A regular poster’s opinion of where things are going wrong.
Be it injuries, suspensions, fatigue or lack of experience, there are many excuses that we`ve heard from Newcastle manager Alan Pardew over the last five months as to why his side has plummeted from Champions League contenders to relegation candidates in just 21 games.
Despite a promising start to the season, Pardew finds himself deep in the mire as defeat after defeat has seen his side out of both domestic cups and at the wrong end of the table. During all this, Pardew has consistently backed his players and even stated after the embarrassing 2-0 loss at Brighton that he “can`t fault them for effort.” So if he can`t fault his players for effort – why do they continue to lose?
Many will say our players aren`t performing and that the blame lies with players like Krul, Coloccini and Tiote. Sure, some of our top performers have struggled to repeat last season`s breathtaking form. However, I actually feel for them. Krul and Colo have so much work to do on a match day and in recent games Colo appears to be the ball winner in midfield, the right back and also the other centre half! Without the help and industry of Yohann Cabaye, Tiote has a lot of weight on his shoulders and has clearly struggled with the extra responsibility.
Many will blame the lack of summer recruitment and that has to take some of the responsibility. Ashley knew we needed reinforcements but refused to deliver on promises and stuck to his status as a perennial gambler. At the same time, the players we have might not be on Barcelona`s scouting list, but they should still be good enough to clear bread and butter balls away from danger – or beat Patrice Evra in the air!
For me, the problems on the field originate off the field and I think it`s not down to Pardew`s available squad or his players underperforming, but down to how they`ve been conditioned to play over his 24 month tenure.
The training sessions are a little different than under Chris Hughton and Assistant Manager John Carver lifted the lid midway through last season and explained how Pardew spent four of their five day training week working with the players in a defensive capacity, before the squad became Carver`s to concentrate on attack.
“Every Monday he [Pardew] comes into work having compiled a defensive report on the opposition. That`s his project, working with our video analysts to provide players with the best information. That takes care of Monday to Thursday. On Friday it`s my turn when we look at ways to get at opponents. Put simply, Alan concentrates on how not to lose and I then find ways to win.”
Despite that statement being fairly old, I`m led to believe that the training regime is still very much the same this season as it was last, with Carver and Stone assisting Pardew during the week as he looks to build from the back before taking charge of attacking affairs on Fridays.
The most intriguing part of this statement is that Carver is given a single solitary day to work with players on how to win the next game. Working with players like Yohann Cabaye and devising ways to unlock a defence that might contain a Vidic, Hangeland or Kompany while also working on attacking set plays and final third passing. This would certainly explain why Newcastle have scored just once from a set play in the 21 league games they`ve played this term – and even that was a deflection! It would also go some way to explaining why Newcastle have completed less passes in the final third than any other team in the Premier League this season, as most of the squad`s schooling is spent playing the ball from the back.
But all is not lost, surely practicing defending on the training pitch for 30 hours a week means we`re tight at the back? Of course not. Unsurprisingly, we have one of the worst defensive records in the league and away from home we`ve conceded more than any other PL club, a staggering 25 goals in just 10 league games. It`s not just the number of goals we concede that is embarrassing, but the manner in which we concede them. Whether it be Walcott waltzing through the back line or comedy corners where players the size of Smurfs are scoring headers, the Magpies` defence is a shadow of the guard that finished last season with a club record number of PL clean sheets.
Now Pardew isn`t a man to shy away from the camera. He`ll take any and all available opportunities to dish out his daily drivel to the media, but that`s his skill. That`s why Ashley employed him. All fans know he doesn`t manage the club, just the squad he`s given. But Pardew can`t come out and take credit to the press when things are going well and then shirk the blame when the same department is in disarray. He claimed last season that he worked with the defence during their best defensive year but distances himself from the problem during our worst, so what can Pardew do to put things right?
If the first step to conquering your problems is admitting you need help, then Pardew needs to drop his ego and admit he`s out of his depth. His backroom staff is neither big nor good enough to cope with the task at hand and he needs more coaches. Ashley and Llambias are keen to follow the ‘Arsenal Model` but the Gunners have 18 members of their backroom team, including three dedicated coaches for the first team, two Goalkeeping Coaches, a Head Fitness Coach and even a Football Analyst working pitch side 5 days a week down in Shenley. In stark contrast, Alan Pardew has just 3 first team coaches working with him at Darsley Park on a daily basis; John Carver, Steve Stone and Andy Woodman, the latter dealing solely with the clubs goalkeepers. We have other coaches over at the Little Benton Academy, but they`re few and far away.
Mike Ashley needs to hire a dedicated defensive coach, ideally someone fresh out of the game that`s played at the top level. If Pardew could bring in a coach with the playing pedigree of Coloccini`s compatriot Gabriel Milito, it would do wonders on the training pitch. He would instantly command the respect of the other players and instil confidence in the team. Any football fan with half a brain can see that Cissé can`t time his runs and is constantly offside, so bring in a striking coach to work with him and nurture his talent. He`s a rough diamond that has the potential to be one of the world`s best, he just needs more than Pardew, Stone and Carver to bring it out of him.
Pardew also needs to rethink his training schedule. It`s either not working or it`s out of date and the other teams have cottoned on to his tactics, forcing his new one-dimensional brand of football. He needs to dedicate more time to set pieces, as Norwich have proved this season – it`s where games are won and lost. There`s no point in Pardew having “That defender that gets you 10 goals a season” he so openly craves if the set piece taker can`t clear the first man from a corner!
Newcastle United are a good side with good players and you don`t go from being Champions League contenders to relegation candidates overnight. As the saying goes, ‘form is temporary, class is permanent` but if the team doesn`t start showing it`s class soon the Europa League hopefuls might find themselves forming part of the line-up in a different league.