Team Review: Newcastle United
During the summer before the season, Newcastle had sold many of its popular and key players such as Kevin Nolan and Jose Enrique; Joey Barton also left for QPR and Andy Carroll moved to Liverpool in the January transfer window. Many of the signings that were brought into the club were low profile and pundits and fans began to fear for the team. As we now know, Newcastle finished in 5th place; above Chelsea, and those low profile signings turned out to be great players; this post looks at the tactical and statistical side of things that Alan Pardew and his backroom staff implemented on pitch.
The first two games of the season were against Arsenal at St James' and Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. These were the first competitive matches that the fans would see Yohan Cabaye paired with Cheick Tiote in the centre of a 4-4-2 formation. This classic English formation was preferred by Pardew until the latter part of the season when Papiss Cisse was signed and Ben Arfa had started to feature in the first 11. The line ups were fairly consistent with Ryan Taylor playing as left back, Simpson as right back and Coloccini and Steven Taylor as the two central defenders. Gabriel Obertan, Peter Lovenkrands and Joey Barton were rotated in the wide right position while Demba Ba and Shola Ameobi held the front two spots.
The consistent back four provided was one the best in the league until Newcastle lost to Man City in mid November. This was also their first loss in the premier league; bettered only by Man City. The combination of discipline, composure and desire shown by the defenders provided the base and cover for the rest of the team. In Coloccini and Steven Taylor there was a classic no nonsense and ball player partnership; Coloccini ended the season with the joint highest pass completion rate in the Newcastle squad (with Davide Santon at 84.1%) whilst Taylor managed an average of 7.9 clearances a game. Taylor also proves his desire to defend by carrying out 2 blocks a game and was dribbled just twice in 14 games. Although Simpson may be seen as the weak link in the squad his performances were consistent; his season peak occurred when Ben Arfa was thrust into the team. Ryan Taylor at left back provided a threat from set pieces and crosses, but was found out by teams such as Spurs when a fast, natural winger would take him on. Newcastle stayed in the top 4 until the 3rd of December and only secured a 4 points from a possible 18 that month.
During December Davide Santon experienced his first string of starts for the club. Santon, a 6 ft 2 right footed left back started 19 games in his first season since signing from Internazionale. His marauding runs down the left wing were akin to Jose Enrique but Santon's concentration levels appear greater, and the ability to know when to get rid of the ball rather than playing his way out of possession must be appreciated. The addition of Santon also allowed Jonas to play further up the pitch as Santon is is better defensively than Ryan Taylor.
The main attacking threat during the first half of the season was through Demba Ba. The Senegalese striker arrived on a free transfer from West Ham where he scored 7 goals in 12 games. The front man finished the season with 16 goals in 32 premier league games, but only scored once since the arrival of his fellow countryman; Papiss Cisse. He was a key player throughout the season but a high amount of times he was dispossessed (2.5 per game) and total turnovers per game (2.6) show that he may have given the ball away too easily at times. Despite this, he is a strong and tall physical player that is also willing to track back and help out defensively at times, this can be seen in the latter parts of the season although his physicality can be highlighted in the away game at Stoke (in which he scored a hat trick) and the 3-0 home win over Manchester United.
As the season moved into January, Newcastle arranged to sign Papiss Cisse from the German team Freiburg in which he scored 37 goals in 65 league games. Alan Pardew changed from the standard 4-4-2 formation to the more modern and flexible 4-3-3. Throughout the latter parts of the season and during games the 4-3-3 would be adjusted to 4-5-1, 4-2-1-3, 4-2-3-1 or back to 4-4-2. During this period the Newcastle players really proved how good they were and how much potential the team has.
Cabaye and Tiote were joined in the centre of the field by Jonas, who acted as a defensive midfield player. This complimented the team fantastically; his determination and work rate for which he is known provided the team with more stability whilst allowing Cabaye to roam further up the pitch. Ahead of Cabaye was Ben Arfa of the right, Ba on the left and Cisse as the centre forward. Ba and Cisse cleverly changed positions throughout games to disrupt teams and help out defensively. Ben Arfa stuck to his right sided position, but would regularly be found in the centre of the pitch especially during counter attacks; the pace and strength of the front three during these counters caused problems for every team and provided a number of the goals scored in the latter stages of the season. The runs made by Danny Simpson on the wing dragged full backs away from the advancing Ben Arfa, which meant the was more space for him to cut inside on his favoured left foot. In the closing games of the season when Perch played as right back Ben Arfa was doubled up on and his threat was easily negated, however Ben Arfa ended the season with 5 goals and 5 assists from 16 games which emphasizes his importance to the team.
The central players are possibly the most important to this Newcastle team. Tiote; a strong and tireless defensively minded midfielder protects the back four. He averaged 2.8 tackles and 2.5 interceptions per game and also contributed with 1.3 clearances. His passion to win the ball can be depended on however he gave away 2.4 fouls a game and was dispossessed almost 3 times per game. Compared to the season prior to this Tiote had reduced the amount of cards he received however giving away fouls and possession in deep areas is an issue that must be addressed. His midfield partner, Cabaye is known for his passing ability and vision but actually finished the season with the most tackles of any player for any team in the league, with 111 successful tackles. His skills at reading the game are also top quality as he averaged 2.6 interceptions per game. His pass success rate 80.1% is also relatively high considering how high up the pitch he plays.
The addition of Papiss Cisse cannot be ignored; he scored 13 goals in 14 games and was the driving force behind Newcastle's push for a European place. Alan Pardew, a manager known for his passion for statistics and data has shown he is not afraid to change formation and the shape of the team and has taken responsibility for when it has not worked out (losing to Fulham 5-2 and Spurs 5-0 are prime examples). Keeping hold of the star players and increasing the squad depth for the Europa League are the main concerns for the summer, if the club can deal with them then next year may be just as successful.