Tonight’s game against Everton represents another stern test for Alan Pardew’s Newcastle United, with some fans underwhelmed by the results so far this term (though four points from the first three fixtures is far from disastrous), and Pardew will likely be wary of a team who have already taken six points against Manchester United and Aston Villa.
In the corresponding fixture last season Newcastle were embarrassed by a storming Everton front-line, and some lackluster defending to add a disappointing full-stop on a very good season, and this year Everton have strengthened, despite losing star youngster Jack Rodwell to Manchester City. They still have a very talented midfield, including the storming Marouane Fellaini and the resurgent Steven Pienaar and Newcastle will do well to be wary of the front-line threat of Nikita Jelavic.
So, ahead of the game, what major questions do we want to see answered on and off the pitch? Here are six of those key areas of concern…
1. How Will Newcastle Cope Without Tim Krul?
Since the Magpies were promoted to the Premier League after an almost immaculate Championship season in 2009/10, Tim Krul has been a hugely important member of the first team, providing the solidest of foundations to what had been notoriously known as a creaking back line (rather unfairly in more recent times). Krul’s presence in the Newcastle net really cannot be underestimated, given his shot-stopping ability – including in penalties – and his command of his area: yes his kicking can sometimes go array, and his decision-making is very occasionally a little ropey, but for a young goalkeeper, Krul is a fantastic talent.
So how will Alan Pardew’s men survive against a team that scored four against them at the tail-end of last season without their star ‘keeper? In reserve Newcastle could either call on Rob Elliot, who was signed for a relatively nominal fee from Charlton, and whose debut against Nottingham Forest was less than inspiring, or veteran Geordie Steve Harper.
Elliot showed in pre-season that his debut perhaps wasn’t a fair reflection of his abilities with some far more assured performances, but fan confidence in him will only come from some strong performances for the first-team in more high-pressured matches. Whether a tricky away game at Everton is the best place to blood him in a Premier League game or not remains to be seen, but with Steve Harper likely to retire at the end of this season Elliot will have to be given an opportunity to prove himself as a solid back-up.
On the other hand, playing the hugely experienced Harper would probably appeal to more Newcastle fans at this stage, regardless of his slight loss of agility, and Harper certainly still offers some solidity in the absence of the number one who replaced him.