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Aug 8, 2014

Defensive concerns for the Toon

The ESPN FC crew breaks down Newcastle United's squad and debates whether they can reach the Europa League next season.

With many new faces joining the club, it has been a refreshing and novel preseason for supporters of Newcastle, but one area that still has not been adequately addressed -- and remains the obvious weak link -- is in defence.

Newcastle scored just 43 goals in their 38 league games last season; only eight teams managed fewer. Accordingly, offensive options have been strengthened through the recruiting of Siem De Jong, Facundo Ferrerya, Emmanuel Riviere and Ayoze Perez.

However, the 59 goals they conceded last term -- only five clubs let in more -- gives greater cause for concern especially, aside from Mathieu Debuchy leaving for Arsenal and Daryl Janmaat coming in, because the personnel remains the same.

Specifically, the real problem comes in the middle.

Fabricio Coloccini has struggled for most of the past two seasons and needs a solid classic centre-half alongside him in order to play his natural game. Unfortunately for Newcastle, Mike Williamson is probably the best option in that position from the current players available.

Don't get me wrong -- I admire Williamson for the personality and professionalism he's shown in turning around his Newcastle career since he looked to be surplus to requirements last summer. He's a trier but is nowhere near good enough for a top-10 Premier League side.

Williamson is the latest subpar Newcastle player to have developed a cult following among the supporters, and I've spoken with people who genuinely believe he's the team's best defender. I don't see it at all, however.

He played more than anyone else at the heart of the defence last season and often struggled. Williamson offers size and aerial ability, but his mobility, composure and footballing skills are short of what Newcastle need in order to progress. All too often the ball leaves his feet in a long and aimless manner.

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Steven Taylor was a fan favourite once upon a time, but his constant injuries have left him a long way short of the potential he once displayed. He can be a liability too, as demonstrated when he was idiotically sent off against Manchester City in last season's opener. His erratic defending leaves supporters and his fellow defenders on the edge of their nerves, and it's hard to believe that just 17 months ago, Roy Hodgson included him in an England squad.

Newcastle have been trying to offload Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa over the summer, so his days at the club look to be numbered before they even really got going. His misuse has been bizarre -- he's played more times out of position at full-back than he has in the middle, and he hasn't been given time to adjust to the English game as Coloccini was after a turbulent debut season in 2008.

Even if Yanga-Mbiwa had shown he was up to it, however, I don't see him forging a successful partnership with Coloccini. They're too similar in their styles and don't complement each other at all, as was demonstrated in a disastrous opening 45 minutes at Goodison Park last season, when Everton raced into a 3-0 lead.

That leaves the youngsters. Curtis Good would have played for Australia at the World Cup if not for injury, and he's highly rated Down Under, but Alan Pardew is always reluctant to involve youngsters on a regular basis. Meanwhile, local lad Remie Streete has yet to make the breakthrough that the manager once predicted he would.

The signing of Jamaal Lascelles is an interesting one, but his yearlong loan back to Nottingham Forest means he won't be providing a solution any time soon.

With one week to go until the season kicks off, time is short for Newcastle to plug those defensive holes.

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