Has the game plan really changed at Newcastle United?
Newcastle United have five wins in a row and as the manager approaches his fourth anniversary on Tyneside, is it really Alan Pardew himself who has risen from the dead?
As is customary after a win, Pardew claims that he, “stuck to the game plan and the players are carrying it out to the letter.” After a defeat of course, it is never his fault. It’s worth having a look and seeing what happened along the way.
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The key to this plan is to have two defensive midfielders, pull attacking midfielders back to form a bank in front of the back line, frustrate the opponents and score if we can.
Looking back through 2014, the game plan has always been the same. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
The same game plan has been employed in 30 games during 2014. The record for 2014 reads as follows:
Goals for 27
Goals against 50
Goal difference -23
That gives him a win ratio of 30% which compares favourably with the worst win ratios in our history, ahead of Ardiles and Kinnear. However, it puts him on a par with Richard Dinnis, the Lancashire PE teacher whose plans similarly worked on occasion and who also got us into Europe once.
Sometimes it seems that football laws are written by Sod and Murphy. The basic principle is that you can wait for ages for a bus and 3 come along at once. There is a rationale behind those statistical laws. Has there been behind Pardew’s run?
Some of the stats might be telling. Of those last 4 wins, Newcastle had over 50% of the possession in just one of those 4 Premier League games, against currently 3rd bottom, Leicester City. There have been 14 shots on target with 9 against. Taking away the 6-2 margin against Leicester, that leaves 8-7, the scoring margin being 5-1 in Newcastle’s favour.
The immediate reaction is to suggest that despite those shots on target, the Newcastle defence has done something to change things. Before the weekend, the 3 league wins had come when Steve Taylor started in defence. Having been sidelined after training on Friday, his place was filled by Dummett, Williamson being on the bench. The consistency in the wins has been a passionate local lad, brought up in Newcastle, who has added steel and determination to the centre of defence.
Before Coloccini’s headed 2nd of the day, the previous 9 goals had been scored by players with a grand total of 10 starts between them this season. This stat on its own gives clues to the bigger picture. 11 games gives 10% from a total of 121 starts. The players who have made a difference were not Pardew’s first choices at the start of the season.
Looking at those scorers in more detail; Cisse had been played on the wing leading to a lack of form. He was also allegedly touted around on loan in January, perhaps only lasting the summer transfer activity due to his broken patella. While 3 goals have come from Ayoze, Ameobi and Obertan accounting for the other 2.
Looking further, these players are either wide players or have been supplied from wide by Ameobi, Obertan, Aarons or Janmaat.
Therein could be argued to be the clue to the recent success. Those players have only really been in the side due to injury or poor form from the first choice team that Pardew had arrived at following pre-season. The addition of those wide players came about due to the injury to de Jong, Sissoko having taken up a central role. Local observers might justifiably add that Sissoko had looked very much at sea when playing wide, either right or left.
Certain local observers have often stated that they hope Pardew has learned from previous mistakes. Among those are rushing players back from injury. With his 2nd new fitness coach in 2 years, Pardew has rushed players back against advice; Cisse, de Jong, Aarons (also absent on Sunday) meaning that the fringe players, including Abeid, have had a chance, having previously been frozen out.
The next coincidence is that younger players have had to come in, providing an element of unpredictability for those managers who have been exposed to the first choice team. It might be argued that the combination of the young, less predictable, players, as well as those such as Sissoko and Cisse being played in their correct positions, have made a difference. Sissoko certainly seems revitalised in his central berth.
There is another angle which provides an explanation of why Sod and Murphy rule. This weekend’s results also provide an insight into form. Spurs and Liverpool slipping into the bottom half of the table, now mean that Newcastle have not won against a side currently in the top half of the league.
What Spurs and Liverpool have in common is that they are in Europe, as indeed are Manchester City who we beat in the League Cup, also with a minority of possession and also with a minimum of shots on target.
Pardew was also quick to point out the difficulties of playing in the Europa League during the season where he was fortunate to avoid relegation. Opponents’ involvement in Europe is conveniently forgotten as Pardew proclaims his game plan which has had 30% success in the league this year. It will be noted that City and Liverpool are struggling to qualify from their groups.
Of course, 4 Premier League wins in a row gives us a chance to gloat, we have a run that we have been waiting for all year. Whether it is maintained is down to whether Pardew has learned anything. The sceptics will refer back to the first time Pardew experimented with his ‘funnel’ formation, narrowing the pitch by having players on the wrong side cutting in, against Stevenage in his first FA Cup tie. As his early season first choices return from injury, will he revert to type?
Are we better than mid-table under Pardew? Is 30% or 100% the norm? Are Sod and Murphy on Pardew’s side at the moment (remembering Souness’s foe, Lady Luck) or is Pardew a born again genius? You and time can be the judges.
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