Yet another year passes by and Newcastle United, a club that once captured the imagination of spectators across England, continue to look down the barrel and fight relegation. Although various factors may have contributed to this fall from grace, it is widely accepted that Mike Ashley’s approach to treat the club as another profit making channel is perhaps the most telling one. However, this was supposed to be a season where we change all that. The owner’s interview where he claimed that we will “…make our own luck”, followed by decent investment and a change in management had many fans believing that Newcastle may finally be going in the right direction. Are they?
Only time can tell but as of now, Newcastle have lost 11 of their 20 league matches and sit in the 18th position in the league.
So why aren’t Newcastle winning more games? Is it because they don’t have enough quality players? Is it because they don’t have a manager who knows the English game? Or is it because the players simply don’t care enough? In my opinion, none of the above is a factor. It is in fact, far simpler.
I believe that Steve McClaren has been guilty of playing counter attacking football too often, something the team adapted to during the Pardew days. Unfortunately, he does not quite have the players, who suit that style, anymore. Consider it for a moment. Pardew had players like Gutierrez, Cabaye and Ben Arfa at his disposal. The first worked his socks off to cover full backs, the second had the ability to pick out through passes even from deep within his own half and the last one could bamboozle any defence on his day.
Newcastle simply don’t have that team anymore. And hence, the gaffer needs to change the style of play to suit the current team. The players we have are not bad. In fact, on paper, we may well have one of the stronger sides in the league with the likes of Wijnaldum, Sissoko, De Jong, Krul, Janmaat, Mbemba, among others. This team also has two similar centre forwards like Mitrovic and Cisse and a couple of pacy attacking options like Thauvin and Perez. They simply need to follow a system that suits their styles of play. And here’s what, in my opinion, should be SMc’s starting 11:
Before you raise your eyebrows, laugh out loud or close the page in disgust, let me explain my thinking here.
The back 5 (including the goalie) kind of pick themselves. Coloccini is definitely not what he used to be, but there isn’t really any doubt that he is still one of our best two central defenders. Even this season, his performance against Manchester United was perhaps the best from a defender in a black and white shirt. The only point of contention is the left back position. Dummett is perhaps still recovering from injury, but he is definitely short on pace in a position that needs regular venturing into the opposition’s half. Colback (and Anita) have played LB before. Colback also has the stamina to be up and down the pitch for 90 minutes and can cross the ball with his left foot. Dummett has proven himself to be much better at the CB role and should be used as a cover for Coloccini and co. Of course, this is just till Haidara is fit or we buy a quality left back.
The defensive mid-field position is where SMc is getting it wrong. He is playing two players who are good at protecting the defence but extremely limited at finding cutting passes. Till the time the club can find a deep lying playmaker like Cabaye, it is pointless playing two (near enough identical) players in that position. Tiote can be world class on his day – which isn’t nearly frequent enough – and Anita has been quite impressive this season. I think it is time that the coach trusts that 4 in his defence + 1 in deep midfield is enough to negate oppositions’ threats. Personally, I feel either one of them can do the job.
Wijnaldum showed against Arsenal how effective he can be at the centre of midfield. Playing just in front of the defensive mid, he is a very adept technical player that enables him to get the ball out of his feet and feed the strikers or wingers. His work rate and late runs in the box can also be utilized to help out Tiote or test the opposition goalkeeper, respectively. Sissoko, although not traditionally a winger, has the pace and skill to go past opposition full backs. Wijnaldum and him together would also enable SMc to keep the system very fluid, switching between the two to from time to time. Ayoze has great legs on him, and would be perfect as a cover for our LB as well as someone with pace and a little bit of flair down the wings. I am sure most of you have noticed that this season, the left hand side of our midfield has offered almost nothing, going forward. This can change with Perez in there. For those of you who may doubt this, i believe the Arsenal match last weekend speaks for itself. Both Perez and Wijnaldum faired reasonably well, and can only get better if they are given consistent roles in the side.
Up front, I feel De Jong and Mitrovic can be a really strong partnership. Both are exceedingly good in the air and can hold up the ball, something that will be needed to get the wingers up the field. De Jong is also very clever and with Wijnaldum at his side, can find his way out of a crowded mid-field, something that has been missing in Newcastle’s play off late. Also, De Jong in the number 10 role can make way for a pacy forward like Perez (or even Thauvin once he adapts to the Premier League) tucking in at striker when Mitrovic is out injured (or suspended!). The problem with pairing Perez in the number 10 role is that he is too dependent on Mitrovic to win the first header. With De Jong, that responsibility will be shared by the front two.
With this line-up, players like Thauvin, Obertan and Marveaux can also be employed more effectively. As you can see from the line-up, the 3 offensive mid-field players (Ayoze, Sissoko, Wijnaldum) all have the legs and technical ability to switch between themselves and can take up either of the front two roles when substitutes come on. In essence, Newcastle need to move towards a more possession based footballing side, with good players on the wing, creators in the midfield and finishers in the box. They need to move away from the counter attacking brand of football and adopt a style that gives their best players a chance to express themselves. This way, we will have much better chance of winning than if we keep trying to outsmart the opposition and field players that we feel will stop them from scoring goals.
Do you agree? Comments welcome.