There is a school of thought that defines different team sports, according to whether the outcome of the team is more likely to be determined by the sum of its parts or by the competency of the best player (see the book The Numbers Game).
In the latter, the argument is that a single player can make all the difference to whether the team wins or loses – basketball is one of these sports where a single player such as Michael Jordan or Shaq O’Neill can have such an influence on the game, that the rest of the team surrounding them don’t have such a major impact on the final score.
Football, however, is thought to be firmly in the first category, with the logic being that you are only as strong as your weakest link – you can have the best player in the world in your team, but if you haven’t got a solid, organised and hard-working team for them to slot into, then it counts for nothing. Think about Zlatan getting to the World Cup Final with Sweden, or Shearer winning the Premier League with the Newcastle team of the early noughties!
This made me start thinking about all of the comings and goings under Benitez this summer. In my opinion we’ve made good, solid signings but there’s no one or two signings which really stand out as star signings, perhaps with the exception of Matt Ritchie.
In fact, the ‘star’ players of Wijnaldum, Sissoko, Townsend, Janmaat and Krul have all gone. Therefore, is Rafa trading the game-changers at the top end of the squad with filling the weak link gaps at the bottom?
Now that it’s been a couple of matches since the transfer window has closed, I thought it would be interesting to compare the weakest links from our matches last season, with those of this.
The players used in the first two games since the transfer window this season, Derby and QPR away, both of which were won with lots of goals scored and none conceded:
Sels, Anita, Lascelles, Clark, Mbemba, Dummett, Gouffran, Hayden, Shelvey, Colback, Ritchie, Perez, Mitrovic, Diame, Gayle.
Whilst the line-up doesn’t include the ‘star internationals’ mentioned above, there are no players that stand out as obvious liabilities, even with the rotation needed between the starting elevens due to having two games in four days and despite players like Hanley, Lazaar, Murphy, Yedlin and Atsu not getting into either starting eleven.
If we compare that to the first two games following last season’s transfer window when we played West ham away and Watford at home (both lost), the players in the starting elevens were:
Krul, Janmaat, Mbemba, Coloccini, Haidara, Colback, Anita, Sissoko, Wijnaldum, Thauvin, Cisse, Perez
As is to be expected, there are some of the same players listed for both seasons, but there are two things that stand out here.
Firstly, there are established internationals in there in the shape of Krul, Janmaat, Sissoko and Wijnaldum, who on their day can win you games.
The second point is more telling though, in that there are players in there that stand out immediately as having the potential to lose games – whether that be the waning powers of Colo or Cisse, the lack of experience of Haidara, or the lightweight lack of effort from Thauvin. Couple that with squad players like Taylor, Williamson, De Jong, Obertan, Riviere & Marveaux and I think you see my point!
Obviously, given the drop to the Championship it will be difficult to compare the relative successes of these two squads – however, even if Newcastle were playing in the Premier League this season I’m not sure I wouldn’t be tempted to lose potential (if inconsistent) game-changers such as Moussa or Gini, if it means getting rid of the weaker links such as Riviere, Marveaux, Thauvin, Cisse and Williamson – replacing them with the more consistent and solid performers we have seen Rafa bring in.
With that in mind, I’m looking forward to see how this squad performs next season in the Premier League, as much as this season in the Championship.