I would love to do this for every opponent, really I would. First problem is, not every opponent has an SBN blog; second problem is scheduling, laziness, and life, all of which get in the way at one point or another. Never mind that, though, because we were able to chat with Jim McMeachin over at Coming Home Newcastle yesterday, when we got his thoughts on this weekend's match, Newcastle's season so far, and all that good stuff. What's that? Looking for my answers to his questions? Oh, they're over here.
TSF: Newcastle currently sit 11th in the league. Is this in line with the expectations at the start of the season, or is it purely down to Newcastle's recent slump in form?
CHN: We're about where we are designed to be. There is a lot of noise from the ownership and club brass that a "top 10" finish is the minimum expectation every year, but that has significant qualifiers that come with it. "Top 10" really sort of means "anywhere between 7th and 15th, not qualifying for the Europa League and not in a full-on fight against relegation". We haven't been in great form, but frankly outside of November, we haven't been in great form extending back to December of 2013. Overall, I think the team is about where fans expected and nowhere near where fans desire.
TSF: John Carver took over for Alan Pardew at the end of 2014. What has been the biggest difference (either positive or negative) you've seen in Newcastle's performance since the new regime?
CHN: Supporters chanted at John Carver in his early matches in charge "Are you Alan Pardew in disguise?" which is about what was expected from him by many. He has maintained that he had a good, respectful relationship with Pardew and there was bound to be some overlap of ideas... we just didn't think it was going to extend into the realm of the "let's hoof and cross the ball at a non-existent ball control striker and build offense off of that" tactic that Pardew preferred.
Carver would tell you that he made the "brave" decision to once play outside midfield players on the outside of midfield and two strikers (can you imagine??) in a 4-4-2 formation for one match, but really the only thing that isn't Pardew v.1.1 is that he has given a run to Remy Cabella. While Pardew had written Cabella off, the Frenchman has made better of his chances that Carver has given him than we might have expected but maybe not quite as much as we hoped. His return this weekend is probably the only hope we have to not be shut out.
TSF: I know we're closer to this summer than last, but who has been Newcastle's best purchase so far this season?
CHN: Daryl Janmaat. Hands down. Which means he'll be sold on just as Mathieu Debuchy was before him. You could try to get a sneak preview of Liverpool's next right back this weekend, except he'll be playing center back because those building our squad don't value adequate depth. We've been light at center back for four years.
TSF: I honestly don't mean this question as condescendingly as it will no doubt sound, but with Newcastle seemingly safe from relegation, and also not in a European place, what keeps people motivated for the rest of the season? Are there players playing for their jobs at this point?
CHN: The players will tell you that "there is much to play for" or "we are trying to keep John Carver in the Head Coach position" or something such, but players scheduling late season vacations through bizarre actions (Papiss Cisse's 7-match spit ban and Fabricio Coloccini's 3-match red card suspension) feels closer to the truth. The idea that we are living in that safety area seems to have caught on within the squad and produced some results that now have us closer to danger than anyone is willing to admit at this point.
If I had any influence at all, I'd say the thing to play for would be to finish above Crystal Palace so that we can be spared the "ZOMG HOW WRONG WERE NEWCASTLE ABOUT ALAN PARDEW LOLOLOLHAHAH" stories. I do not have this influence.
TSF: If you were John Carver, how would you set up your team to try to shut down Arsenal this weekend?
CHN: There is no chance of this happening. As I mentioned earlier, Daryl Janmaat will be playing CB for what is, by his own admission, the first time in his professional career. The center back that we do have (Mike Williamson) sometimes more resembles a turnstile than an useful defender. Likely we will have to play midfielder Ryan Taylor at left back (although he does have a fair bit of experience at that position from the 5th place year) and midfielder Vurnon Anita at right back (which he has some experience from his time at Ajax). Squad health has not been a friend to John Carver, but it shouldn't be allowed as an excuse for the poor performances we have seen under his watch.
TSF: Who has been your most surprising player (again, either good or bad) this season?
CHN: Ayoze Perez has drawn the eyes of many of the Sky 6 clubs although he has been rested frequently in recent times by Carver as he was "exhibiting signs of exhaustion". He was originally a shot at signing a highly rated youngster and was originally meant to spend time with Peter Beardsley and be one for the future, so he is an easy choice for this question... but I would go with another player.
For me, the most surprising player this season has been Moussa Sissoko. In his first full season with Yohan Cabaye out of the way, he was set up to cement his place as one of the next great things. His good performances have been outstanding, of course, but there have been lots of times where he has just been flat out invisible. He'll still get his move to a "big" club because he's got bags of talent and potential. It's just been surprising how inconsistently he has used it during a season in which he has surely been in the shop window.
TSF: What does your crystal ball say about the rest of Newcastle's season?
CHN: We may just avoid a relegation scrap, but it's going to be a little more uncomfortable than it should be. We have several matches against clubs in the bottom three or four and if we take 5 points out of those should be safe, but the 2014-15 Premier League season for Newcastle United will go out with more of a whimper than a bang.
TSF: Finally, the old reliable - your prediction for this weekend?
CHN: The pessimist in me is expecting something more along the lines of the 7-3 loss back in 2012. It could be really really ugly. However, we do have Tim Krul in net instead of Jak Alnwick (who has been farmed out to Bradford City to quietly serve out the time left on his contract which expires in the summer), so maybe we can hold it to something like the 4-1 that you guys got on us earlier this season. Krul >>>>> Alnwick, but Anita, Janmaat, Williamson, Taylor <<<<< Janmaat, Williamson, Coloccini, Dummett.
So, there we have it. Thanks again to Jim and Coming Home Newcastle for taking the time to do this.