Newcastle finished in a very impressive fifth place finish last season, drawing plaudits from across the footballing World. After a recent dip in form and expectations, Pardew appeared to have brought Newcastle back to the upper echelons of the footballing elites, with one eye on potential Champions League spot. Memorable victories last season included an impressive 2-0 victory at Stamford Bridge as well as a big 3-0 win at home to United.
However, things have not been quite so good this season. Newcastle have struggled with the demands of Europa League football, as well as the fact that they did not really strengthen as well as they should have done in the summer, leaving the squad particularly light. Mike Ashley arguably used the fact that the club held onto their big stars, as a way to mask a lack of investment in playing staff. Newcaslte now are suffering from a lack of depth, given the demands of Thursday night football, particularly light up top, with just Ba, Cisse and the Ameobi’s to choose from. Yesterday’s defeat to Southampton represents their third loss in three league games, with another impressive league finish looking unlikely.
One major issue has been a problem of tactics at Newcastle. The pairing of Cisse and Ba looks genuinely problematic, with Pardew arguably needing to drop Cisse, as the two look incapable of playing together. The reason for this is that a 4-4-2 does not suit Newcastle, when they went with this against United, earlier this season, they were ripped a part in the midfield in the first twenty minutes which ultimately cost them. Two men in centre-midfield is just far too open in the modern game, with most sides opting for three players in this area. It also unsettles Newcastle as it means Ben Arfa has to play a more reserved role as a left/right midfielder, which doesn’t suit him.
Alternatively the side set up with a sort of lop-sided 4-3-3 formation. Gutierrez tucks in to form a centre midfield trio with Cabaye (now injured) and Tiote. Ben Arfa shifts into a wide right position, with Ba central and Cisse wide left. The problem with this is that Cisse is not natural at playing that wide role. The issue is two-fold, firstly he doesn’t provide enough cover for his full-back, because he is a striker. Meaning that Santon can be left woefully exposed by overlapping runners. It also leads to Cisse cutting inside too much and getting close to Ba, leaving an imbalance in the side, again meaning Santon has extra work to do on the overlap. One solution would be to drop Cisse and bring in a wide player, more suited to playing this sort of role. This ties into the problem of a lack of depth in the squad, as with Cabaye injured the side look short of options and will surely need to sign a player in January.
Newcastle have not started THAT badly, but things are not as good as fans might have expected following such a successful campaign last year. In truth they are suffering from the curse of the Europa League, which is testing an already stretched squad. The Ba/Cisse problem also doesn’t look like going away, they have only scored once in the same game, and both players weren’t on the pitch at the same time. Both are central strikers and in the modern game, you cannot fit two such players into the same side. Man United for example opt for a support player (Rooney) and a central striker in RvP. This is the new sort of blend. Shifting Cisse outwide is an accommodation that is not working and Pardew might be better off looking for other options wide.
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