What’s going wrong at the Toon?
More than a quarter of the 2012/13 Barclays Premier League season has gone by, and the league table still looks like it is only five games old. West Bromwich Albion are soaring high, probably too high for their own good at fifth on the table, and shockingly, the club that finished at that position, seem to be completely out of the picture. What is going on at St. James’ Park? Why is Newcastle United, the club that had Manchester United leaving them with their tails between their legs after handing them a 3-0 beating at home, languishing in tenth spot? What are Alan Pardew’s men doing wrong?
At this stage last season, Newcastle were unbeaten and had collected 25 points out of a possible 33 and sitting pretty in third position, with only the Manchester duo above them. Fast forward a year later, and Newcastle, having already lost three games already – and two of them at home – are struggling to take off from where they left off last season with just 14 points from the possible 33. That’s 19 points dropped already. And this may be mainly attributed to the malfunctioning of a defence that was clinical through most of last season’s league campaign.
But most of all, Tim Krul’s not been the same imposing and highly reliable figure he was all through last season, and his brief absence and some rusty showing by Steve Harper between the sticks has only worsened the case. The Magpies have already conceded sixteen goals in eleven games. Fabricio Coloccini has given enough reason for Pardew to consider bringing in a replacement for the burly centre back and Newcastle skipper.
Food for thought: The team has been captained by four other players this season. And Coloccini’s signs of wear and tear is only emphasized by the red card received against Liverpool. So, inconsistency under the bar; uncertainty in front of it. But you could blame a lot of that on injuries. Both Krul and Coloccini sustained injuries on national duty, and this problem did not stop at the back. Cheick Tiote and Danny Simpson, two vital fixtures in the Newcastle line-up, were both ruled out for close to a month. What has made matters worse it the fact that due to injuries and other problems, Newcastle have had to field as many as seven different full-backs this season, including Simpson, Santon, Perch, Anita, Ryan Taylor, Tavernier and Ferguson.
So, it has been just bad luck and more bad luck in the first quarter of the season for Newcastle.
Then again, there is the attack to be considered. Twelve goals in eleven matches does not look like European success material. It rather reeks of the foul smell of mid-table. Surely, with the likes of the Ameobis, Ba, and Cisse upfront, and dazzling midfielders like Yohan Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa to boot, not to mention Gutierrez’s flashy runs and crosses, you would have expected the Magpies to be swaggering forth and destroying teams with their attack. Sure, the defence was weak against West Ham, but that doesn’t take anything away from the fact that none of the stalwarts mentioned above scored a goal. Demba Ba has matured into a much more complete player than he was last season, and Ben Arfa and Cabaye seem to be playing with more flair than ever, but they are lacking the bite and the killer instinct they had last season, with Ba providing it in the first half of the season and Cisse taking over from January until the end of last season.
But again, a lot of that can be ascribed to the current formation adopted by Newcastle. The 4-4-2 is not working as well as the 4-3-3 or the version of it that Newcastle United employed last season. On top of that, seemingly mindless substitutions at times when they are least required or least suitable to the situation has not helped Newcastle’s case one bit. The team looks out of steam, the manager out of ideas, and it wont be long before the fans are out of patience.
However, countless teams have been in the situation Newcastle find themselves in, after a good run in the previous season. All Newcastle have to do is calm down, give themselves enough time and space to recollect their thoughts, regroup themselves, start enjoying their football again, and they’ll be back in their groove in no time. They don’t lack quality, they just look off-colour and I think it will be just a matter of time before they get back to playing the game they maintained all through last season.