By Michael Pashley
There’s no hiding the fact that Newcastle have made a somewhat disappointing start to the new campaign. Currently sitting in 12th place in the Premier League and eliminated from the League Cup already has got a lot of people questioning the tactics employed by Alan Pardew.
The worry amongst Toon fans isn’t totally uncalled for. Home defeats to Swansea and West Ham are certainly unsettling and I can’t think of a Premier League performance that Newcastle have put together that has been encouraging. Although losing to Swansea and West Ham were bad, I think it was the manner of the defeat to Manchester United that has hurt us the most; 3-0 at home and the performance was dreadful. There was no pressing, no creativity and poor defending. We were miles away from Manchester United and it must have had some of the players asking questions.
I think Alan Pardew is spot on when he says there has been an overreaction to our current form. Less than 22,000 at the game against Maritimo suggests the fans are unhappy with how the team are performing. Yes, the league table doesn’t look great but we’ve had a tougher start than last year. If you look at the first ten games of last year our toughest games were the home games against Arsenal and Tottenham, both of which we drew. This year we’ve already played Tottenham and won. On top of that we’ve also had tough games against Man United and Chelsea and got very credible draws away to Everton and Liverpool – both games we lost 3-1 last year.
Because of the good start Newcastle had last year it gave the team momentum and something to build on. If you’re undefeated after three games it makes you more confident and determined to go four games undefeated and then five and six, and so on. We haven’t had that this year, partly because of our tough start.
Alan Pardew won the Premier League Manager of the Season and LMA Manager of the Season last year and rightly so. Who can honestly say they saw us finishing in the top 5? We even had a mathematical chance of Champions League football on the last game of the season. I had us down for a relegation dog fight. I was not looking forward to the opening games last year and yet we got off to a flyer. A draw with Arsenal and then beating the mackems on their own turf.
Pardew showed some masterful tactics last season. He used Obertan in away games against teams like Stoke and stuck him on the halfway line when he knew we’d need someone to help take the pressure off the defence. Not everyone’s favourite player, but at least he has the pace to carry the ball out of our half and let the back four get organised. Ben Arfa was left on the bench and had to prove himself. He’s always been a crowd pleaser but now he’s an even better player – he’s learnt to pass the ball. It’s a tactic Pardew mirrored successfully this year. Demba Ba was left on the bench against Everton and came on determined to prove a point, bagging himself a brace and hasn’t stopped scoring since.
This year when we’re losing or drawing who can Pardew put on? Shola? Sammy? Ferguson? All good players but if you’re going to hit the dizzy heights of last year we need a game changer. That’s why it was obvious we needed to spend in the summer. Now Cabaye is injured, if Ben Arfa is injured for lengthy spell too then who is realistically going to create something against the better teams? It is a worry.
Newcastle’s biggest problem is that the first eleven pick themselves. Do you think Pardew wanted it that way? No chance. Throughout the summer he was saying how confident he was of getting players in. He was quoted saying:
“It’s out of my hands now. We’ve done the selection process and put a number of players in front of Derek and Lee, and now it’s about getting the players who can take the club forward.
“It’s never easy at this level. But the one thing I do know is that we’re getting the right noises from the players. As has been reported, the players want to come.”
Pardew identified players he needed. The players wanted to come. Llambias failed to strike any deals with anyone except Anita (excluding youngsters Bigirimana, Good and Amalfitano). Who’s fault is that? Pardew can only do so much. He knew and, from recent quotes regarding January, still knows, that the squad needed to be built upon. Extra games meant that more injuries were a certainty. Llambias made things worse when he said we only need eleven purples. Who’s pushing Cabaye, Ben Arfa, Coloccini for a first team place? Nobody. And the players know it because Del Boy said we only have eleven “grade A” players and it’s obvious who they are. I’m not usually the kind of guy who says spend for the sake of spending… but we needed to spend.
Injuries and suspensions have not been kind to Newcastle either and have left Pardew with little choice in his tactics and selections. Debatable red cards for Tiote and Coloccini aside, we’ve had just about every one of our top players out due to injuries. Krul, Coloccini, Steven Taylor, Cabaye, Jonas, Tiote, etc have all been injured. That’s like Man City being without the likes of Hart, Kompany, Lescott, Silva and Toure. If you take the sheer volume of injuries we’ve had out of our team and put them into ANY other team they would have struggled too. Is 12th place looking so bad now? I’ve not even included the injuries to squad players like Ryan Taylor (who scored a lot of important goals for us last year) Perch, Ferguson, Sammy and Shola. This Premier League season Cabaye and Tiote have never started and ended a match together – not one. Our central midfield duo, arguably the most important part of the team, has never been consistent. No wonder the team isn’t gelling. If Cabaye gets injured or Tiote gets a daft red card can we blame the current manager of the year?
We’re through to the next stage Europa Cup despite playing tricky teams like Bordeaux and Bruges with a young team. You could see what Pardew was trying to do at the start of the competition; sensibly playing younger players, bleeding them into the first team, getting them experience. It could have worked well too if it wasn’t for the copious amounts of injuries, but now both the league and Europa Cup are a mish-mash of players. Again, not his fault.
For years Newcastle have wanted consistency. Not to be run like a circus and not to hit headlines for the wrong reasons. Giving last seasons top manager an eight-year contract was a step towards that. Support Pardew; when he’s had his first eleven fully fit and up to speed he’s worked wonders. Don’t become one of those embarrassing fans that give a knee-jerk reaction to a handful of poor results. Surely European football has given him the time he deserves. With a fully fit first team and hopefully (Llambias willing) a few new signings in January, this season can still be a good one. We just need to keep the faith.
Do you agree with Michael? Can this season still be a good one?
Author bio - Michael is 28 and works in Gateshead for Worldpay. His favourite memory is Kevin Nolan’s chicken dance after completing his hat-trick against Sunderland in our 5-1 demolition of them; “Still a legend in my eyes!”.