Santon and Jonas – Time To Change?
With hamstrung Matthieu Debuchy hobbling off, Massadio Haidara near-assaulted and Mark Halsey deciding to have a Sunday afternoon off, it could be forgiven for not tactically analysing the Newcastle vs Wigan match.
However, despite the absence of Debuchy and Haidara, there’s possibly a blessing in disguise for Alan Pardew.
As Newcastle’s unfortunate streak of injuries continued, Pardew was left with no other option than to switch from his trusted 4-3-3 to a relatively unknown 3-5-2, which helped to unlock the true potential of Davide Santon.
Santon has looked weary at full-back recently, looking less reliable and more uncertain in regards to his defensive capabilities. Normally assured and composed at the back, there’s been a couple of occasions in which the fans have voiced their distress at how easily he’s been beaten on the wing.
Yesterday, he displayed all the attributes of a natural winger when asked to play in an advanced right wing-back role. He numerously skipped past Maynor Figueroa with relative ease, he crossed the ball into dangerous areas and scored his first goal for Newcastle with a wonderfully cultured finish. Most importantly, he showed no fear. No fear in taking on the opponents whilst playing a few risky, creative passes. Exactly what Magpies fans have desired in Gabriel Obertan.
With it looking increasingly unlikely that Obertan will gain any self-confidence as a Newcastle player, Santon has to be groomed as a future winger. His natural stride offers a refreshingly different approach on the right wing than Obertan’s reluctancy to take risks and attack defenders.
A stat to further claim Santon’s case as a winger, is that he holds the highest shot accuracy percentage in the entire Newcastle team, a highly impressive 85%. He’s also been credited with creating 28 chances, 3rd behind Vurnon Anita and Yohan Cabaye. He therefore has a great deal of creativity, can shoot and, loosely speaking, can score the odd goal. He’s showing more attacking promise than Gareth Bale did when he was playing left back for Spurs during his early days. It’s an extreme example, but we’ve all seen the effect a shift in position has had for Bale.
Pardew’s tactical shift also showed the positional future of Jonas Gutierrez. Asked to operate at left back, a position Diego Maradona thought was his best, he showed glimpses of superb defending.
When James McCarthy sprinted through on 41 minutes for Wigan, it looked inevitable that the Latics would be 2-0 up at half time. Jonas, however, made up huge ground and timed his tackle perfectly to deny McCarthy. This moment typified why Jonas’ days as a winger are over. He has unfortunately lost his pace which would often be crucial in setting up counter-attacks but he can still offer his services to Pardew. His stamina is crucial in preventing Newcastle being beaten on the break, however his pace has completely diminished leaving him relatively unimportant in regards to attacking play.
Whether Gutierrez would be a first-choice full back is questionable, but we witnessed yesterday that his defensive contribution is much more effective than his attacking contribution, as he’s recently seemed to have caught the dreaded Obertan bug.
With Santon, Pardew has a full back who has the potential to be a hugely threatening winger whereas Gutierrez, once an established winger, has the potential to be sculpted into becoming Santon’s successor at left back at the age of 29.
A shift in position for both players can reap rewards for themselves, despite being on the opposite ends of the age scale. Nevertheless, the unfortunate injuries occurred yesterday have showed that Newcastle have a great amount of versatility in their squad and if there is ever a time when all the players are fit, Pardew will be nursing a welcome selection headache.
David also has his very own blog and you can follow him via twitter @davidalexbowers
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