Has Alan Pardew Got The Ability To Innovate?
Newcastle United is a club trying to compete on a level with others clubs who are willing to invest far more heavily in their playing squad.
The rights and wrongs of this can be analysed and disputed from a variety of viewpoints, but if Mike Ashley remains unwilling to compete financially with the rest of the established Premier League clubs, then perhaps the side needs to be more innovative on the pitch.
In recent seasons, Alan Pardew has dragged Newcastle away from the outmoded 4-4-2 and implemented the now popular 4-2-3-1, but perhaps it is time to change again to a formation which is increasing in popularity, 3-5-2.
There have been a number of recent examples of other teams using this system to good effect. In the domestic game Wigan were able to overachieve for years whilst under the stewardship of Roberto Martinez. This was particularly apparent during their successful FA Cup runs in which they were able to match up with far superior sides by packing their back line but countering at speed.
Hull also did this in the 2014 FA Cup final, whilst also using their three centre-backs effectively at set pieces where James Chester and Curtis Davies both scored in the opening 10 minutes, while the third, Alex Bruce, had a header cleared off the line. It can’t be ignored that Newcastle have lacked threat at set-pieces in the past couple of seasons and an extra centre-back on the pitch would provide a more consistent threat.
Cup finals may not be ideal matches to analyse in terms of long-term tactical effectiveness, given that they are one off occasions in which lesser teams are often highly motivated, but lessons can still be taken from them.
The World Cup has also shown that the formation is used successfully in other countries. Holland in particular impressed in their opening display when demolishing Spain 5-1, with wing-back Blind causing havoc, a man of the match display in the eyes of Alan Shearer.
The Netherlands took the idea of a wing-back providing an attacking role to a further extreme, by deploying Dirk Kuyt at Left full back in their final group game, and in the quarter final against Mexico. The individual may not have been ideal but it does emphasise the notion that the wing-backs must have attacking intent and incredible workrate. Playing with this system also allowed Robben and Van Persie to link up as a pair and pull the Spanish central pairing apart to create a lot of space.
Mexico also used the tactic, which enabled them to remain defensively solid while giving freedom to their forwards. The fulcrum of their side was their experienced captain Rafael Marquez who was primarily playing in the centre of the defensive line, whilst also moving forward into a familiar defensive midfield area when in possession. The extra centre-back allows one of the central three the freedom to step out of defence with the ball while having cover behind them.
This role should suit Fabricio Coloccini in particular, given his comfort in possession and range of passing. However, without a technically adept player in this position the fluidity of the team can be compromised. This was evident when Newcastle played 3-5-2 against Stoke last season but played Mike Williamson as the most central defender. Williamson was unable to link the play with the midfield and left Coloccini with fewer options when in possession at left centre back.
In terms of balance, the wing-backs are the most important players in a 3-5-2 system, so that it should be easy to transform from 5-3-2 to 3-5-2 depending not only on which team is in possession, but also in terms of what the opposition is doing and whether the team is looking to press forward or hold what they have.
The full-backs currently at the club are all filled with attacking intent and, with the requisite level of fitness, would be well suited to the wing-back role. Although Mathieu Debuchy seems likely to leave for Arsenal, the likes of Santon and Haidara are more comfortable going forward and Paul Dummett has a good quality delivery.
With attacking wing-backs it is therefore important that central midfielders can fill in at full back in the event of the side being caught in possession whilst high up the pitch. The defensive awareness of Cheick Tiote and the experience Vurnon Anita has of playing at full back, means that the team should be able to organise quickly whilst under swift attack.
Another advantage of this system is that it allows a team to accommodate a genuine forward partnership which has been on the wane lately. One player in particular who would benefit from this would be Papiss Cisse who has struggled as a lone striker, lacking the skill to link up play while at the same time offer a threat in behind the opposition. It is no coincidence that his best form when he first joined the club was while Demba Ba was often alongside him, offering a physical presence for him to work with.
Of course an overhaul of the formation has its downsides, and it would be a real test of whether Alan Pardew has the tactical ability to adapt the squad to a completely new playing style, and perhaps the constant pressure for results would mean that the time to adjust would simply not be allowed.
One way or another the club must seek ways to innovate in order to compete with those who are outmuscling them financially, otherwise they will continue to stagnate.
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