.

I am a freelance football journalist from Northern Ireland living in Broome in Western Australia. I have worked for top media outlets such as FourFourTwo, goal.com, Soccerlens, Football Fancast and Here is the City.I am a lifelong and long-suffering Tottenham fan. Follow me on Twitter at @90MinsOnline
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