Kevin Keegan says Newcastle will have expected to lose Demba Ba
Kevin Keegan has told Newcastle fans not to worry about the sale of Demba Ba - as Yohan Cabaye is the key to the club's future.
The French international midfielder is sidelined with a groin injury and wasn't expected to come back until February, but he has begun light training and could be in the first-team fold again by mid-January.
His return would be a massive boost to manager Alan Pardew, whose side have been hit by injuries to other key players including Hatem Ben Arfa and Ryan Taylor and have been on a run of form which has seen them lose nine of their last 11 Premier League games.
The expected sale of top scorer Ba to Chelsea is another blow for Pardew, but ESPN lead football analyst and former Newcastle boss Keegan thinks that Cabaye's influence will steer the club to safety.
"Losing Demba Ba will be a blow but I think they would have expected that," Keegan said. "I think the biggest problem Newcastle have at the moment is the fact that Yohan Cabaye is injured. He is the most influential player there.
"He is the one that I would pick out above Papiss Cisse, above Demba Ba and he is definitely their key player and he'll be back in February. When he comes back I don't think Newcastle will have any problems. Once Cabaye comes back then you will see the old Newcastle and, especially at St James' Park, they will get the points they need to stay up.
"It will be looked on as a disappointing season for Newcastle but it came on the back of an outstanding season the year before and it was always going to be hard to live up to the levels that they achieved. So it will be a disappointment because I think Newcastle are a side with everybody fit can finish in the top half and challenge for the top six."
Papiss Cisse is expected to move into a central striking role for Newcastle upon Ba's departure. Having scored 13 goals in 14 games last season he is viewed as the perfect replacement for his countryman, but not by Keegan, who says Ba will be a tough act to follow.
"It is going to be a tough ask for Cisse to step up because Ba's record was incredible," Keegan added. "Cisse scored a lot of goals when he first came but they've dried up. I don't think Cisse is the same kind of player as Demba Ba.
"Demba Ba can play centre forward, he can score goals, he's very commanding in the air but he can also hold up the play and his performance against Arsenal last week was as good a performance from a centre-forward as you're ever likely to see.
"Can Cisse do that? I haven't seen it in him yet but he will now get the chance. Maybe he can. Maybe he has just been waiting for the opportunity."
Newcastle travel to Brighton in the FA Cup third round on Saturday lunchtime, a game they lost 1-0 in the fourth round of the competition last season. And Keegan believes another upset could be on the cards with the Championship side in play-off contention.
He said: "Will they have any problems at Brighton? Yes. They had problems there last year. They got knocked out. It's a tough trip, it's a long trip for the fans to make on the back of ten defeats in 12 so Brighton with home advantage will fancy an upset and for Newcastle it is a game Alan Pardew will dread so it is a big test for them. I would say there is a major chance of an upset there."
ESPN will broadcast 25 live and exclusive FA Cup matches this season, from the First Round through to the Final, ensuring fans won't miss any of the competition's unique drama and storylines.