Throughout our…steady start to the season, I have tried to remain upbeat, with Newcastle still picking up points despite poor performances, things were looking ok. However, on Sunday during another thoroughly lacklustre performance we were found out, so what’s changed so dramatically from last year?
Few supporters expected us to reach the heights of last year but at times our home performances have been baffling. Against the likes of Villa, Norwich and West Ham we have started slowly and paid the price too often. The first thing that springs to mind is hangovers from Europe. Our record didn’t look too bad prior to Sunday’s defeat (two defeats, a draw and two wins after Euro matches) but now it is a worry, even though two of the defeats were against Manchester United and Chelsea. However, as Pardew has said, the teams are hugely different, only Krul and Williamson started both Thursday and Sunday this time. So surely fatigue can’t be a big issue?
Maybe then it isn’t an issue of being tired but a mindset. Continental hangovers have been an issue for a long time at Newcastle and with the press constantly banging on about them, it could have some affect. Remembering games against Alkmaar in the EUFA Cup under Glenn Roeder, being followed by abysmal away performances against the likes of Charlton, brings about bad memories. If it was just a mental thing surely we have the manager to sort that problem? Realising that it isn’t the tiredness would be easy, so maybe the issue goes deeper than the simplistic stance of a European hangover.
The issue can go deeper in the fact that we haven’t been able to put out a full team all season. For me our best starting eleven is: Krul, Simpson, Taylor, Colo, Santon, Jonas, Cabaye, Tiote, Ben Arfa, Ba Cisse in the 4-3-3 that was so destructive last year. Not once in the league this season has that starting eleven played. Bearing in mind that the losses to Manchester United and Chelsea this year are in contrast to victories in the respective fixtures last year, it was a shock to lose so easily. However looking at those corresponding games last year, the best eleven was far from available then.
Having those eleven players on the pitch would definitely help but are we getting the system wrong? Pardew seems to have reverted to 4-4-2 which clearly isn’t working. The 4-3-3 system led us to 6 consecutive wins and gave Ben Arfa freedom to roam. This year though we struggle for any coherency or fluency, surrendering possession with dizzying ease. The main worry on Sunday was the lack of ideas, the attacking play was very predictable and no one, not even Ben Arfa, offered anything different. So maybe it’s tactical, needing to allow players freedom while staying secure at the back.
As important as the system though, there is one underlying issue, the key individuals from last season aren’t producing. Who can forget Cabaye’s brilliantly accurate pass against Stoke? Or some of the goals Cisse scored, Tiote’s commanding play at times? Ben Arfa dazzling with every run? It all feels like a distant memory.
Ben Arfa shined early on this season yes but of late he has dropped away with average or even poor performances but still his ability to turn a game in seconds makes him undroppable.
Cabaye doesn’t seem to be dictating the tempo anywhere near as much as he was and those sublime passes we remember from last season seem to have gone.
Tiote well, he seems to have an issue remaining on the pitch and the likes of the daft turns on the edge of the area are sneaking back in when he is available. Once more though, knowing what he can do also makes him hard to drop.
The main mystery though seems to be Pappis Cisse. Last year he was full of confidence, seeming able to score from anywhere as well as playing a huge part in our team game. This year both have vanished, his finishing erratic, his team player staggered and clumsy, where has this confidence gone?
The lads should have been on a high after finishing in the top 5 last season and with the manager who got them there, signing a new long term deal. Players should have had their heads up but how poor the performances are is hard to believe.
Getting individuals such as Cabaye playing well again will return fluency to the side and that will bring more confident performances and results, we need to do this soon if we hope to be in that challenge for Europe. Swansea at home now feels must win (very much like West Brom did three weeks ago) let’s hope the players rise to that challenge.