English Premier League: What's Wrong with Newcastle United?
On 2nd May, 2012, Newcastle United travelled to Stamford Bridge, quietly optimistic of upsetting the odds. It did so in style, as a wonder goal by Papiss Cisse sealed the 2-0 victory over Chelsea and announced its coming of age to the footballing world (via BBC.co.uk).
Fast forward six months and Alan Pardew's men travel to Stoke midweek hoping to avoid a fourth consecutive league loss. What's happened to the Magpies?
Europa League troubles
Pardew seems to believe it's all the UEFA Europa League's fault. When Newcastle finished fifth last season it qualified for Europe's subsidiary tournament, often viewed as a nuisance or a distraction by English Premier League managers.
The problem is that's just not true.
James Tavernier, Gael Bigirimana, Shola Ameobi and Gabriel Obertan, among others, have found extended playing time in this competition as opposed to the domestic ones.
The next port of call is, of course, the injuries that have hit Newcastle hard this season.
Yohan Cabaye is a big miss, but he's been present for a fair few adverse results himself, while Fabricio Coloccini and Tim Krul, too, seem irreplaceable at the heart of the Magpies' defence.
But are these incidents enough to force a club that finished fifth last season into its current position of fifteenth?
The real reason
An overall loss of form is Newcastle's biggest problem. Pardew will attempt to deflect attention from his underperforming team in any way possible, but the fact is, his side isn't playing well. There's no hiding from it.
Switching to a 4-3-3 shape was an attempt to solidify his side against Southampton's possession-hungry style, but it backfired. The team looked disjointed and unsure in almost every aspect of play.
Cheick Tiote looks a shadow of his former self. His lack of tenacity belies the blueprint of football he has become famous for, and the Magpies could have lost six or seven-nil at the weekend due to a lacklustre midfield performance.
Newcastle were hardly famed for its solidity at the back last season, conceding the most goals (51) of all the top-nine placed clubs.
It's simply failed to replicate last season's game plan, which was to outscore the opposition, and Cisse's one goal from eleven EPL games epitomises the team's struggles.
Pardew's Newcastle are 16/1 to get relegated. A loss at Stoke combined with results conspiring against them could see them one point above the relegation zone on Wednesday night.
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