Alan Shearer on why Newcastle can stay at the top end of the table

By Alan ShearerFormer Newcastle striker and BBC Sport pundit
Newcastle striker Demba Ba
Ba has scored more headers than any other Premier League player this season

I didn't expect Newcastle to make such an exceptional start to the season, and I don't think anyone else did either.

Alan Pardew's side are third in the table after 11 games, unbeaten and only six points behind leaders Manchester City. They are playing with freedom and confidence which is great to see and they definitely deserve to be where they are.

The big question is, can they stay there? I hope they can, and the more I see of the Premier League this season, the more I think they can stay near the top of the table. I don't think they will end up finishing third, but they can definitely make the top five or six.

After the international break, the Magpies have got three tough games coming up in a row against the rest of the top four - Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea - which some people might think will be the end of their run.

But that trio will not relish playing Newcastle either, because they will have had them watched and they will have seen how well they are playing right now.

There are lots of theories why Newcastle are flying - that it's because they have a settled side, are well organised at the back, or that they work hard - but I think it is a combination of all of those factors.

Some big names and big personalities left when Kevin Nolan, Joey Barton and Jose Enrique departed in the summer but the players they have got now are giving everything they have got, and they are playing for each other and for their manager.

They have got pace and ideas coming forward and are defending very, very well too - with great discipline - and it's not very often in the past 15 or 20 years that you could say that about a Newcastle team.

The only real doubt is whether they have got the strength in depth in their squad to sustain their form throughout the entire campaign.

I'm sure Pardew would tell you he would have liked to have signed another couple of players in the summer, and he will probably try and get them in the January transfer window too. But there is definitely money to spend, which is another reason to be positive.

And Pardew definitely deserves credit for how well they are dong, as well as his players.

Newcastle's defendingIn 2011/12In 2010/11
Tackles per game21.5517.53
Clearances per game31.5526.97
Fouls per game11.7312.45
Goals conceded per game0.731.50
Saves to shots ratio77.14%61.74%
Shot on their goal per game3.644.08

At the back, Fabricio Coloccini has particularly impressed me with his energy and work-rate and I think he has played a huge part in their success. The goalkeeper Tim Krul looks a top player and obviously Demba Ba's goals have stood out as well.

Newcastle owner Mike Ashley got a lot of criticism when the last transfer window closed in August for failing to spend some of the £35m they got from Liverpool for Andy Carroll on a new frontman but I wasn't surprised by that because of the number of strikers they had on their books already.

They have got five or six strikers fighting for two places and they know they are out if they don't produce the goods. That is a huge incentive to do well.

Ba's form has surprised people but he did well for West Ham last season and he has got a decent goals per game ratio. He struggled when he first came to St James' Park but he has settled down now and he is a key example of why they are doing well - he is a player who is full of confidence, not afraid to try things and, of course, scoring goals.

The longer that continues throughout the whole team, then the better chance they have of staying in the top four.

Another strength at the club at the moment is their scouting network, which has developed a knack of finding a string of talented players in France who can quickly adjust to the Premier League.

Yohan Cabaye has come in from Lille over the summer and made an excellent start to the season while last year it was Cheik Tiote who had a big impact.

From tactics and results to scouting and team spirit, it just seems everything is going well for them at the moment, but that is down to planning not luck.

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