THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Limited striking options

17 August ~ Only at kick-off this afternoon will we discover which Newcastle team turns up for their first game of the season. One is the side that was sixth and only three points behind eventual runners-up Liverpool on Boxing Day last season. The other is the one that failed to score in 13 of the last 20 games, losing 14. Alan Pardew seems unsure on what to expect, too. Only two weeks ago he expressed hope Newcastle could challenge as closely as possible for the top four. Then in the week leading up to the opening Premier League fixtures he stated achieving a final tally of 48 points, one less than last year's, would be a good season.

Hopefully if they reach that target early they won't lock up the ground and head for the beach like they did last season after hitting 46 points in late March, after which their post-Christmas form staggeringly dipped even further in suffering seven defeats from the last eight games.

Either way, opponents Manchester City will probably be too strong for Newcastle. The champions are formidable opposition, and have strengthened their squad in the summer with an eye to rotation for the Champions League though without dramatically improving their best 11.

With seven new signings in the squad, Pardew can no longer point to the mid-term departure of Yohan Cabaye as an excuse for the kind of displays that prompted open revolt in the stands. His midfield particularly looks to have creativity and goals in it. More worrying is the untried nature of the three new striking recruits, each having fewer than 50 senior goals to their name. With Loic Remy gone, Papiss Cissé unlikely to be match fit for some months and even the perennial last resort Shola Ameobi having packed his bags to the Turkish second division, Newcastle have nothing at their disposal but the unproven.

The risk in that is obvious with reference to the inability to score goals in the second half of last season. Perhaps an improved supply to the new forwards will fix everything but if not there is trouble ahead and any sign of a continuation of 2014's form so far will result in immediate resumption of hostilities with the manager.

Manchester City have won the last ten meetings between these sides and it would be no shock if they clocked up another today. The same fixture last year was a close affair that hinged on a harshly disallowed Newcastle goal. Newcastle will try to trouble their opponents as much as they did that day, and hope the lucky break will be in their favour this time. Mark Brophy

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