Ahead of Aston Villa's trip to St. James' Park, John Murphy from SB Nation's Coming Home Newcastle answered a few of my questions. If you'd like to see my responses to the questions he had for me, head on over and read them here.
Q: Newcastle's turnaround happened more quickly than I'd guess even the most optimistic would have expected. How did it happen so fast?
There were a couple of things. First and foremost, Chris Hougton had done a wonderful job bringing in players during our Championship run. The additions of Hatem Ben Arfa and Cheik Tiote really helped bolster the squad before Pardew even stepped in. Once Pardew took over, and brought in Graham Carr as chief scout extrodinare, we added Demba Ba, Yohan Cabaye, and Papiss Cisse. Pardew's incredible motivation (alongside some much need house cleaning) and tactical knowhow definitely helped our meteoric rise. Fan support didn't hurt either... and (this is a dirty, dirty secret in Tyneside) Mike Ashley kind of stopped sucking somewhere around last January.
Q: It looked for a good bit of last year like Newcastle were headed to the Champions League. That didn't end up happening, but how did coming so close change expectations for this season? Do you feel like that success was something that can be built upon, or is it going to take a slip from one of the clubs above Newcastle to get there on a consistent basis?
Expectations must be tempered, but that's very difficult to do in the wake of such success. I think Newcastle's focus should be a move into the top 4, but another campaign into Europa alone would show some consistency and build serious credibility. I think that domestically, Newcastle needs to be looking at top 6, as well as a good showing in one of the cups. I think on the European stage, NUFC should be aiming to get out of the group stage of Europa, and that will constitute success.
Q: I'd guess that most Villa fans are pretty familiar with Newcastle, but let's pretend you're speaking with someone that's never seen them play; to which players and what about Newcastle's tactical approach should we pay the most attention?
Watch Jonas and Cabaye man the midfield wings. Both men cover an insane amount of ground, and if Tiote is back in the middle (though I believe Anita will get another start), then watch the way Newcastle controls the middle of the field. Pay attention to how HBA moves fluidly all over the right side of the pitch, in a roving winger role, and how desperately Ba wants to just move back to the middle with Cisse instead of being trapped on the left. Defensively, watch how Colo and Taylor do a great job controlling the middle, while Santon and Simpson try to push forward but often end up giving away goal-mouth gaffes.
Q: Newcastle haven't been the most active club during the transfer window, but there have been a few signings. I've seen quite a bit of Vurnon Anita and think he's a very good signing, and though I'm not quite as familiar with Romain Amalfitano he has impressed me on the few occasions I've seen him play. How are you feeling about the business Newcastle has done during the window?
It was a frustrating summer, to be sure. Anita and Amalfitano weren't bad signings, by any stretch, though we needed some bolstering in the central defense that we didn't receive. I think Pardew and Ashley are willing to spend, but Carr won't give the go ahead unless the price is right and he is absolutely sure (like the Cisse signing). I expect us to be aggressive, but smart, come January.
Quick note on Anita... he was HORRID at Stamford Bridge last weekend. Pardew and the Newcastle brass will definitely have a hawk-like eye on him in the coming weeks to see exactly what it is we purchased.
Q: Finally, any predictions for the match?
Sorry mate, but Villa seems absolutely lost right now. Newcastle will be looking to make a big "we're still legit" statement after last week. I expect a howler. 4-0 NUFC.