Know Your Enemy: Newcastle United

Fabricio Coloccini is Newcastle United's most underrated player, despite being their captain

Everyone is aware that SB Nation has blogs for most of the Premier League teams at this point. One of those teams that has a blog is today's opponent Newcastle United, who are covered wonderfully by the folks at Coming Home Newcastle. I have a high opinion of all of my colleagues here, but these guys seriously do an excellent job with their blog and I'd put them north of the average for SB Nation soccer sites without a doubt. I got a chance to chat with John Murphy, and he answered some of my questions about the team. My questions are in bold, with his responses in normal font.

How big of a boost will the return of Hatem Ben Arfa be for Newcastle? I can't really say any of the staff at Cartilage Free Captain rates Gabriel Obertan in the least.

HBA's comeback is going to be huge, but don't sleep on Obertan. He has surprised many at St. James's with his early season form. Honestly, I'd prefer we keep Obertan on the wing and figure out a way to move HBA closer into the middle, as he seems far more comfortable playing an attacking mid position.Regardless of the lineup, I anticipate HBA making a significant impact. Once Slyvian Marveaux and Davide Santon return to form as well, Newcastle could be rolling out a lineup that is very competitive with the "Sky Six."

Can Leon Best keep up his current level of production, or is he playing a bit above his level at the moment?

I think he is playing a bit above form, but we've also been playing less than stellar competition. I'm not entirely how to read Leon Best. I know two things for sure: he is mint, and he looks like Drake. Really, Leon Best is my everything... all I ever wanted, and he could probably do it real big, bigger than you've ever done it. I want him to keep this form forever, man. 

Newcastle's defense has performed well so far this season, but the players that make up that defense have been a bit average in the past. Are they genuinely a much improved defense, or is this just a matter of Newcastle not playing top opposition?

I hope it's the former, but it could easily be the latter. I think that we'll see on Sunday. We have yet to face a competition even remotely close to quality of Adebayor and Defoe. Krul has been a rock, and the combo of Coloccini and Steven Taylor in the middle has been amazing, but Ryan Taylor on the left and Danny Simpson on the right are both susceptible to huge gaffes. No team we've faced has really been able to exploit those gaffes into opportunities from the middle, but at the same time we've never faced a midfield with the attacking capabilities of Modric and Parker, either. I'll say this much, Tiote and Cabaye will have to be playing most the game on their heels in order to make sure that Newcastle's center reamins rock solid, becase the wings should be wide open for the Spurs all day. 

How highly do you rate the central midfield pairing of Cabaye and Tiote relative to the rest of the Premier League? How do they compare to the center of midfield in the so-called 'Sky Six' teams?

I think Cabaye and Tiote are the best midfield in the Premier League...at scrapping and making last second plays defensively. I say that with an absolutely straight face. Newcastle is completely and totally without an attacking mid, in spite of the fact that HBA, Obertan, and Marveaux all have potential there. Due to aforementioned weakness of our flankers, both defensively and offensively, Cabaye and Tiote have had to a run two man clean up job. They aren't Mikel-Ramieres-Lampard, they aren't Anderson-Park, they aren't Toure-Barry, and as you mentioned, they aren't even Parker-Modric, but damnit, they are getting the job done. I think the combo drastically decreases Newcastle's attack, but exponentially improves our possession and defense game.

Everyone is well aware of the central midfielders and Demba Ba, so who is the most underrated member of the Newcastle squad?

This one is easy: Oh Captain, My Captain. Fabriccio Coloccini has been amazing this season, both in form and leadership. He is a quiet captain, but one who leads by example. He has made at least one incredible, goal-saving tackle per game, and I believe it's his incredible play that has raised the game of Steven Taylor next to him in the box. He won't get many headlines, we won't get many accolades, and he may never really break into the Argentina rotation, but he is doing wonders for NUFC.

Where do you think the Magpies will finish in the table this season?

6th. We'll lose to the Sky Six, but beat all the teams we should beat if we continue this method, and their should be a clear drop between Europe teams and the rest. I think 6th has become reasonable, if not surprising. I also think Pardew may start putting more eggs in the Cups, trying to make a serious push towards domestic glory after seeing the success of Stoke and Birmingham City. We will be behind Man City, Man U, Chelsea, Liverpool, and, fortunately for you, Tottenham. 

And finally, a prediction for the match on Sunday?

Newcastle goes down early and has another amazing character game in an epic comeback. 3-3 Draw, with HBA impressing in his return. 

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