What’s Plan A?
Losing Yohan Cabaye has clearly damaged fan and player morale at St James’ Park but, more pertinently, his departure has robbed Newcastle of their attacking focal point.
Cabaye’s vision and crisp passing set the tempo in Alan Pardew’s side and Newcastle now look worryingly short of ideas without his creative input. Coincidentally or otherwise, Newcastle had gone seven and half hours without scoring in the five games since Cabaye’s departure until Loic Rémy’s late winner bucked the trend.
Joe Kinnear’s inability to sign a replacement in January means that Alan Pardew will have to make do with the options at his disposal between now and the end of the season and Luuk de Jong’s arrival hints at a return to a more direct approach – whether that’s just a short-term solution remains to be seen.
Pardew frequently speaks of creating a fluid footballing side and at times his team have impressed with some dynamic attacking performances, but his default setting when things aren’t going well seems to be to lump it long and hope for the best.
As disheartening as it was, the loss of the team’s talisman shouldn’t necessitate by-passing the midfield altogether as the likes of Tiote, Sissoko, Anita and Co. all have plenty to offer.
It’s up to Pardew to find a system that plays to their strengths in the remaining months of the season and to lay the foundations for next year’s campaign now. He needs to decide what his Plan A is and to implement it now using the players at his disposal. He can then augment and improve it in the summertime by signing a proper replacement for Cabaye.
Defensive Solidity Provides Platform for Win
While goals have been notoriously hard to come by since Cabaye’s move to PSG, Newcastle have also been extremely suspect at the back in recent weeks, shipping 10 goals in the three league games leading up to the Aston Villa match.
Their New Year slump coincided with the loss of Fabricio Coloccini to injury and his absence was keenly felt – especially as Mathieu Debuchy’s suspension meant that both Steven Taylor and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa were thrown in alongside Mike Williamson at different times, offering no continuity at all.
Coloccini was imperious on his return against Villa and was a calming influence throughout, while Williamson also had an excellent game. Both of them made vital interceptions and were assured performers during what was a very nervy affair. In a game low on quality, neither of them put a foot wrong and they provided Newcastle with the platform to win the game at the death.
Rémy’s Class Shines Through
While taking Loic Rémy on loan seemed like an astute bit of business given that his future was clouded by an impending court appearance, it has proved a double-edged sword.
The cruel irony of his impressive form this season is that each goal he scores makes him less likely to join Alan Pardew’s men on a full-time basis – something that Pardew acknowledged in his post-match interview.
Eager to make up for lost time following his petulant dismissal at Norwich, the Frenchman looked like a man on a mission against Villa and having fluffed a couple of good chances earlier in the game, his class and composure shone through as he smashed the winner in at the Gallowgate End.
Rémy is just the type of striker we need – strong, hard-working, skilful and clinical – and he also seems to have settled well on Tyneside, so it would be a pity if we miss out on him in the summer, but who could blame him if he does turn us down?
Battling Anita Sets the Tone
Sunday’s win came about in no small part thanks to Vurnon Anita’s industry and determination. The diminutive Dutchman harried and pressed Villa and led by example, getting stuck in and chasing lost causes and loose balls all afternoon.
While he may have taken a while to settle on Tyneside, Anita has now cemented his place in the side and is quickly becoming a fans’ favourite. His phenomenal workrate and impressive passing have seen him become a key part of Newcastle’s midfield and his influence has grown further since YohanCabaye’s departure.
While he may not possess Cabaye’s creativity, he is an impressive all-rounder and will surely be pivotal to Alan Pardew’s plans for Newcastle’s new-look midfield.
What Now for Santon?
Seemingly a favourite of Pardew’s since his 2011 arrival from Inter Milan, the manager has finally lost patience with the Italian after a series of inept performances and having withdrawn him at half-time in the 4-0 capitulation to Spurs, Santon was excluded from the squad altogether for Villa’s visit to St James’ Park.
While Paul Dummett looked nervy and unsure of himself at times, he grew into the game and it was plain to see that having a left-footer at left-back provided greater balance and structure to the side, while his long passing and dead-ball deliveries were far more incisive than Santon’s have been for a very long time.
Mathieu Debuchy may well leave this summer while it’s debatable whether the Moussa Sissoko experiment has worked, so there may well be two starting berths in the team up for grabs as well as if Pardew decides that Santon’s days at left-back are numbered.
Having turned 23 in January, Santon now finds himself at a crossroads. Recently deployed as a holding midfielder in an away game at Chelsea, Pardew admitted that Santon’s versatility is a great asset to have, but he needs to match that with greater awareness and application if he is to win back his place in the side.