Can this change of formation cure Newcastle United St James Park blues?
Ahead of this weekend’s game at St James Park against Fulham, I have to admit that I have been feeling a little nervous. This season, Newcastle United have faced a problem that is a bit unique. As a rule, teams usually have decent home form but can’t seem to replicate that on the road, that is unless you’re one of the top sides.
However, Newcastle have found that not to be the case. We have generally performed better away from home and picked up some notable results, including wins at Burnley and Huddersfield and worthy points at Everton, Cardiff, Crystal Palace and Southampton. So where’s the problem?
People who know me often smirk and scoff at my attitude to away games. “Here he goes again!” they say, whenever I state that I’d take a point before a ball is kicked when Newcastle are playing away, but it’s true, I would. In the years when we had a decent team under Kevin Keegan and Sir Bobby Robson, the teams I would have been happy with coming away with a point from was a much shorter list.
I’m sure if we’d gone and played the big lads and claimed a draw more often, we would have finished those particular seasons in a much stronger position. Let’s not forget, we’ve travelled to many a top six side down the years and come away battered, with far better sides than we currently have at our disposal.
That simply doesn’t happen now. In Rafa Benitez, we have the most proficient tactician I can remember at the helm. Under Keegan, there was quite rightly no sense in going to any ground in the country to play for a point as we could match 90% of them in footballing ability, in fact, for a brief period we were better than just about all of them.
The only problem we had under Kevin and more so under Bobby, was we always had a somewhat leaky defence. Under Rafa this is now our strong point, we’re not perfect but I’m certainly far from worried with our back line no matter which system he decides to play.
Which brings me on to our form, home and away. Our St James Park form this season has been poor to say the least, yet our away form has been respectable enough. So what’s the solution?
Rafa sets the side up to be difficult to beat no matter where the fixture is played with the aim of still being ‘in the game’ against even the big boys going into the closing stages. Some teams go to Man City for example and get murdered, we lost by a solitary goal. I’m not going to go into the argument about goal difference being worth a point come the end of the season (although it certainly holds water) but it’s far more valid to say that getting spanked by half a dozen goals won’t be good for morale for even the most positive of people. I think it’s called ‘looking at the bigger picture’ and Rafa is definitely doing that.
The side definitely seems to play differently at St James Park and certainly starts with four at the back more often than not, while away from home it tends to start with five at the back and tries to be hard to beat. That old phrase of mine ‘Never knock an away point’ looks to be a regular policy of Rafa Benitez’ too.
So what’s going wrong at home then? The question I’d ask fans is, would they support the way Rafa sets the side up away from home, if it were to be deployed at St James’?
It would certainly be an unpopular move as it would be quite negative. Home sides are generally expected to go for teams on home soil but that doesn’t seem to work for us. Yes, most teams that rock up at our place will happily sit back and defend for 90 minutes, but if we were to set up with five at the back at home, would that pull the away side out of that mentality and allow us to hit them on the break in the same manner it does when we go away from Newcastle?
I’ve been a big advocate of 5-3-2 and I certainly feel it could work with Newcastle. With the obvious quality of centre backs at the club we certainly have the basis of a cracking side, we always look pretty good defensively but struggle when going forward. Salomon Rondon WILL score goals but he can’t do it all on his own. The midfield certainly hasn’t helped him out either and until Jonjo Shelvey went off against Watford, we haven’t look like creating anywhere near enough chances this season, Ki Sung-yeung has certainly improved that.
There was an article on The Mag this week that was defending Ayoze Perez to the hilt and I certainly see a half decent player in him. He’s not the awful shambles that some portray him, but he’s not consistently offering the help that Rondon needs to fire Newcastle to three points on a more regular basis, especially at home.
I’m sure it’s a quality No.10 that Rafa would like to sign (among others) but the club’s owner won’t sanction it as that costs substantial money. So in the meantime we will have to continue with the current style of play, hope to pick up more points on the road, and hope that the players we have can turn around our home form.
That is unless you believe that leopards change their spots and Mike Ashley sanctions big funds in January?
That may be an idea a bit far-fetched to foresee, however ,equally so is that there is a takeover in the pipeline . .
Merry Christmas and (here’s to hopefully) a Happier New Year.
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