by Aidan Elder | Chief sports writer
The trash-talk has begun in earnest ahead of the first Weir-Tyne derby of the season. He’s more Geordie than walking around in sub-zero temperatures wearing little more than a bikini, so it’s no surprise that Steven Taylor has been leading the chorus of cage-rattling.
In some tasty pre-match comments he says he’d rather be a philatelist than support their rivals from down the North Sea coast. “I would rather go and collect stamps than stick on that shirt! I have not got any friends who are Sunderland fans,” he explained in not the clearest analogy we’ve ever heard.
The controversial statements didn’t end there however as Taylor claimed none of the current Sunderland squad would make it into the Newcastle team. “Not even one player. That is the quality we possess,” he claimed. It’s a bold and the Paddy Power Blog has had a look to see if his claim stacks up.
Goalkeeper: Tim Krul v Simon Mignolet
It’s hard to argue. That’s not to label Mignolet a hopeless butter fingers – it’s just would you really replace the Dutchman with the Belgian? Probably not. Last season Krul went from being an indifferent middle of the road keeper to one of the league’s best and this was recognised at international level. His authority and confidence in the penalty area grew and became the perfect complement to his natural reflexes. Mignolet isn’t there yet. He’s effective, but not always convincing and it’s hard to make the case for him ahead of Krul.
For so often the soft and often hilarious Achilles hell at the core of Newcastle’s problems, Alan Pardew now has a rear-guard worthy of the name. The days of relying on Titus Bramble for your defensive solidity are long gone and the Magpies now realised attacking football doesn’t have to come at the price of a non-existent defence. Fabrizio Coloccini and Stephen Taylor are the core of that defence and you wouldn’t get too many members of the Toon Army clambering to get the Old Trafford retirement home inmates of John O’Shea and Wes Brown in situ. Bramble is another option, but that will be a prospect as appealing as wearing a jacket in deepest winter to Newcastle fans.
There’s possibly more debate on the flanks. With Davide Santon and Danny Simpson as the current full backs, the Magpies don’t have much experience and the prospect of maybe having O’Shea as an option becomes more appealing. Phil Bardsley and Danny Rose are decent options, but again not guaranteed to be an improvement on what Newcastle currently have. Taylor’s claims probably stack up at the back.
Verdict: Four Magpies gives a better chance of defensive joy.
Judging by the amount of transfer tittle-tattle surrounding Newcastle’s midfield over the summer, this part of the team is a strong point. Cheik Tiote, Yohann Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa were spoken as targets for some of Europe’s biggest clubs and although that came to nowt, they’ll no doubt be knocking on the door with juicier cheques in the future. Unless the aim of football suddenly becomes to pick up more yellow cards than your opponents, few would have Lee Cattermole, Jack Colback or Craig Gardner pulling the strings in the Magpies’ midfield. Seb Larsson does provide more in the way of creativity, but maybe lacks the all round game of his north-east rivals.
The wings are more debatable. James McClean has been a sensation since arriving in the Premier League and he would have claims for replacing Jonas Gutierrez on the left. Gutierrez is popular for his energetic displays, but a lack of quality has frustrated fans in the past and the Irish international’s end product would no doubt be welcomed by Pardew.
On the right, we’ve got a battle of mercurial talents. Adam Johnson probably isn’t as bad as his last few months at Manchester City suggested, but he needs to rediscover his best form and rebuild his reputation. Ben Arfa is capable of brilliance, but has struggled with consistency, partially due to terrible luck with injuries. His last twelve months have been a big improvement however and on current form, he’d still get the nod.
Verdict: It’s Newcastle’s strong point, but McClean could sneak his way in for Gutierrez
It’s relative early days, but already Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse are being spoken about as the north-east’s best partnership since PJ and Duncan. They’ve been brilliant since coming to the Artist Formerly Known as St. James’s Park, although not always at the same time. They’ve both managed to notch their fair share of goals, but when one prospers, the other seems to struggle like Jamie Redknapp with the English language.
There is a theory that they can’t play together and that could be the chief argument for having Steven Fletcher in our hypothetical team. It’s not a wholly convincing argument however, and despite a good start to his Sunderland career, he has some way to go before he convinces everyone that he’s £14 million well spent. Alongside him, Stephane Sessegnon generally gets the nod. He’s a good player capable of producing some moments of inspiration, but no guarantee to get place in Pardew’s first team.
Verdict: It would take a die-hard Black Cat not to fancy the Ba/Cisse combination.