NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 05: Newcastle striker Papiss Cisse (r) listens to tea mate Demba Ba on his debut during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Aston Villa at Sports Direct Arena on February 5, 2012 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Who would have thought a year ago that the team that relied most on their strikers to score goals in the Premier League would be Newcastle United? Back then, Demba Ba was not much more than a serious knee injury waiting to happen and Papiss Cisse was just another name perpetually linked to the Toon but never actually coming over. Newcastle now enter the 2012-13 season with more reasons to be confident in the front line than they have had at the beginning of any campaign in recent memory.
Not that there's no reason to worry, of course. The fact that the strikers did so much of the scoring (62.5% of the team's total, well ahead of any other team) puts an enormous amount of pressure on them to repeat the performance. Bitter & Blue author shuddertothink illustrated in the FanPosts this offseason just how special Cisse's half-season was. I'm not entirely sure that G/SOG is the best metric for that analysis, nor has it been demonstrated that any luck is involved whatsoever, requiring a regression to the mean, but the point remains: He will probably not score a goal a game over the course of an entire season. On the flip side, I'm not terribly concerned about Demba Ba's scoring drought to end the 2011-12 season. He didn't suddenly forget how to score. Certainly he struggled to find his place on the left side of the 4-3-3, but reports of bad body language and facial expressions were overblown. His scoring rate may not fully recover if Alan Pardew sticks with the formation, but there's little reason to believe that he'll continue to post donuts.
It would be easy, then, to expect a little less from Cisse and a little more from Ba and feel comfortable that everything will even out. That 62.5% number is troubling. Diversity is important - make one or two players the lynchpin of your team and they will inevitably let you down, one way or another. Scoring must come from elsewhere for Newcastle to come close to last season's finish. Until somebody (Hatem Ben Arfa? Yohan Cabaye? Sylvain Marveaux?) steps up and takes some responsibility for scoring goals, the burden will fall on the two Dembas, so hopefully the team has invested in plenty of goat and strawberry syrup. If they want to invest in a third striker, that's even better.
It would be nice if some of the depth pieces were able to come through as well. Shola Ameobi will be good for one or two goals against Sunderland and is a nice piece off the bench, and his brother Sammy Ameobi would appear to be the fourth option, assuming he isn't used elsewhere (we're also assuming he's ready to contribute as a regular in the Premier League, not a safe assumption at all). The Africa Cup of Nations comes around again this season, meaning that the Dembas could be out of commission for a month. Can the Ameobi brothers take care of business in that case? It's hard to envision a scenario where either Nile Ranger or Xisco ever play for the club again, but this could be the one. Perhaps an appearance from super reserve Adam Campbell is in the offing. In the end, we may be looking at a 4-5-1 or similar with Hatem Ben Arfa playing in a withdrawn role this winter.