Six Reasons For Newcastle's Slump...

After the highs of last season, Newcastle are struggling in the current campaign and have won just one of their last seven PL games. Daniel Storey investigates...

Last Updated: 20/11/12 at 17:19 Post Comment

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There was a degree of inevitability about Newcastle's regression this season. Football loves to follow the principle of After The Lord Mayor's Show, and if there is any more effective tactic to put the mockers on success than an eight-year contract for a manager I'll be impressed. However, supporters will be concerned that, after losing just three games at St. James' Park last season, Saturday's home defeat to Swansea matched this total after just seven home matches.

This is not a crisis by any means, but there is an uneasy air of listlessness about Newcastle currently. Here are six reasons that explain the relative fall from grace:

1. Injuries
Newcastle's success last season owed much to the consistency of the club's starting eleven. Six players started thirty or more games in the Premier League, and Steven Taylor's ruptured Achilles tendon was the only significant injury concern.

This season, Newcastle's limited squad (in quantity as oppose to quality) has suffered from a series of setbacks. Ryan Taylor has been ruled out for the season with a cruciate knee tear, Steven Taylor has missed one month after straining a calf muscle, Yohan Cabaye has sustained a series of niggling knocks and may now be out until January, Sammy Ameobi missed the first two months of the season and Jonas Gutierrez is currently nursing an injured knee. Gabriel Obertan and James Perch were substituted in recent games with injuries, whilst squad players Haris Vuckic and Dan Gosling will not return to first-team action until the New Year.

Only three players - Demba Ba, Hatem Ben Arfa and Davide Santon - have played all 12 games thus far, and Newcastle's bench on Saturday (Shola Ameobi aside) had just 17 Premier League appearances between them. This is a squad stretched to its limits in November.


2. Suspensions
A small squad containing ten players aged 21 and under requires the established internationals to set the disciplinary example. Cheick Tiote's red card in the Tyne-Wear derby was at best over-zealous, but the lack of intelligence displayed by Fabricio Coloccini against Liverpool is difficult to forgive. It was borne out of intense frustration after the Uruguayan had tormented the defender, but the combined six-game ban between the two players significantly harms the performance of the side. Leaving Mike Williamson and Steven Taylor as the central defensive pairing, without being unnecessarily unfair, doesn't scream top six.


3. Europe
Europa League qualification is a double-edged sword. Newcastle fans were delighted to once again support their club on the continent (and over 5000 travelled to Bruges), but there is no doubt the impact it has on fatigue. Without overly labouring the point, these are stretched resources.

The Magpies have taken seven points from six games following Thursday night escapades, but the fact remains that should the club qualify for the quarter-finals in both Europe and the FA Cup (with no replays), this will be a 54-game season.

Sages on Tyneside voice an alternative effect of European qualification. Reports within the club suggest that much of Newcastle's success last season, particularly against the larger teams, came as a result of a full week's training with the players focusing on specific plans to exact against the weekend opposition. Thursday night football evidently makes little allowance for this, and inept goalless defeats to Manchester United, West Ham and Chelsea hint at such a theory. That does, however, do little to explain the defeat to Swansea.


4. Formation/Tactics
Last season, Newcastle predominantly used a 4-3-3 formation, with Ba operating as the principal striker before being pushed onto the left wing after the arrival (and subsequent form) of Papiss Cisse. This season Alan Pardew has often chosen to utilise 4-4-2 in an attempt to shoehorn both Cisse and Ba into the team. Cynics would say that words from Ba's agent as to the reluctance of the striker to remain at St James' in a left-wing role may have forced Pardew's hand, but it is clear that the experiment is not working.

If Pardew picks his best front six (Tiote, Cabaye, Gutierrez, Ba, Cisse and Hatem Ben Arfa) there is an obvious lack of width. Ben Arfa is provided with a free remit, and often requires two opposition players to stop him, but prefers to drift in-field, and has occasionally played in the hole behind a lone striker. Gutierrez can be effective, but a genuine winger he is not. Only four per cent of Newcastle's shots this season have come from inside the six-yard box, a real indicator of the problem (this figure is matched only by Liverpool, who also choose not to operate wingers, but at least play 4-3-3).

The apparent inability of Ba and Cisse to play as a successful strikeforce is worrying (the pair have never started together and both scored) and Pardew is left with few other options. Shola Ameobi has previously been seen as a joke figure on Tyneside, but his link up play (see his assist against Everton in September) often forges more understanding with Ba or Cisse than the two do with each other. Formations can be examined and analysed, but the importance of being ruthless is evident - in the 2-0 win over Swansea in April Newcastle had four shots. In the 2-1 defeat on Saturday they had 27.

Talking of tactics, one standout fact undermines the current lack of tactical prowess at Newcastle. The club have scored from just one of their last 270 corners, which is a frightening statistic. This is the only club not to have scored from any form of set piece this season, and that must change. On such effectiveness are places gained in this league.


5. Resolve
Despite the fantastic end achievement, there were times last season during which Newcastle stuttered. They had taken five points from eight games before dispatching United 3-0 at home in January, and had taken two points from four games before embarking on a six-game winning run in March when they conceded just one goal. Every time the wheels threatened to come off the Newcastle bandwagon belief and assurance were restored. Newcastle need another shot in the arm, having won just once in seven games and twice since the opening day.

Resolve is seemingly a dirty word to Pardew, revealed in the form of an alarming stat. In Pardew's entire tenure, Newcastle's record after conceding the first goal of the game reads as follows: P27 W0 D9 L18. In a season in which responses to being behind have become the norm (a third of all PL points have been won from losing positions), do Newcastle need to harden up that soft underbelly?


6. Failure to build on success
One of the most difficult aspects of football club ownership is gauging the right time to invest in players. Too much too soon simply creates an atmosphere of the mercenary (and Newcastle fans remember that particular stench more than most), but Newcastle's failure to prepare for a season in which the club would be fighting on multiple fronts has crippled the potential for further improvement.

The club signed four players in the summer transfer window. Romain Amalfitano is a raw 23-year-old French attacking midfielder (yet to make a Premier League appearance), whilst Curtis Good (19) and Gael Bigirimana (18) are both thoughts for the future. The versatile Vurnon Anita cost £6.5million, and without knee-jerking looks like Graham Carr's first significant scouting error. The Dutchman currently looks far from value for money.

Where was the established cover in central defence? Where was the proven winger to avoid farming forwards out of position? Why did Matthieu Debuchy, who would have seemingly walked to Tyneside, not sign? And where, fans are still enquiring, has the £35million received for Andy Carroll gone, when both Peter Lovenkrands and Leon Best were allowed to leave without any replacements found?

Instead, Newcastle have been forced to rely on the over-performers from last season, none of whom have been as impressive thus far. There are concerns that Ba, Cabaye and Tiote have all had their heads turned by summer interest, and when the most-proficient performers lose their drive, the only way is down. New impetus should have been provided to ignite the senior players once more, and inspire an otherwise youthful squad.

Pardew must cease being a yes man to the corridors of power at St. James', and instead realise that time is running out to avoid last season's comparative heroics being remembered as a flash in the pan.

Daniel Storey - follow him on Twitter

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