Liverpool cult hero Luis Garcia is returning to Anfield on Easter Monday to take part in the 'Celebration of the 96' charity match. Jon Holmes caught up with him...
You just can't sit and get angry at Niall Quinn, say Johnny and Al. Even if he's talking rubbish it stills seems quite nice rubbish coming out the mouth of a friendly, normal man...
When you look at Newcastle's squad it is rather difficult to contemplate quite how they finished last season in 16th in the Premier League, only five points above relegated Wigan Athletic. They have experienced internationals all over the pitch; Fabricio Coloccini at the back, Yohan Cabaye in midfield, Papiss Demba Cissé up front to name but three, none of whom would look at all out of place in the top half of the Premier League. And yet eight-year contract-wielding manager Alan Pardew struggled wholeheartedly to follow up a fifth-placed finish in 2012 with anything near a challenge for the top half.
That they look set to hold on their prized assets for at least another year looks set to be their best summer business, with Coloccini and Cabaye both likely to stay, but worryingly for the Magpies' fans, their management seem slightly too content with the current crop of players. Injuries and the fixture pile-up with Europa League responsibilities were obviously detrimental to their progress last term, but injury-prone players get injured most and that is exactly what Newcastle have in abundance. No fewer than nine of Pardew's first team squad missed at least 15 Premier League matches through injury last season and those players aren't going to be suddenly reprieved of any health problems in time for the new campaign.
Loïc Remy's arrival on loan from Queens Park Rangers earlier in the week will have provided some respite for fans anxious that there has been all too little progress during the off season at St James' Park, but even then he has had a fair few injuries problems of his own, the latest of which looks set to rule him out of the opening fixture of the season at the Etihad. Nonetheless, Remy's signature is certainly a positive one for the Magpies and it will be interesting to see how he lines up in the black and white stripes of Newcastle.
Before the sale of Demba Ba to Chelsea in January, Pardew's main selection headache was induced by the difficulty of trying to accommodate both the Senegal international and his compatriot Cissé in the same starting XI. The problem was that the two players were all too similar to play together in a 4-4-2 - even Shola Ameobi seemed to play more functionally with either of the African duo - and when they switched to play with a lone striker, Cissé was shifted out wide and had his attacking threat compromised to ensure balance in the team. With Remy, however, things could be different.
The Frenchman is arguably more suited to playing out wide than he is up front. He enjoyed better stints on the right than he did through the middle for QPR last season, obtaining a WhoScored.com rating of 6.59 as he scored 4 goals - one of which was a penalty - in 10 appearances as a centre-forward, compared to averaging a rating of 7.05 as he netted twice in 3 starts out wide. Whilst providing added goal threat from out wide than the likes of Yoann Gouffran, Jonás Gutiérrez or certainly Gabriel Obertan, he will retain balance in the side and allow Cissé to play through the middle.
However, Remy alone is unlikely to be sufficient investment in the north east. Newcastle often looked devoid of creative ideas last season, particularly when without key man Cabaye. The France international created 53 chances last season (only 33 of which came in open play); a full 19 more than any other Newcastle player despite the fact he only made an appearance in 26 of their 38 league matches. All too often, Newcastle players would look to go long. Only the oft-criticised Stoke City (16.2%) and relegated Reading (15.7%) played a higher proportion of their passes long last term than the Magpies (15.7%), while Newcastle's goalkeepers launched 83% of their passes long up field. That might have resulted in the only assists for Premier League goalkeepers last season - one apiece for Robert Elliot and Tim Krul - but few would argue that persisting with long ball football is at all worthwhile on the off chance it sometimes produces results.
There remains a misplaced faith in the January signings Newcastle have made. The period after the likes of Gouffran, Mathieu Debuchy and Moussa Sissoko arrived produced a brief upturn in results. Newcastle went on a run of 4 wins in 6 matches, including back-to-back wins over Aston Villa and Chelsea, their only successive league victories all campaign. Yet results quickly returned to their previous state as Newcastle stagnated and won only 2 of their final 9 games of the season; an unconvincing, late 1-0 win at home to Fulham and laboured, comeback victory at QPR, results which sandwiched 3-0 and 6-0 home defeats to Sunderland and Liverpool.
There is little reason to believe those newcomers will fire Newcastle up the table and into contention for a top half or European finish next season. That is, realistically, where a club of their size and stature should be. Alan Pardew and Joe Kinnear are hardly a duo that are going to fill the current players with confidence that the team is going in the right direction, nor are they names to attract the best in the business on the pitch. More in the way of new signings are needed at Newcastle and soon, but maybe changes higher up within the club should be prioritised.
All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings.
Ali Tweedale - follow him on Twitter