The January transfer window is almost upon us, and Newcastle seem almost certain to lose Demba Ba to Chelsea, with the Blues having reportedly taken advantage of his low minimum fee release clause to make a move for the Senegalese striker.
In isolation, it looks like a disaster for the Magpies, losing their top scorer for the reason in the middle of a disappointing season in which he had been one of the few high notes. Yet despite the loss, Newcastle's impressive transfer policy means they can still come out of the window a better side than they were before.
The 2012 incarnation of Newcastle United has two considerable problems: Firstly, the inability to field their two best strikers in their best positions and play their best formation, 4-3-3. Secondly, a thin squad with perhaps a bigger decline in quality than any other team in the Premier League between first choice and second choice: a few injuries and Cheik Tiote becomes James Perch, Hatem Ben Arfa becomes Jonas Gutierrez, and Papiss Cisse becomes Shola Ameobi.
Individually, those problems are bad enough, but they exacerbate one another and combine into a catastrophe greater than the sum of its parts. It's made even more of a mess by the fact that Newcastle's injuries have come to defence and midfield, meaning that fielding Cisse and Ba together up front becomes a necessity to make up for the shortfall elsewhere, but also requires them to play 4-4-2 with midfielders who are inadequate to do the job in a midfield three, let alone in a duo.
Pardew's solution to this so far has been to play Papiss Cisse on the right wing. It's a rubbish one, with the striker possessing no attributes that are of benefit in the position, and leaving his greatest one - his finishing - marginalised. So Demba Ba leaving would at least have one immediate effect: Cisse could return to his proper position and Newcastle could line up with round pegs in round holes once again. It doesn't make up for Ba's departure, but it's a silver lining.
What this means, however, is that Newcastle have an opportunity to rebalance their side, and to a lesser extent their squad, in the transfer window. The signing of Mathieu Debuchy appears secured for a bargain fee, which solves the problem right-back position excellently. A second mooted transfer is that of Loic Remy, capable of playing either on the wing or as a striker. Although it comes with the caveat that he hasn't played that much this season, it looks like another astute signing for Newcastle which fits their needs perfectly.
All this means that, combined with the return of injured players, by the end of January Newcastle could send out the following team, in 4-3-3: Tim Krul; Davide Santon, Fabricio Coloccini, Steven Taylor, Mathieu Debuchy; Vurnon Anita, Cheik Tiote, Yohan Cabaye; Hatem Ben Arfa, Papiss Cisse, Loic Remy. That would leave the likes of Mike Williamson, Sylvain Marveaux, Jonas Gutierrez and the Ameobi brothers to be options from the bench.
On paper, with just those two signings to cover for Ba's departure, Newcastle look a lot stronger. In reality, they still have the problem of their squad simply being too thin. Newcastle were utterly rotten in their 7-3 defeat to Arsenal, but were also suffering from injuries to Anita, Cabaye, Ben Arfa, Coloccini, Williamson, and Steven Taylor, among others. That's their problem, but if they can get their injured players to return for most of the rest of the season they have a first-choice team that is easily one of the top seven in the league. Boosting their numbers and options can wait until summer, provided they can convince the likes of Cabaye and Ben Arfa to remain in a team that finishes in mid-table. Last year, Newcastle's gamble on a small squad worked brilliantly, but this season they've paid that debt with interest.