Newcastle United – Champions…Of The Long Ball
Playing in the Europa League with a small squad and various key players missing for large parts of the season has definitely harmed our league form this year.
Yet many Toon fans believe we should still be doing far better with the players we have in our squad, rather than scrapping for premier league survival. Pardrew clearly hasn’t optimised the resources he has had available, he has gone wrong in two key areas…
This season Newcastle average a league high of 70 long balls played per game; that’s 3 more per game than second placed Fulham and an amazing 7 per game more than long-ball merchants Stoke. There is nothing inherently wrong about playing long balls provided it plays to your strengths, yet it clearly isn’t ours. Demba Ba is good at winning balls in the air and holding the ball up but he hasn’t played for us since December. Cisse is a good player but he is no good at winning balls in the air, so why continue to play so many long balls? Most of our attacking players like Cisse, Marveaux, Ben Arfa, Cabaye, and Gouffran are more comfortable playing the ball on the deck, so why not play to their strengths?
(To feature like Gary, send in your letters/articles for the magazine/website to [email protected] – write about anything NUFC related – past, present or future)
Upon the departure of Demba Ba, Pardew admitted that playing Ba and Cisse together didn’t really work this season. A noble admission of course, but why wait until the departure of Ba to publicly admit the plainly obvious? Everyone could see that playing Cisse out wide didn’t work; so why not drop him for a proper winger while Ba was in rich scoring form? When you play as a wide forward in a 4-3-3 you have to track a full back up the pitch, why ask a number nine to do this? Look at the second goal Theo Walcott scored against us in the 7-3 defeat against Arsenal, Kieran Gibbs left him for dead with a simple one two then squared for Walcott to score. Clearly making a number nine like Cisse defend in deep wide areas is just begging to be exploited by the opposition.
Secondly, in our home defeat to Reading, Pardrew inexplicably deployed Shola Ameobi on the right wing. Shola is a player who divides opinion among fans; he is decent in the air and good at holding the ball up, not exactly the attributes of a winger. He wasn’t quick enough to get from the wing to support attacks down the middle or to track his fullback up the pitch. Again why put players in a position where they can be exploited and can’t play to their strengths?
Jonas Gutierrez has predominantly been used this season as a wide forward in a 4-3-3 (as opposed to playing in the middle 3 last year); again he isn’t suited to playing that high up the pitch and naturally drops off to shield his fullback rather than stepping up to press.
Forgotten in our 4-2 home win over Southampton is that it was 2-2 until the talented youngster Luke Shaw went off on 57 minutes. Prior to his withdrawal through injury, Gouffran, Cisse and Sissoko would press the defence but because Jonas naturally sits deeper, our front press is often ‘doglegged’ and there was always an outball to Shaw at left back to bring the ball out into the midfield zone unchallenged.
The same thing happened in our home defeat to Man City with Zabaleta always available as an outlet to begin attacking forays into our half unchallenged by Jonas who naturally wanted to sit off him. Zabaleta ended up with an assist. Again why make it easy for our opposition to play?
It seems to me Pardrew is a manager who wants to accommodate players rather than picking a purposeful team that will take the game to the opposition.
Against West Brom, Steve Clarke brought on an extra striker to force us back into our own half; the response from Pardew was to hang on and then bring Shola on and play long balls as an outlet. Why not bring Ben Arfa and Anita on instead and try to keep the ball?
Perch is a much improved player and a valuable squad member, but the fact that a clogger of his type is preferred to a technical ball-retaining midfielder like Anita says it all about Pardrew’s reactive nature. This season he has a tendency to deny the agency of the players, hanging on for a slice of luck rather than taking a proactive approach to pick up 3 points.
Like a Mayan chief, he is ordering the sacrifice of our talented players in favour of hoping that the footballing gods will bestow a fortunate bounce of the ball upon us. With the technical quality in our side we should still be comfortably in mid-table despite our injury list and European exploits.
We need to stop accommodating players and play a proactive team with a distinct game plan that suits the talents of our players.
Let’s hope Pardew isn’t sacrificing our premiership future.
You can follow Gary on Twitter @rph50
New issue of The Mag out now, or order online now for single copies and subscriptions.
If you would like to feature on The Mag, submit your article to [email protected]