The Carver press conference headlines focused on the line that there are only 13 senior players to choose from in the build up to the Newcastle United v Arsenal match. Anyone would think we were unlucky.
Is it a case of bad luck, bad planning or bad management?
The first thing I always look for when hearing of a depleted squad is the injury list. For this I turn to the physioroom website which document injuries among clubs. In the build up to the Arsenal match, we see that Newcastle United are joint first with Palace, 8 injuries each.
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It is interesting that both squads have been managed by Alan Pardew this season, injuries being a perennial problem during his time in the North East. It would be easy to jump to the conclusion that it is down to him but looking back, we experienced the same under Allardyce. Could it be an English coaching problem, after all, most of the English managers in the Premier League come from the Howard Wilkinson years in his role with the FA.
Injuries have also been a problem under other managers, Shearer having a long lay-off in his Newcastle career, likewise Owen and many more besides.
Going back to the physioroom list, it is not just a problem for Newcastle. 11 teams have an injury list that includes 5 or more players. At this stage of the season, injuries are to be expected. It is interesting to see which teams have fewer than 5.
3 of the 9 are coached by younger English managers; Dyche, Pearson and Monk. Of the others, 6 occupy the top 7 positions in the league. Only Arsenal of the top 7 clubs have more than 5 injuries.
The nature of injuries throughout the league are predominantly to lower limb, joint or muscle. This is only to be expected from a contact sport where the legs do the work. As such, any club would be expected to plan for a rate of injuries through the course of the season. Of course timing can vary from club to club but there is an element of predictability although the rate can be improved with coaching techniques.
Returning to the physioroom list, there are a couple of omissions. One is goalkeeper Elliott, who would be expected to warm the bench in any event. The other is Ferrerya who has not played all season. Also, of that list, Aarons is not one of the ‘senior’ squad. It is noted, however, that Aarons was previously rushed back from injury, potentially contributing to the long-term problem. Any allegation of bad management would have to be laid at Pardew’s door, the coach merely being complicit.
Of course, 2 more of the senior squad are unavailable through suspension. Cisse has a 7 game ban after his spat with Johnny Evans, Coloccini having a mad moment in the Everton fiasco. Does this bring us to bad management?
Certainly, both of those suspensions can be argued to point to a lack of discipline, so next stop is a comparison with other clubs and disciplinary records in the Premier League.
The 1,079 yellow cards issued in the Premier League this season means that there have been an average of 54 per club. Newcastle United have received 52 of those so are pretty mush average. Once again, rates of cards received can be predictable and improved through discipline. As for red cards, yes, Newcastle’s tally of 4 is above the average of 2.7 but not significantly so. We can’t claim bad luck on that score.
So if the rate of injuries is predictable, likewise the disciplinary record, let’s take a look at planning.
The biggest misses will be up front and in central defence. It will not be forgotten that at the start of the season, we only had 2 players who had reached a double figure scoring record in the Premier League for Newcastle, Steven Taylor and Cisse. Cisse himself spent much of the last campaign recovering from a lower limb injury, that continuing recovery meaning that fewer than half his appearances this season have been from the start.
Also in the striking department, the only senior purchase was Riviere, the most expensive spectator in the Premier League. Our second top scorer is midfielder Perez, himself an Under 21, with on loan Ferrerya yet to feature. Arguably, de Jong may be considered a striker but despite his quality, his fee probably reflects a background of absence.
In central defence, the season has featured Coloccini, Steven Taylor, Williamson and the converted left back, Dummett. Of those, both Taylor and Williamson have experienced long-term injuries previously. Mbiwa was sent on loan, now sold. Potential cover, Santon, was also sent on loan and has now been sold. Yes, Lascelles was bought from Forest but he has been back in Nottingham for the season.
This will not be the first time this season that the club will have suffered from what appears to be bad planning. Of course when both Krul and Elliott were injured, poor Jak Alnwick (himself now on loan) was exposed due to our squad being one of the few without 3 senior experienced keepers.
With 12 midfielders in the 25 man senior squad, it would surely be churlish to point out that a few have had something of an injury record and that Vuckic has also been sent on loan.
If there is a problem, then planning is surely the biggest contributory factor. The above average rate of unavailability due to injury or illness in part stems from a transfer policy which looks at the bargain basement and soiled seconds parts of the market. Shortages in key areas of the field are surely due to an unbalanced purchasing policy, with the lowest rate of financial investment of any club in the Premier League.
Yes, Carver can carry some of the can for taking the job without securing investment but the buck stops with the man at the top, either Charnley who also failed to secure a top interim or permanent coach, or the owner himself, surely the tightest multi-billionaire in world football.
Yes, we can expect some new players in the summer, now that Carver appears to have extracted an apology from those above him. The big question will surely be whether the sales of players such as Sissoko, Krul, Janmaat and Tiote provide sufficient to strengthen the squad?
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