Newcastle United Post-Mortem And Why Not More Matches For Shola?
Supporters of Newcastle United never get an easy ride, that’s for sure, and this season has proved no different. An outstanding (and probably overachieving) season last year had the Geordies purring at seeing their beloved team back near the summit of the Premier league. Twelve months later it’s a case of ‘where’s it all gone wrong?’, again. So let’s have a look into exactly what has been the cause/causes of what ultimately (although unlikely…), could end up in another relegation to the Championship.
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With a fifth place finish and a season of many highs, including a 3-0 roasting of Manchester United, the Newcastle board were expected to raid the transfer market in a bid to strengthen a good quality team. I say ‘team’ because that is my point, Newcastle overachieved only due to the fact they had few injuries throughout the campaign. The squad ‘on a whole’ was not good enough to finish fifth, yet they did due to good fortune along with some good attacking flair from players such as Cabaye, Ben Arfa, Cisse and the now departed Demba Ba. Along with fifteen clean sheets kept by a solid defence, with Coloccini and Krul having fantastic seasons.
Two weeks before this campaign began I wrote an article entitled ‘Buy Or Go Backwards’ and although it’s nice to be right, I had hoped that I had misjudged Mike Ashley’s plans for the upcoming season. It is of course old news, that the club didn’t invest enough in the squad especially with a Europa league campaign on the horizon. A few players to nurture along with Vurnon Anita was all that arrived at St James’ Park. Yet this can’t be overlooked in this article, as it is the main reason the club is having a traumatic year.
The imminent departure of Demba Ba was never addressed, leaving only Cisse and Ameobi as recognised Strikers. While the back four was a strong one, it was exactly that, a back four. Along with a midfield mixture of flair and power, it was also short of depth and has since been proven.
You have to go way back to October 2011 to see a goal direct from a Newcastle corner. While Ryan Taylor is having an absolute nightmare with injury, Yohan Cabaye is the only man that can really put in a decent cross. Although that counts for nothing when you only have two players who can get up and get a head on the ball from the corner; Steven Taylor and Fabricio Coloccini. Alan Pardew is not blind and can see the problem, he’s looking to address the situation during the Summer window and Newcastle have been linked with the signing of 6’4″ Portuguese Under-20 International Amido Balde, amongst others. A much taller group of players is needed to win the second and even third header, (this is generally where the goal comes from).
The size, build and physique of players is changing. You need to have three to four players at 6’3″-6’4″ who have the aerial ability to challenge, something Newcastle is sorely missing. Stopping the amount of goals conceded due to the lack of height would surely have had NUFC sitting safe at this stage of the season.
The Long Ball
Believe it or not, Newcastle are now ‘the long ball merchants’ of the Premier League. Yes, more than Stoke, West Ham and any other club you’d like to mention. Add to this fact that Shola Ameobi has started only eleven times this season, of which only four have been in the Premiership makes me wonder, why?
A midfield far too often bereft of the skills and the dictatorship of Cabaye, along with Cheik Tioite being at best, a shadow of the man that hustled, harried and literally scared the living daylights out of central-midfielders last year, has been a huge problem in the engine room.
No control in the centre of the field, too much pressure having to be absorbed culminates in Newcastle launching the ball upfield to relieve pressure. And people wonder why 5’11″ Papiss Cisse’ doesn’t look like he’s enjoying his game, being marked by the ‘above mentioned’ 6’4″ muscle bound defender. Players like Danny Simpson don’t help the matter, with his severe lack of imagination and his thinking that he can play ‘bend it like Beckham’ balls up the wing. Hatem Ben Arfa’s lack of appearances has also been a huge loss in terms of retaining possession, while also relieving pressure.
Injuries – Is There A Reason Why?
Newcastle are again sat at the top of the injury table. Long term victims include/have included Ryan Taylor, Hatem Ben Arfa, Tim Krul, the list has been endless all season. Why is the treatment room always hectic?. Over-training players could be a reason why, although there are some ‘impact’ injuries which you can’t account for. Season after season (with the exception of last year) Newcastle have had the same problem….not being able to pick their strongest team for weeks, if not months ,on end.
Any Premiership side would suffer hugely with the loss of talent Newcastle have had to deal with this term. But a team that did not invest in fresh talent was always going to suffer immensely with the challenge of European football added to the mix. Again this boils down to the lack of investment in a team that was thin, to say the least (one of the smallest squads in the league). Hamstring, groin and stress injuries all come about by playing too many games in a short space of time. You may say that players are paid so much money these days they should be able to play 2/3 games per week, but this is not the case. The modern footballer is so highly tuned that anything can give at any time, for no apparent reason. Think of a Formula 1 car, and you’re on track to understanding how temperamental a footballer’s body actually is.
Alan Pardew has come in for some severe criticism from sections of fans this season, the main complaint being that they fear he is tactically inept and out of his depth. I think not. Pardew has had his hands tied behind his back for the majority of the season, due to all I have previously written above.
Pards, along with the fans, had also wanted fresh faces on the training ground and said as much in numerous interviews during pre-season. Now whether he expected Mike Ashley to deliver is another matter. So Pardew and his assistant John Carver set out their stall on the training fields at Benton, knowing what they have to work with.
It didn’t take long for the manager’s plans to start to fall apart, Ryan Taylor being sidelined for the entire season as early as August in a Europa league qualifier. If that news was not bad enough, the fact that Danny Simpson was to be his replacement, was. This is the reason why it all gone pear shaped for Pardew, injuries!
Make no mistake about it, Manchester City would not have won the title last season had they been missing their top 3/4 players for the majority of the campaign!
What’s Needed To Fix The Problems?
First and foremost there needs to be a massive investment in the team during the Summer, Ashley has realised his mistakes and I’m betting he rectifies the situation in the window. Certain players need to move on for the sake of the club, as well as their own careers. A new striker is a must, Cisse can’t carry the can alone up front, as has been proven since Demba Ba departed in January. As I touched on earlier, more height is required throughout the side, players in the Sissoko mould.
Patience from the fans would also be gleefully accepted by the manager and players alike. No player wants to see and hear fans calling for him to be axed. The fans pay their money, buy the shirt and are entitled to their own opinions, although it does not help, not one bit.
Maybe Pardew should have a look at his backroom staff, not being able to score from corners all season long cannot only be down to a lack of height in the box, surely?
Last but not least, Newcastle need to look after the players in a better way, injuries are having far too big of an impact on the side and need to be addressed. Whether it’s down to the training methods, or just players having to play too many games in a short space of time I’m not sure. Although there will not be any European football next year, only Premiership…..hopefully.
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