WITH the new Premier League season starting tomorrow, here are five hopes for Newcastle United and Sunderland over the course of the next nine months
The club tempers its mistrust of the cup competitions
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Newcastle are not going to win the Premier League this season, and they’re almost certainly not going to be relegated either. Chances are, they’ll struggle to claim one of the European spots. So the FA Cup and Capital One Cup should be two of their key priorities given they offer a genuine opportunity of silverware.
We all know that’s not the case, and while Mike Ashley and Lee Charnley claim the increased workload involved in a cup run inevitably has a negative impact on league form, the statistics simply don’t bear that out.
Supporters will become disillusioned if their club refuses to match their ambitions, and despite this summer’s impressive signings, the discontent that exploded at the end of last season is still not too far from the surface.
A role is found for Moussa Sissoko
When he arrived on Tyneside, Sissoko looked like being a rampaging box-to-box midfielder. By the end of last season, however, he had been shuffled out to a right-wing role in an attempt to accommodate him in the team.
It didn’t work, and after 18 months on Tyneside, there’s a sense that Sissoko is still to produce anything like his best in a Newcastle shirt. He has certainly looked nothing like the player who strutted across the World Cup stage so positively for France this summer.
With Remy Cabella and Siem de Jong on board, there is not going to be a lot of room available in the central areas, but asking Sissoko to play as a winger is a waste of his talents.
The Hatem Ben Arfa saga is brought to a swift resolution
He hardly played in the second half of last season, but Ben Arfa’s name still dominated the news agenda at St James’ Park. Every time something went wrong, the Frenchman’s name was sung lustily in the stands.
The winger has become even more of an outcast over the summer, with his only public appearances coming in reserve friendlies against Queen of the South and Barnsley. When the first-team squad staged an opening training session on Tuesday, he was nowhere to be seen.
He clearly has no future at St James’ Park, yet he remains a potentially divisive figure in the shadows. Consequently, it would be in everyone’s best interest if he was moved on before the transfer window closes.
Papiss Cisse returns to rediscover his form from three seasons ago
It will be mid-September at the earliest before Cisse completes his recovery from a fractured kneecap, and on the evidence of last season’s form, he will probably not be missed.
Cast your mind back to the first six months of his Newcastle career though, and you’ll remember a player who took the Premier League by storm, scoring a succession of fantastic goals.
Despite the signing of Emmanuel Riviere, and the potential for at least one more striker to arrive, an in-form Cisse would be a huge asset to the Magpies. This season should prove whether he is capable of rediscovering his best.
Mike Ashley realises that the press are not to be feared
Newcastle’s owner has always had an uneasy relationship with the press, but over the last 12 months, he has erected a series of barriers to make it more difficult to report on what is happening at St James’.
Newspapers have been banned, access to players has been denied and Alan Pardew has even been instructed not to deliver interviews this summer. In Ashley’s eyes, it is clearly a case of ‘them’ and ‘us’.
Obviously, journalists have a vested interest, but ultimately, everyone suffers if the media is shunned. The club’s reputation is damaged and the supporters are denied an unbiased account of what is happening. Seriously Mike, we’re not going to bite.
Connor Wickham buckles down and commits his future to Sunderland
The days of a player owing anything to a football club are long gone, but having finally assumed centre stage at Sunderland, it would be a real shame if Wickham’s desire for more money forced him out of the Stadium of Light.
With contract talks still at an impasse, the Black Cats board are adamant they will not be left in a similar position to the one that saw Jack Colback leaving the club for nothing this summer.
That is understandable, but at this stage of his career, Wickham desperately needs to be playing regularly for a club and manager that trust him. That is the case at Sunderland, and it would surely be in the 21-year-old’s best interests to sort out his future so he can concentrate on scoring goals.
Lee Cattermole finally gets some credit for his footballing ability
The stereotypical view of Cattermole is well worn now. He’s a liability, who gets sent off every other week, and a clogger, who likes to kick his opponents whenever he goes past them.
There’s probably a semblance of truth to both views, but the midfielder is so much more than the hackneyed image would suggest. He’s a much better passer than he gets credit for, and his energy and work-rate never dip.
He’s also a ferocious competitor, and it’s no coincidence that last season’s renaissance began when he returned to the side. Every team needs a leader, and Cattermole, who almost left in January, relishes that role. Sunderland would be a lesser side without him.
The crowds increase at the Stadium of Light
As a club, Sunderland do an awful lot of things right. They’ve tried to keep ticket levels down, mindful of the economic pressures on Wearside, and have one of the most active Foundations in the country. Since taking over six years ago, Ellis Short has put his hand in his pocket to keep the club competitive.
Yet the crowds have never really returned since the heyday of Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips more than a decade ago, and that’s a shame given the efforts that have been made to strive for success.
Last season’s average attendance of just over 40,000 is hardly to be sniffed at, but in an era of Financial Fair Play, an increase of 2-3,000 a game could have a major impact on Sunderland’s budget.
Vito Mannone starts the season as first-choice goalkeeper
With Costel Pantilimon having arrived from Manchester City over the summer, Gus Poyet faces an early selection dilemma as he ponders his team to face West Brom tomorrow.
Pantilimon has done nothing wrong in pre-season, but Mannone was one of Sunderland’s saviours towards the end of last season, finishing the campaign as the club’s Player of the Year after a series of superb displays.
Football is a ruthless business, but it would still feel somewhat unfair if the Italian was dumped to the bench at the Hawthorns. He has earned the right to at least start the season as number one.
Gus Poyet appreciates just how fortunate he is to be Sunderland boss
Had Poyet not replaced Paolo di Canio, there is every chance Sunderland would be playing in the Championship now, so the Uruguayan deserves huge credit for his work at the Stadium of Light.
However, towards the end of the campaign, it felt as though the Black Cats head coach was unsure where his future lay and further speculation emerged this summer linking him with a possible departure.
Poyet has been good for Sunderland, but after he left Brighton under something of a cloud, the Sunderland job has also been good for him. He shouldn’t forget that over the next few months.