Neil Cameron: Who has made their case to start for Newcastle United's season opener?

Newcastle United finally have options throughout their squad but there are still a lot of issues to be solved before Manchester City

 

Two games and perhaps ten full days of training.

That’s all that is left for Alan Pardew and his players before they begin the Premier League season against the not inconsiderable opposition of Manchester City.

The manager will have a picture in his mind of which eleven men will start this match at St James’ Park. But that picture is still some way of being completed.

Too many of what he would perceive to be his first choice players are not yet 100 per cent fit and most likely will still be short come August 17.

Some of his squad have looked good this summer. One or two have emerged as a pleasant surprise for Pardew who, despite having signed more than half a team this summer, is still in need of strength and depth.

So where are Newcastle United now?

They face Huddersfield Town and then Real Sociedad on Sunday before the fun and games begin again seven days after that. So let’s take a look at who has put their hand up to face the Premier League champions and who is further away than ever.

The goalkeeping situation is an interesting one.

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images Tim Krul
Tim Krul
 

Tim Krul has been the undoubted number one for three years now and his stock has never been higher given his penalty heroics for Holland in the World Cup.

Goalkeepers, of course, are different in so many ways and it’s easier, if not easy, for them to regain fitness and sharpness after a break, which followed a long summer, than say a box-to-box midfielder. But Krul has played 45 minutes – against Schalke on Sunday – and is expected to get some more game time in Yorkshire on Tuesday evening.

In his absence, Rob Elliot has been fantastic. He’s made excellent saves in every one of his games - he’s had to because of some slack defending - so he is pushing for a place.

Managers never tend to mess with the keepers, however, Pardew will be content with having two feeling so good about themselves.

The defence is a concern.

Daryl Janmaat has yet to play a game and even the fittest player would find it difficult to get entirely up to speed in the space of two weeks. Fine right-back though the Dutchman is, is he worth risking against David Silva is he’s at all rusty?

Vurnon Anita could fill in, but he’s not a right-back. The same can be said for Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa. Actually he’s a less of a full-back than his midfield team-mate.

Mark Runnacles/Getty Images Newcastle United's Mike Williamson
Newcastle United's Mike Williamson
 

Mike Williamson and Fabrcio Coloccini will forge the central defensive partnership for two reasons. Firstly, they work well together. Secondly, because there is nobody else.

Steven Taylor has not done well in the games I have seen him. The same goes for Yanga-Mbiwa when he gets pushed into the middle.

And as for left-back, it’s a straight fight between Massadio Haidra and Paul Dummett, who had a good game on Sunday evening.

Without wishing to seem negative, if Janmaat isn’t quite there and another centre-half does not get brought in, plus Davide Santon is out for a month or so yet, it’s a back four that has its weaknesses.

Pardew may have problems in defence, but his attack is coming together nicely.

Let’s jump to the man up front and right now that is Emmanuel Riviere. If his intention was to make a good first impression, and surely it must have been, then he’s succeeded.

He has benefitted from a lack of competition. Papiss Cisse is still out, Facundo Ferreyra has only just arrived, Ayoze Perez has done well but is only a kid and this much longed for big name striker remains elusive.

Emily Carey Newcastle United's Papiss Cisse
Newcastle United's Papiss Cisse
 

However, Riviere looks a player. There is a bit of everything in there. Speed, touch, work ethic and he scores goals as well. So he starts.

Cheick Tiote has a slight knock at the moment, but he will be ready for City. There is no other player at the club so defensively minded as the Ivorian, plus the fact is Tiote is a class act. Anyone who can’t see that needs to brush up on their football knowledge.

So that leaves four other players as we stand.

Unless Siem de Jong’s foot injury is more serious than the club are letting on, then Ajax’s former captain plays behind Riviere.

At one side should be Remy Cabella who has needed only a short period of time to hint at what may be about to come. But there is a problem. He isn’t fit.

Pardew said: “He has come in, is a smiley boy, he really is fun around the training ground and he plays like that, I think our fans will love him.

“He’s not fit unfortunately, we’ve got to do a bit of work with him physically, he knows that but he’s going to attack it.

“(He’s got) fantastic quality though and is the sort of player I love and I hope he continues on that goal (in the 3-1 win over Schalke 04).”

Why risk your major summer signing for the sake of one game? Pardew will be hoping the £12million Frenchman shows much improvement over the coming days.

Ian MacNicol/Getty Images Gabriel Obertan of Newcastle United in action
Gabriel Obertan of Newcastle United in action
 

If he doesn’t make it, and this where the tin hat must be out on, then Gabriel Obertan is making a case. And I do know how strange that sounds.

Pardew likes him. So don’t be surprised if Obertan is involved. And it will be interesting to see whether young Rolando Aarons is given his chance. The manager has been impressed with this rookie’s enthusiasm and ability to ghost past players.

I have a hunch the 18-year-old is going to be given a debut against English football’s richest club.

Yoan Gouffran, Jack Colback and Moussa Sissoko can play on either the left or right of a three, although the latter two are better suited to a central role beside Tiote, albeit with more freedom to get up the park.

I don’t think Pardew knows what he’s going to do with these players yet. My guess is that Gouffran and Sissoko will be in the XI.

But there is work to be done. There are legitimate worries. There are problems. However, there are also options for Newcastle United and that is something.

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