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Newcastle a surprise threat to Manchester rivals

Newcastle a surprise threat to Manchester rivals

After offloading star players amid internal dissent and severe austerity, Newcastle was primed for mediocrity this season. Instead, the Magpies are still unbeaten in the Premier League after three months and sitting third.
Only Manchester City and Manchester United, with their international stars and salaries to match, are above Newcastle. And only City, Barcelona and Juventus are also unbeaten in the leading European leagues.
It is a remarkable turnaround for a club relegated from the Premier League in May 2009, mired in debt and with an owner desperate to sell.
Newcastle _ just a point behind second-place United _ can extend its unbeaten run to 11 matches against Everton on Saturday.
"You don't expect to go this far in the Premier League and not be beaten," manager Alan Pardew said. "We have had a couple of shaky games where it was definitely on the cards that we could lose, but we have managed to get something out of the game. I can't say I am not slightly surprised by how well we have done."
It is also a surprise how well Pardew is doing less than a year after replacing the popular Chris Hughton in a move that stunned players and supporters.
Their anger only intensified in January when striker Andy Carroll was sold to Liverpool for 35 million pounds (then $56 million) and not reinvested. The offseason was then marred by the departure of captain Kevin Nolan to West Ham, which had just been relegated to the second tier, and Joey Barton left for Queens Park Rangers for nothing after publicly criticizing the way the club was being run.
Left back Jose Enrique was also unhappy with the club's hierarchy and their decision to sell key players without reinvesting the funds gained. His comments were followed by a $10 million move to Liverpool.
The players joining the club had modest reputations and were mostly French-born: Demba Ba from relegated West Ham, winger Gabriel Obertan, who made little impact at Manchester United, and compatriot Yohan Cabaye from Lille.
If Newcastle's success continues the club could be back in the Champions League after nine years.
"It's true results in recent years haven't been great but, hopefully, we are now starting to make our achievements correspond with the size of this club," Cabaye told The Guardian. "There are big tests to come but our aim is to finish the season as strongly as we've started it. We want to take Newcastle back into Europe as soon as possible."
Even the Magpies will accept that a first English title since 1927 is not on the agenda, despite being just six points behind leader Manchester City, which is at QPR on Saturday.
City, United and Chelsea all play Newcastle in the next three games after the Everton match _ providing a true test of Newcastle's resilience.
Whatever the team achieves, though, this weekend the focus will be on Alex Ferguson, who celebrates 25 years as Manchester United manager on Sunday, the day after facing Sunderland.
Not only will Ferguson be faced with a former player in the opposite dugout _ Steve Bruce _ but John O'Shea and Wes Brown return for the first time since leaving Old Trafford in the offseason after amassing a combined total of 754 appearances.
"They were instrumental in a lot of our successes over the years," said Ferguson, who has won the Premier League a dozen times.
Players, however, credit the 69-year-old Ferguson with giving them the belief.
"When you have a hard time, he is always there for you," United captain Nemanja Vidic said.
With the focus on managerial longevity, Andre Villas-Boas needs an upturn in Chelsea's fortunes to enhance his job security after just four months in charge at Stamford Bridge.
Going into Saturday's match at third-from-bottom Blackburn, back-to-back Premier League losses have left Chelsea nine points behind City and four adrift of champion United.
Although Chelsea insist the 33-year-old Villa-Boas will be given time to make his mark, owner Roman Abramovich has been notoriously trigger-happy when he scents the team's trophy prospects might be diminishing.
Luiz Felipe Scolari lasted just six months of the 2008-9 season before being ditched, while a midseason slump by Carlo Ancelotti's championship-winning side led to the Italian being dismissed after just two years in May.
For Villa-Boas, a 5-3 loss to Arsenal last weekend was followed by a draw at Genk in the Champions League.
"There's a negative momentum we are passing by," Villas-Boas said. "We want wins as soon as possible. We went past a bad period and bad momentum last year, and we want to avoid that again. The memory of that is bad enough to want us not to repeat it."
Also Saturday, Arsenal hosts West Bromwich, Norwich is at Aston Villa and Liverpool takes on Swansea. In Sunday's matches, Wolverhampton Wanderers host Wigan, Tottenham travels across London to Fulham and Bolton faces Stoke.


Updated : 2021-08-02 20:41 GMT+08:00