The Agenda: NUFC squad will comfortably compete in Premier League top half

A few fringe players have claimed a stake over the summer for a first-team place - and about time

Richard Heathcote/Getty Images Alan Pardew the Newcastle United manager
Alan Pardew the Newcastle United manager

There are hands being put up in air the by some less noted Newcastle United squad members.

Perhaps not straight up, akin to an overly keen ten-year-old who knows the answer to a teacher’s question, but at least there are some willing volunteers who want to be part of this upcoming Premier League season.

Players who, before a ball was kicked this pre-season, would never have been considered a candidate for a first-team are now edging towards at least a place on the bench for Manchester City.

We are only talking a handful here, but when you look at the four games so far and digest who has played well, there are encouraging signs, which are always, well, encouraging.

Mehdi Abeid has been a stand-out in midfield. Adam Armstrong has looked better than some kid who would be best served going out on loan. He has played like a lad who could be trusted in the first-team.

Paul Thomas/Getty Images Mehdi Abeid of Newcastle in action
Mehdi Abeid of Newcastle in action

Ayoze Perez scored a nice goal at Sheffield Wednesday on Tuesday and has earned deserved praise from Alan Pardew.

The manager said this week that he signed the Spaniard “for now” and if that is true, and it’s up for debate, then the 21-year-old has impressed team-mates with his natural ability.

Rob Elliot will start the season, you would imagine, as Tim Krul’s understudy, but he has done himself no harm with some outstanding saves and good use of his feet.

Haris Vuckic, who has ability but, as he’s 22 this month, is running out of time at Newcastle has done okay as well.

Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa was solid enough at Hillsborough, although what happens with him remains to be seen. A betting man would not put the life savings on him staying at Newcastle beyond this transfer window.

Okay, so Pardew can’t look at his squad and confidently claim to have two strong elevens.

But then very few can outside the elite, and by that I mean the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea who have silly money to spend and do so.

However, if Pardew can start the season with as good a team as we think he can, plus a strong bench and with a few others outside the 18 stripped for a game, such as Vuckic and Armstrong, who are pushing for a place, then he and his team could be in for a good season.

Newcastle United's Shola Ameobi
Newcastle United's Shola Ameobi

With the best will in the world, when last season he finished with Shola Ameobi and Dan Gosling playing, two who were clearly being moved out the door, it tells you that Newcastle United did not have a squad fit for purpose.

Throw in Luuk de Jong – and it was clear he wasn’t up to it pretty early on – and the manager was way past the bare bones.

So it’s better. Not perfect, but the squad is slowly moving in the right direction.

Two others who need to take a step forward are Curtis Good, a talented centre-half albeit one with fitness concerns, and 19-year-old Remie Streete.

But if these players and their contemporaries don’t improve, they need to be shipped out. Newcastle can’t afford to carry any dead weight.

If a player on the fringes is not even hinting that he could do a job for Pardew, then he’s taking up too much space.

Harsh? Perhaps. But this is professional football. Keeping someone on just because the club needs to fulfil their under-21 fixtures is not an option, or at least it shouldn’t be.

So while pre-season games are hardly the same as facing Manchester City, the Premier League champions, Pardew will be comforted that with the signings made, and with the likes of Abeid, Armstrong, Perez and even Ryan Taylor – although it’s asking a lot for him to return as good as new after two years out – in the ranks, he has strength in numbers.

Paul Thomas/Getty Images Ayoze Perez of Newcastle in action
Ayoze Perez of Newcastle in action

Perez, the £1.5million signing from Tenerife, is an interesting one.

Having never played a top-level game, it seemed unlikely that he would be asked to run at Vincent Kompany on August 17.

And yet he has settled into his new life well and Pardew, speaking to the club website, suggested that the striker will be given more of a chance sooner then anyone at the club expected.

Pardew said: “We know he has some development in his body. He is still quite frail compared to the physical specimens you have in the Premiership, but he has shown quality and had one great chance (against Sheffield Wednesday) which he finished in style.

“He has shown that in training, he has got real flair and I think he is a player our fans are going to like.

“Hopefully he will have more of an impact than we are hoping for; if that makes sense.”

It does. Nobody is expecting Newcastle to have an eight out of ten player for every position.

However, a club this size should never be in the position when the manager fills up his squad with those on the way out or are never going to make it.

And as we stand, that’s not going to happen. It is progress.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer