NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - AUGUST 28: Leon Best of Newcastle United celebrates scoring the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Fulham at St James' Park on August 28, 2011 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
Now that we've had time to let the dust settle on the transfer window, it's time to look forward, even if there is a lack of quality forwards. (Puns are fun!) Let's do our best to try and insert our new signings into the Starting XI (if they fit). How would you do it? We'll break it down position by position. I'm not going to spend much time bellyaching about what might have been (though you should feel free to do so in the comments).
The obvious choice here is Tim Krul. Rob Elliot was not brought in as a replacement, and it looks like he's going to sit on the bench for the upcoming match against Queens Park Rangers. Steve Harper is either very injured or very out of favor with Alan Pardew, so he doesn't factor in here. Definitely the easiest choice.
Before we move forward, you have to decide on your formation, obviously. To me, a four-back set is really the only logical choice. The three-back system would betray the defense-first philosophy Alan Pardew is trying to build on, and it would also be a waste of Davide Santon's abilities. Newcastle don't seem to have the personnel to roll with five backs, even if the two wingbacks play a more offensive role.
Currently, captain Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor are automatic choices for Pardew. Do you trust them? Or are you willing to give Mike Williamson a chance (most likely in place of Taylor)? Don't forget about Tamas Kadar.
This is where it starts to get interesting. Davide Santon will play in the Starting XI. (Could you imagine the rioting that would ensue if he started on the bench?) The question is, does he replace Ryan Taylor or Danny Simpson? His natural position is left back, though he recently (and predictably) said he would play anywhere. If he does go on the left, do you feel comfortable playing Raylor on the right (in a more comfortable position for him) over Simpson? Simpson has played well on the attack and is starting to develop some chemistry with Gabriel Obertan, but what about his defensive deficiencies? Other options include James Perch (try not to laugh), Shane Ferguson (who is better suited for the midfield), Kadar, and James Tavernier (currently out on loan, but probably coming back soon).
Again, we have to think about formation. A three-striker system is out, even if two of them are wingers, and I don't see Pardew fiddling with a 4-3-3 anyway. He's already opted for both the 4-4-2 (derided as traditional, but it makes sense for a defensive style) and the 4-5-1 (to accommodate the surplus of midfielders) this year. At CHN, I believe the writers are in agreement that the 4-2-3-1 (emerging as the Next Big Thing in football, in my opinion) seems to fit this squad the best, but you could argue successfully for a 4-1-3-2 (or any number of other formations) if you'd like.
Cheik Tiote is an obvious choice. I like the idea of asking Yohan Cabaye to hang back, collect the balls that Tiote picks up, and then distribute them using his quick mind and quick feet. The major question would be if you asked Cabaye to play that kind of role or if you preferred him to be more of an attacker. Dan Gosling, Danny Guthrie, and Alan Smith would be the backups here.
Jonas Gutierrez would seem to be Alan Pardew's choice to play on the left, and though we at CHN have long advocated for him to switch to the other side, the play of Gabriel Obertan will probably prevent such a move. This is perhaps the hardest position to choose. No matter how many midfielders you choose in your formation, only two can truly play on the edge. You could go any number of ways here. Jonas on the left and Obertan on the right seems the most likely combination, but Sylvain Marveaux and Shane Ferguson are more than capable of filling in on the left; ditto Dan Gosling, Jonas, and even Ryan Taylor on the right.
When healthy, Hatem Ben Arfa should play the trequartista/playmaker/#10/whatever you want to call it. By the way, he's training with the team again. Never mind that he probably won't play until November. (That hasn't been reported; it's just my cynicism showing.) Haris Vuckic can play in an attacking role as well, but of course he's going to be out for the next week or two as well. Also able to attack the goal from a midfield position are Gabriel Obertan and Yohan Cabaye.
There's not a single guy here that you could consider a world-beater. If you roll with one striker, he'd better have lots of utility - able to climb the ladder to win balls in the air (especially with Tim Krul in goal), make speculative runs with pace, and finish balls with authority - at the very least. That would certainly eliminate Peter Lovenkrands and Nile Ranger. Neither of these players will see the pitch as a primary threat, though if there talents were combined into one person...just imagine Barry Pepper with a sniper rifle and you've got it. Shola Ameobi is the most senior player, one who has never been able to put all the pieces together, even last season when it seemed he had the best opportunity of his career to do so. His younger brother, Sammy, may be great one day, but he's inexperienced and in desperate need of a sandwich or two. Demba Ba seemed to be out of shape when the season started, but if he can put it together (and keep his knees from blowing out), he could be reliable as the sole option up top. Meanwhile, all Leon Best has ever done is make the most out of the opportunities he's been given. Why not give him more opportunities?
You can probably tell which direction I lean from this post, but I'll be posting my preferred XI in the comments and encourage you to do the same.