After finishing a lofty fifth in the English Premier League last season, Newcastle United now look to be spiralling down into the depths of the relegation zone.
The engine of desire that propelled the Magpies last season was spluttering. It had been pushed to the limit and it had been exhausted. The club needed refuelling.
With two wins in a row, the last against Chelsea 3-2, Newcastle look like they have finally found some fuel in the form of some fresh and returning faces.
Newcastle went into the current EPL season suffering from a severe case of over-confidence. Due to the success of last season, it was assumed that the same crop of players would be sufficient to combat the rigours of the coming season, despite the added pressure of European football.
Alan Pardew didn’t feel the need to make any big signings. Only three players were brought in. 18-year-old, Gaël Bigirimana, 19-year-old Curtis Good, and 22-year-old Romain Amalfitano.
While there is a deep reservoir of potential among these three players, it will take time to dig down to the water table. These were long-term signings. Pardew could hardly have expected them to have a major impact this season.
The warning bells should have been blowing the eardrums of Newcastle staff. Depth in the squad has always been a problem.
A few injuries to key players, such as Yohan Cabaye, Tim Krul, Fabricio Coloccini and Hatem Ben Arfa, and disaster inevitably struck.
A string of poor results saw the abyss of Championship football beckoning Newcastle once again. The players’ confidence and energy looked sapped. The audacity and flair of last season was non-existent. They looked like they were still suffering from a hangover from last season.
Last season Newcastle were the club with the most shots blocked off the line. This season Alan Shearer was calling the team out for not putting their hearts on the line.
Captain Coloccini wanted to return home to Argentina.
Fans had no idea what had happened to the team. Hopefully the signing of five French players during the January transfer window and the improved performances that have resulted have shown the fans what went wrong.
The new faces provided the Toon with something they had been lacking. They provided competition for starting spots. In a squad that previously had little depth, the same players were coming out onto the pitch week after week.
The fresh faces have sparked the flame of desire and the fighting spirit in the players. The new signings have brought energy not just in themselves but in their teammates.
The impact of Cabaye’s return should not be underestimated, however. In his first game back after injury, three weeks ago, he scored Newcastle’s only goal against Reading. Cabaye brought back the X factor to the Newcastle midfield, which, without Ben Arfa and himself, had all but disappeared.
Since that match, Newcastle have beaten both Aston Villa and Chelsea. Whether the signing of five French players is simply a pit-stop or a long-term remains to be seen.
Judging by Moussa Sissoko’s double against Chelsea, the future looks bright.