The odds on Newcastle United being relegated are now 14-1, according to SkyBet.com. That gives an idea of how poorly the team has played this season, and their three straight losses have been well-deserved. A fourth, at Stoke on Wednesday, would see those odds shorten further.
Alan Pardew has consistently blamed the Europa League for the problems in domestic competition, but he has regularly rested up to nine starters in Europe so it often seems like he is clutching at straws when asked about his team’s failures. A club with European ambitions shouldn’t be sitting four points above the relegation zone.
Since signing his eight-year contract, Pardew’s men have won just one of the eight games they have played, including two straight home defeats. Being outgunned and outclassed by Southampton isn’t something that the fans will take lightly, and the January transfer window is now the most crucial part of the season.
Newcastle are paying the price for making just one new summer signing, and the injuries they managed to avoid last season are now exposing their lack of depth at key positions.
Stoke, on the other hand, are unbeaten in their last 13 home games and emerged victorious against Fulham on Saturday. Despite the 1-0 scoreline, Stoke were dominant in a performance that denied Fulham the opportunity to settle.
Newcastle have been almost nonexistent in midfield this season and the defence is often content to bypass it entirely, instead choosing to haphazardly punt the ball forward and hope for the best.
Against Southampton, just 23 of the 65 long passes attempted were successful, meaning that the team conceded possession almost two-thirds of the time. In addition to this, just 129 of all 210 forward passes attempted were successful and only seven of 28 crosses found their targets (via FourFourTwo Stats Zone).
Newcastle give the ball away far too much, which is only going to lead to defeat. Stoke will look to pressure the defenders into these sorts of errant passes and dictate the game from midfield.
Whenever a player is brought in from overseas, it’s becoming a cliché to ask if they can provide the same results on a rainy afternoon in Stoke. Like most clichés, it has its roots in truth.
An away fixture at Stoke is never an easy task, and without a midfield to control possession, Newcastle could find themselves unable to force a goal. At the moment they can’t even force pressure at St. James’ Park, so it’s vital they start the game well at the Britannia.
Fabricio Coloccini returns from injury, so there will be a stable presence in the Toons' back four once again. Steven Taylor left the field in Southampton with a hamstring injury, however, so Vurnon Anita may be asked to fill in at right-back.
With Collocini in the centre and Anita and Davide Santon on the outside of defence, there is scope for a much more attacking mindset from Newcastle. Santon has really been the only outfield player able to hold his head high in recent weeks and the team will need his attacking instincts.
Although Pardew switched to a 4-3-3 for some of the Southampton game, it’s almost inevitable that he will revert back to 4-4-2 for this one. The emphasis will be on avoiding defeat rather than pushing for a victory, so the fixture doesn’t promise much.
In October of last year, Newcastle extended their unbeaten run to 10 matches with a 3-1 victory at the Brittania Stadium. Demba Ba helped himself to three goals and the Toon were clinical with their counterattacks.
It’s worth mentioning that, at that point, Stoke found themselves in a similar position to Newcastle's current state; unable to cope with the demands of European and domestic competitions, they looked tired and listless in defence as Ba tore them apart.
Newcastle moved into third place with that victory and had 22 points from their first 10 games. For some perspective, they currently have 14 points from 13 games and the players look distrustful of the scheme they are playing in.
Ba and Papiss Cisse often make the same runs and Cisse in particular is constantly finding himself offside. His lack of confidence in himself is spreading to the rest of the team, and their inability to retain possession is reflected by the hopeful long balls forward.
Cheick Tiote has to assert himself early, beating Stoke at their own game with pressure and assertiveness in midfield, using Anita and Santon to overlap from behind him. Useful wing play has been lacking in recent games, so Gabriel Obertan and Sylvain Marveaux will be vital to the attack.
Ba and Cisse can’t impact games with the sort of service they have been receiving of late, but using the wide players effectively will rectify this. If they can create early chances with useful balls into the box, the confidence will return.
Stoke’s Charlie Adam has provided the winner in the team’s last two home games, both 1-0 victories. His performances at Liverpool showed that he was uncertain in possession when put under pressure and Newcastle should aim to do this.
Within the Stoke scheme, Adam has found a place that suits him. His movements are regimented by the team’s tactics and he needs to remain close to Peter Crouch to find success from midfield.
His passing is never going to be a prominent part of his role, but Adam is now integral to Tony Pulis’ system and looks to be returning to something close to the form shown at Blackpool.
Long balls forward won’t bring success for Newcastle here and Stoke will be all too happy to retain possession and control the tempo of the game. With Hatem Ben Arfa and Yohan Cabaye out with injuries, Newcastle lack the creativity necessary to break down teams like Stoke.
The Magpies have the talent to come away with a victory here, but the team looks completely out of sorts and unlikely to win games. A 0-0 draw is the most likely outcome, but Stoke’s home form suggests they’re the most likely to take the points.
A more depressing outlook for this fixture would be to suggest that the winner will be the team that is slightly more adept at playing terrible football.