Newcastle United enters Sunday's match versus Fulham at St. James' Park with - dare we say it? - not much to lose. After an unlikely four points sending a mixed-up XI against vengeful Arsenal and transfer-rich Sunderland, United is almost certain to remain in the top half of the league even with a defeat, and could rise as high as the top of the table with a lopsided victory. But the top half would be a mirage without reinforcements before the transfer window shuts midweek. While reports indicate a deal is imminent to sign what would be the club's only XI-worthy left back in the person of PSV's Erik Pieters, we aren't resting easy until Newcastle outlasts what should've been an avoidable last-minute chicken fight with the continental clubs that have what we so desperately lack. We know they need the money; they know we need the player. Tick, tick, tick - is that a clock, or a bomb? We'll soon find out.
The French media continue to report that Lyon left back Aly Cissokho remains a possibility for Newcastle should the Pieters deal fall through. Watching Lyon host Montpellier Saturday afternoon on American television, it was head-shakingly apparent why Newcastle prefers Pieters despite Cissokho's flashy skills. Cissokho played almost no role in the match, as Montpellier peppered the opposing goal even after being reduced to 10 men in the second half, deserving far better than a 2-1 loss. The performance did nothing to dispel fitness questions about Cissokho first uncovered two years ago during a failed transfer to AC Milan and outlined here last week.
The Dutch press, by the way, is having a bit of fun in print at the moment with the English press (including the Newcastle papers), which have been running photos of Swedish striker Marcus Berg, pictured at right, and calling him Erik Pieters, pictured at top. The resemblance isn't exactly uncanny. Perhaps it's a Freudian error, as Newcastle does need a striker as well, with the most widely reported possibility at the moment being Brest starlet Nolan Roux (profiled with video in our summer transfer guide).
As thin as Newcastle may be at striker, it's not as thin as what the club survived with during the latter half of last season. We could soldier on until January not signing a forward; we can't soldier on at all not signing a back. The season may hinge on whether PSV and Lyon are more convinced of that than Newcastle's management as the transfer countdown rolls. In contrast today's match feels almost inconsequential. Enjoy it as a sabbath to rest up for a critical week.