Colin Kapernick's long lost ostrich brother strikes again. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Perhaps this is a bit presumptuous, but our next opponent, Newcastle, is a bloody mess right now. Not in the Australian sense, mind you, but as a literal Dexter level crime scene or average Blackburn match. They just fired a young capable manager, the players are about to riot, and their fans are pretty bummed out. This was a good team at some point, and one of the truly massive clubs in the Premier League, so how did they get to this point? More importantly, will Liverpool be able to beat them, hopefully stringing together two wins for the first time in what seems like forever?
So, how did Newcastle get here? It's hard for me to say. Even before they acquired Alan Shearer (right after I really started following the league) they were a local power, and the only team to really challenge Manchester United and Liverpool at the beginning of the Premier League in the early 90's. Alan Shearer might be the greatest English player of his generation, and but for one or two names the greatest English striker ever. They challenged for the Premier league pretty consistently through the beginning of the past decade, but never really broke through. Their fall was immense, however, and really only surpassed by Leeds in terms of sheer catastrophe.
The team began to fall apart when they sold the team to Mike Ashley, a reclusive billionaire whose actions really, really make you wonder how he became a billionaire in the first place, in 2007. The manager at the time, Kevin Keegan, had great success in the past at Newcastle, but he and Mr, Ashley struggled bitterly over the squad composition and transfers (rumor has it Keegan was forced to approve transfers of guys Ashley by verifying them on youtube). Keegan resigned and a series of inept managers (including Alan Shearer who was thrown to the wolves more or less- I feel sorry for him, even Ferguson would have had trouble turning that situation around) managed to get Newcastle relegated despite a number of quality players.
Whither Chris Hughton. Hughton, a longtime assistant, became manager as a stop-gap solution, but he managed to win the Championship. By eleven points. Funny, that. He had them up to seventh in the premiership this year, the highlight being an absolute 5-1 crushing of Sunderland, their traditional derby rivals. Despite this win and a general sense that the squad was punching over their weight, Hughton was relieved of his duties this week after a loss to West Bromwich Albion, probably a Europa League team. However, I believe that Hughton was always a temporary solution, but too inconvenient to fire. Ashley may have wanted more experience in the position, he may have thought that Hughton had hit his ceiling, or he may not have liked the color of his socks. Ashley's moves in regard to soccer have never made much sense, and this is just another data point in a continuum of questionable decisions.
Why spend so much time on a Liverpool opponent? I think they're not far different from us in terms of history or importance, but they show how far Liverpool has yet to fall. Newcastle are a major part of England's sporting landscape, and for them to go down is like Leeds going into administration. They are also a dangerous team. Kevin Nolan and Andy Carroll are fantastic players- Carroll has 9 goals in 16 appearances and is a bright young talent, Nolan 7 in 14 and is the heart of this team. However, I think that Liverpool are catching them at the perfect time, as I believe their squad is very distracted by the recent Hughton sacking.
Captains are usually a bellwether for how teams are feeling, and Nolan voiced his disgust and confusion about the sacking of Hughton in a recent soccernet article. Maddeningly enough, they don't get around to actually quoting him at length but he seems right pissed off. I would be too at this point, and Ashley's statements don't make any damn sense either. I will say that Hughton has to this point acted admirably, but not said much about the sacking.
I think we're playing a club on Saturday whose problems dwarf our own. This is kind of nice, but this is also a team we should beat in a similar manner to Aston Villa. Press up high, make them think too much, get an early goal, and demoralize the home crowd who don't have too far to go to that point anyway. I haven't caught much of Newcastle beyond their early match against Manchester United where they got down early and lost all semblance of shape. Given the turmoil surrounding the club, and the fact that at all but two positions we are comfortably superior, we should get a vital away win.