How can they top that?

It’s often said by many musicians that the second album is always the hardest to create as you now have some output to be judged against.

The same can also be said for Newcastle United under Alan Pardew after completing his first full season in charge.

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Many will now be thinking, ‘How can they top that?’ so let’s reflect on how the season’s aspirations turned out and progressed.

A team that was consigned to relegation by many pundits at the start of the season somehow managed over the course of the entire campaign to avoid dropping out of the top seven.

A team that was pilloried for its successful run of 11 matches without defeat by deeming ‘they haven’t played anyone yet’ or ‘ they’ve just been lucky’.

This is also a team that had one of the tightest defensive records in the first half of the league.

Then there was a blip.

The flow of points had seemingly dried up and the press rejoiced as they appeared to be vindicated in their initial assessments of Newcastle’s fate. The festive month of December filled critics alike with seasonal cheer whilst Newcastle supporters began to expect coal in their stockings.

A new belief in the New Year gained momentum when Manchester United was put to the sword in one of the most outstanding performances of the season. Ba was the thorn in their backside as Cabaye orchestrated their destruction.

Heavy defeats interspersed narrow victories and it was then thought that Newcastle wouldn’t face a relegation battle but they would be lucky to stay in the top ten. The icing on the cake for those willing us to falter was a demoralising defeat away to Tottenham.

Surely that was it for plucky Newcastle.

They had finally played a team with value and the luck was gone. The only thing left for Pardew and his men were to stagnate in mid-table obscurity such was the nature and scale of the defeat and the result against Wolves when a 2-0 lead was thrown away highlighted that the good times were over.

But something wonderful happened.

Shola scoring an injury time equaliser against the nearest and dearest.

An injury time winner scored by Arsenal in one of the most exciting games of the season didn’t lead to any thoughts of woe. If anything is showed that there was still a desire in this squad to compete. There was going to be no fetid stench of stagnation.

A six game winning streak brought us right back into contention for a Champions League place. No-one would have thought this possible come the start of the season but there they were in 4th place.

After the Wigan debacle, the chance to ensure that the club would finish above Chelsea was available to keep the club in the run-in for elite European football presented itself and was duly taken by Cisse with two outstanding strikes and some resolute play by the whole team.

Man City came and were forced to up their game to win and finally Everton finished off the season and hopes of playing in the Champions League.

Straight after that final whistle Pardew was adamant that next season, the club would be better. He stated he’d identified the reasons the season curtailed off and was actively going to find the solutions to rectify them.

Back to that first question, ‘How can they top that?’

I haven’t a clue but trust in Pardew and Carr is at an all time high and with the upcoming Europa league, the retention of the majority of key staff and perhaps the acquisition of a few choice players this upcoming season could make next season one of the most memorable in the last decade.

Its one hell of a task to top but it’s going to be one hell of a ride to enjoy.

Platini: Scrap Europa League and expand Champions League

By The Budgie Smuggler –

Michel Platini, head of UEFA and presumably the future President of FIFA, spoke to the German newspaper, Bild, some time ago, floating a proposal to scrap the Europa League, while expanding the Champions League to 64 teams from 2016. The proposal would include offering the biggest European leagues – England, Spain and Germany – 6 places each for the increasingly-misnamed UEFA Champions League, while increasing accessibility to Europe’s premier competition for smaller nations’ Champions. This has all kind of ramifications.

Let us consider the positives. Firstly eliminating the Europa League and its ‘Thursday Nights on Channel 5’ tag, it would revalue European football at that level. Sceptics of the worthiness of the Europa League are ten-a-penny in the British media, depending which fish and chip wrapper you read at the breakfast table.

Secondly, if places are assigned to the major leagues as they are now, we may see something of a re-valuation of our Cup competitions – if winning the Carling Cup put you in the ‘Champions’ League, we would most likely witness a more serious competition than the tinpot trophy that has failed to save the jobs of its previous two winners, Alex McLeish and Kenny Dalglish (as an aside, the League Cup has been won by Scottish managers every year for the last four, with two wins for Sir Alex Ferguson). It would also give us something else to do in February outside of moaning about how dreadful post-christmas telly is.

Thirdly, the financial rewards for the teams in what previously were Europa League spots would be far in excess of what they receive now. As we are surely all aware, Newcastle’s non-Champions League place has meant the club has missed out of revenues of approximately £10m above what we are guaranteed next season. Furthermore, the extra clubs may slightly balance out the disproportionately high income received by the so-called ‘Giants’, known as such due to their self-propelling spiral of TV and prize money, separating the best from the rest in most European leagues.

But the idea is not without flaw, first among which is the sheer scale of the tournament. 64 teams is a huge amount, and that’s after the qualifying rounds. In reality this only means one more match in the knock-out stage, but the fixture congestion builds up – Liverpool, in their 2005 Champions League winning season, played well over 50 games, and possibly more than 60 (stats seem surprisingly difficult to come by, any would be much appreciated).

Secondly, is depriving a team a trophy a good idea? Few would argue Atletico Bilbao didn’t deserve to make it to a European final, even if they were deprived of that honour by the fine performance of Atletico Madrid’s Falcão. From a fans perspective, would we rather see our team go further in a supposedly ‘inferior’ European competition, or get knocked out in the group stage in the Champions-and-anybody-quite-decent League?

Third and finally, would this proposal devalue the Champions League? Obviously, winning the thing itself would be a huge achievement, but one must fear that the group stage would suffer on the TV audience side, as Man U paste Bnei Sakhnin repeatedly.

In conclusion, it is certainly a dilemma. Platini, in my opinion, cannot win. I certainly see the benefit of a restructuring of European Competition – the Europa League is not what the UEFA Cup once was (perhaps, ironically, because of the constant restructuring). Perhaps a return for the Cup Winners’ Cup would be a suitable middle ground. Or, perhaps, one could – and, I hasten to add, this is not my opinion – argue we should go the whole hog, and just have a European Super League of some kind. I do believe that having the Champions League as Europe’s premier competition, rather than its broadest, increases its appeal. I’ll be fascinated to read your opinions on the matter.