ALAN Pardew will take Newcastle United into their most highly-anticipated campaign for a decade confident that the Magpies are stronger than at any time during his tenure.
The season kicks off at St James’ Park today with United taking on Andre Villas-Boas’ Tottenham in a meeting of the teams that finished fifth and fourth respectively in last season’s Premier League .
It promises to be an early examination of Newcastle’s credentials, which have been bolstered by Pardew managing to keep hold of the core of the side who performed so valiantly for the club last season.
While the United manager stops short of promising a concerted push for the top four – asserting that it will take ten games of the new season to see where Newcastle stand – he is happy for them to shoulder greater expectations after last year’s heroics.
And he is confident that with the addition of Vurnon Anita and the return of Steven Taylor and Sylvain Marveaux, Newcastle are a stronger unit than they were last year.
“It is quite right that the expectations have changed,” he said.
“There is extra expectation on us, extra pressure on us and we’ve got to deal with that. If you’re a big club you have to deal with that all the time. You can’t afford to lose at Man United, it’s a crisis, and that’s how we’ve got to treat it here.
“I don’t really like to make too many rash decisions at the start of the season, I never really have. I think it’s very important to get ten league games under your belt and then you have a rough idea about the feeling at the football club.
“Then, I think I will have a little bit more of an idea. But, as I sit here today, we have Sylvain Marveaux and Steven Taylor back in the group, which I didn’t have in the second half of last season and also four new signings.
“So we look a little more stronger and hopefully we will prove that.” Despite ending the season with a flourish, Pardew is likely to make subtle changes to his team for the new campaign.
As well as keeping one eye on the fixture rush that culminates with a game at Chelsea less than 48 hours after their Europa League qualifier in Greece, the United boss is also wary of sending out Yohan Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa when they are short of match fitness. Both returned late for pre-season following their Euro 2012 exertions with France – with Ben Arfa’s absence from the trip to Portugal raising eyebrows among the black and white support.
Pardew sought to draw a line under that issue on Thursday, asserting that Ben Arfa (pictured left) is ready to prove to his legions of critics in France that his fine form was no flash in the pan. The midfielder was widely criticised for his part in the schisms which undermined France’s efforts in Poland and Ukraine. He said: “I have to say he’s in a great place mentally. The French experience, in terms of getting into the national team firstly, was a great one.
“The frustration of how it ended has kind of stiffened his resolve to show how good he is. He’s that type. I would not say he is looking to prove people wrong. But because of the French media attention on him after that tournament, he was disappointed with that and felt it was probably unjust. I see him wanting to have a really big year for Newcastle.”