by ‘Ifreke Inyang
Let’s take a quick look at the EPL table. The money bags from the Eastlands, Manchester City lead the pack with 31 points. City rivals, United are second with 26. Newcastle sit elegantly in third position with 25 and Chelsea occupy the fourth spot. Yes, we have not reached the half way stage of the English Premiership, but even at that, it is anomaly for Newcastle to be seated among conveniently in the top four of one of the two best leagues in Europe.
It wasn’t a rare sight eight years back.
In 2003, Roman Abramovoich, who was on the verge of completing a takeover of London club Chelsea watched the final game of the season as his team-to-be sealed their fourth position. Above them, in third position, sat Newcastle United. Since then, the established top four has been any of Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea randomly arranged year by year. Once in a while, Everton Tottenham Hotspurs and Manchester City have displaced one of them, but never the Magpies. As we speak, they are currently unbeaten in the domestic campaign.
It has not been a fluke.
There’s their performance away to Stoke City. Before Newcastle’s visit to the dreaded Britannia Stadium Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea have been visitors and were all able to score once each. None of them won. When the Toon Army invaded, they tore the Potters apart, which star man Demba Ba leaving with the match ball after a brilliant hat-trick.
“The money bags versus the club that’s still emerging from the depths of debts.
Demba Ba, like every other player currently on the books of the club, is not exactly a big name. So the excuse that the team has invested heavily in star footballers is farfetched. Even Ben Arfa who has cost quite a few millions hasn’t been part of their great run, as he is still recuperating from a double fracture. The men who have been responsible include Yohan Cabaye, Coloccini and Ameobi. Even Ryan Taylor who hitherto was not one to be reckoned with, scored a jaw dropping volley in their last game against Everton.
All these happened before the international break. Their acid test begins this weekend. On each of the Saturdays from this week, they will square up against Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs. Alan Pardew takes his team to Manchester City this weekend. It has built up nicely to be a delicious encounter. The money bags versus the club that’s still emerging from the depths of debts. A new attacking force versus a Newcastle side that is based on defensive solidity. On paper, one might be tempted to give the game to City, but then the Magpies have not come this far by sheer luck. They are stingy on both the balance sheet and the football pitch, statistically the country’s best defense and one of its most potent strikers.
Having said so, I still give the game to Mancini’s team. The wealth of explosive talents and the standard of football they are playing will give them the edge. I expect Newcastle to record their first loss of the season. My worry for them however, is that they recover quickly enough to achieve decent results from their next games against Manchester United at Old Trafford and Chelsea at The Sports Direct Arena. Otherwise, a steady, sure slide down the log will see them descend even further in the lower table obscurity they’ve been stuck in since 2003.