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Balancing The Flanks Is Key To Newcastle United Success

7 years ago

So, a couple of weeks into the season and Newcastle United’s Alan Pardew already finds himself floating down the creek without the proverbial paddle!

Criticised by fans and journalists alike, and with sections of the St. James Park masses already calling for his head, Pardew now finds his plan one in tatters, with the news Siem De Jong is unlikely to feature until Christmas.

We all knew Pardew would be banking hugely on this modern 4-2-3-1 formation and his new ‘number 10’ adapting quickly to the Premier League, scoring and/or creating the goals he hoped would lead his team to a better finish then last season’s mid-table obscurity…

Well, as we’ve seen over the start of the season, this doesn’t seem to be working – with poor passing going forward and general positioning issues up front, as well as our defence being overstretched and under protected – Pardew has more than a few selection issues to address.

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I think the thing that is annoying most of us on the terraces about this style of playing is the lack of final quality balls into the box, plus the absence of close support for the front man, which despite tis often leaves our increasingly ageing and immobile backline of Captain Colo and Iron Mike (or Silent Mike as I call him) struggling to cope with any sort of direct pace or balls being played over their heads.

That being said, I reckon I have a solution to Alan Pardew’s problems… the key is sorting out the flanks!

With De Jong and possibly Jack Colback out too, after he reported back to Tyneside from the England squad injured, the battle for central midfielder places ends up a two horse race; with only Anita and Sissoko fit. So getting the right defender / attack combination on the left and right becomes the key to creating chances for our supply starved front-line. Whether Pardew opts to play with two up top, or one in behind, remains to be seen with De Jong out, but either way, this isn’t the area I believe he should be concentrating on…

Think of the squad as a muckle jigsaw; each individual piece needing to slot into place for the image, or in this case – team, to be defined as complete. Some pieces just don’t fit naturally together and the picture will never look complete until  the correct bits are in the right places…

Take for example our flanks, left and right. We are blessed with a good number of wide men (or those considered so by Pardew) – both in defence and attack; Janmaat, Santon, Haidara, Dummett, Gouffran, Cabella, Obertan, Aarons and to a lesser extent Sissoko, Adam Armstrong and Ryan Taylor. Now, as well as splitting that list into defensive and attacking options, let’s also split that list into players who tend to tuck inside to create space or look for a ball to feet, and players who naturally hug the touchline and look to go past the last defender and get the ball in – you still following me? Good, let me explain further…

First let’s look at the defenders – we have in Janmaat and Haidara, attacking full-backs with great engines; always looking to go outside and hug the touchline to offer support to wingers, while also offering options to midfielders who get their heads up and look for the man in space.

The issue with that is often both go forward leaving our centre-halves exposed. This wouldn’t be such a bad thing if the team had a match fit and on top of his form Cheick Tiote in the middle of St. James’ Park to offer pace, as well as his defensive sixth senses giving  additional protection.

In Santon, we have a good engine but predictable outcome going forward, as he always looks inside onto his natural foot and on the rare occasion he goes outside he often gets outmuscled. In Paul Dummett and Ryan Taylor we have two players who are slightly more defensive minded – we know Taylor offers great delivery, from both open play and set pieces, and will offer good defensive cover at left or right back but is struggling with fitness / injuries and tends to favour an inside route as opposed o the touchline. Dummett is a local lad, so will always be both protected and overly criticised by fans. This season he started the first two games – reason credited as his better defensive capabilities then Haidara – he was roundly slated for his poor distribution and lack of penetration, but widely praised for his hard work and effective covering.

Now, think further up the pitch. The emergence of young Rolando Aarons has been a huge breath of fresh air – a seemingly fearless, jet-heeled winger bursting with promise but wisely being protected by Pardew. Aarons is a touchline hugging type of player, with the pace to get round most of what the league has to offer by the way of right-backs.

Gouffran and Cabella are different types of wide men, but are very similar in their movements and general reading of the game – I would refer to them as space making players. Players who with their movement and quick footballing minds are capable of a sharp turn of pace, a few step overs and a smart short ball – either into the front man’s feet or the on-coming run of a full-back.

Obertan is Obertan – capable of looking stunningly good and horrendously bad in the same 6 seconds. Sissoko and Armstrong can play on a flank, but Moussa’s power is better suited inside and young Armstrong should be playing on the shoulder of the last man, like Ayoze Perez – rather than being chucked on the wing for the last five minutes, as that isn’t gonna benefit his progression…

Reet, back to the jigsaw banter – to get the bits to fit together properly at NUFC, Pardew has to address how to piece together his flanks so he gets not only the right delivery into the front men, but also gets Colo and Silent Mike the right amount of cover until Tiote is ready to start kicking shins again.

On the back of his recent game changing display at St James’ Park, I think Pardew has to start Aarons in the next game – but who does he drop to make space, how does he re-jiggle his personnel and who does he pick to back him up defensively?

On the right, let’s face it, you can pretty much guarantee that if Darryl Janmaat is fit he starts at right-back – that is a shoe in, with either Ryan Taylor or Santon when fit, or Big Vurn, offering cover for injuries or cup-ties. Janmaat’s style of bombing forward complements both Cabella and Gouffran in front. He will find space either outside to be played in and cross himself, or he’ll create enough of a distraction to drag away a left-back and leave Gouffran and Cabella room to get to the by-line and cross themselves.

On the left, I feel if he is going to play Aarons from the start, he has to play Dummett behind him. Aarons and Haidara both love to hug that touchline and sprint past players – which is highly entertaining, but also will leave us short if between them they lose possession, which considering their similar ages and relative inexperience is going to happen. Dummett will sit deeper and tuck inside a wee bit more, offering better defensive cover and leaving that left side less claustrophobic, meaning more space for Aarons to exploit, getting the right combination is the key to success!

As we start getting players back from injury and match fit; Santon, Cisse, Colback, Tiote, De Jong, Ferrerya – we can look at a more expansive way of playing. But for now, we need to get down those flanks and get balls into the box for the natural goal poachers and only fit forwards in the club; current main man Manu Riviere and the young pair of Adam Armstrong and Ayoze Perez.

In conclusion, Alan Pardew needs to address not only the balance of his left and right flanks but also the balance the personnel, making sure of defensive and attacking cover on both sides – not just so wingers can go forward, but also Colo and Mike get the help their ageing legs obviously need…


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