Face a Southampton club on the up
13 December ~ Despite Newcastle United coming into this weekend's clash with Southampton three points and a league position ahead of the visitors, it is the latter set of fans who will be happier with their Premier League season so far. The "cash for access" plan floated by Newcastle this week, forcing the print media into paying the club should they want to conduct interviews with their players beyond the bare minimum required, is a fine example of how the two couldn't be more different in outlook despite a similar points tally.
Whereas Southampton have an exciting crop of homegrown players now capped by England, a bright manager with an eye for the future in Mauricio Pochettino and are run in a sensible manner, Newcastle have Shola Ameobi starting most games up front, a manager in Alan Pardew who struggles to play anything but reactive football and, most gravely, Joe Kinnear and Mike Ashley pulling the strings.
On the face of it, all looks rosy at Newcastle. Last weekend's away win at Manchester United, their first at Old Trafford for over 40 years, is only the latest in a string of positive results, including victories over Tottenham and Chelsea. But theirs is a season marked by inconsistency: before the Manchester United win a 3-0 loss to Swansea, before the Chelsea win a crushing derby defeat to Sunderland.
Though Pardew deserves credit for the organisational discipline he has instilled before "big" games and for a tactical shift – the hardworking Yoan Gouffran and Moussa Sissoko on the wings, Cheick Tioté or Vurnon Anita shoring up the midfield alongside Yohan Cabaye – that seems to suit his squad of players, he has yet to convince many that his side have sufficiently recovered from the disastrous 2012-13 season, when relegation was a real possibility. With players such as Fabricio Coloccini, Cabaye and Loïc Remy (by no means guaranteed a permanent move to St James' Park when his loan deal expires), Newcastle frankly should be doing well.
Though even when they are, one look around the stadium is enough to send a fan crashing back down to earth. Newcastle today feels more like a vassal of Sports Direct than it does a community football club, the company's advertising hoardings jostling for space alongside Wonga and Viagogo. It’s there – on the pitch's outskirts, on the stadium's roof – where we find Ashley's real motivation for owning a football club. After the earlier ban on the local press, that Ashley is now going after the nationals should come as no surprise. Eventually, Sports Direct News (yes, that does exist) will in all likelihood have a monopoly on coverage as more costs are cut, despite the 12.3 per cent increase in Sports Direct's earnings announced this week.
Southampton, meanwhile, have seen their magnificent early season form arrest of late, though their spirited draw with Manchester City last Saturday suggests that recent weeks represent only a blip. Like Newcastle's, their side is one of considerable quality; unlike Newcastle, their summer strengthening has been extensive. Dejan Lovren has slotted into their defence with ease, Victor Wanyama looks every inch the £12 million player that they hoped he would be and Dani Osvaldo, though temperamental and yet to find his best form, has shown some glimpses of his obvious talent.
True, the club's injury list is lengthy at the moment, with Wanyama one of the key absentees. But they are nevertheless on an obvious upward trajectory. The likes of Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Morgan Schneiderlin and Jay Rodriguez attest to that. Whatever the result on Saturday, Southampton's future is bright and Newcastle's unclear. Kieran Dodds