Newcastle United: 5 Things Alan Pardew Is Getting Wrong
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Alan Pardew deserves every word of criticism that has been sent his way.
The players haven’t performed as they were expected to, but when an entire team simultaneously loses form, the attention inevitably shifts to the manager.
Although he guided the club to a fifth place finish in the Premier League and was named Manager of the Year for the 2011/12 season, Pardew has made some glaring errors that stretch back to the end of the last campaign—errors he continues to make 14 games into the new season.
Read on for five of the most important things Pardew is getting wrong on Tyneside.
No Strengthening of the Squad
Vurnon Anita was brought to Tyneside, but the club failed to build on a successful season.
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When Newcastle finished in fifth place last season, it meant that European football was guaranteed for this year, in the form of the Europa League.
Since the team would now be competing across two separate competitions, it meant that the current squad would be stretched. Owner Mike Ashley isn’t always happy to put his hand in his pocket, but it seemed obvious that the advancement of the club necessitated further investment.
Despite the obvious elation with last season’s performance, the feeling was that Newcastle overachieved slightly. Papiss Cisse arrived in January and immediately started finding the net, while the squad avoided major injuries and gave Pardew no team selection headaches.
However, the failure to bring in players over the course of the offseason—Vurnon Anita was the only senior player added—has contributed to the poor results this year.
Injuries have blighted the team, and the squad now looks painfully thin. Pardew is himself now starting to realise that he has to take some of the blame for the way the club has planned for this season:
“We have been unlucky, but we are in the process of analysing whether we under-cooked it, and that's what we should do. It would be silly not to” (Via SkySports.com).
The January transfer window is now absolutely crucial. Pardew, Ashley and Derek Llambias need to address the decline in form and injuries by bringing in players to help Newcastle climb the table.
Of course, this should have been done over the summer, which makes it that much more frustrating. A top-five team is a much more attractive destination than one looking to avoid relegation, so Pardew may find his options limited in January.
Swansea City's victory at St. James' park was put down to their "experience" by Pardew.
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Alan Pardew seems to offer a different reason for the team’s plight every week.
The Europa League has been a scapegoat for this throughout, but his reasoning just doesn’t make sense. European fixtures can be taxing on players, but Pardew is regularly making eight or nine changes between the Premier League and the EL, so he cannot expect that excuse to satisfy anyone listening.
It’s not as if their group inflicts unfathomable travel distances, either. Sitting in a group with Bordeaux, Club Brugge and Maritomo hardly represents a journey from which Jules Verne would derive inspiration.
When he’s not blaming the Europa League, Pardew travels even further beyond the realms of sanity and plucks reasoning for which there is no justification.
Following the home defeat to Swansea, he maintained that the Welsh team promoted in 2011 were too experienced for Newcastle to cope with:
I can't fault the application of the players. They did their best against a good Swansea side who had a lot more experience than we did. When you are having a difficult period like we are having, you need your senior players around, and we haven't got that (Via ThisIsSouthWales.co.uk).
For that game, Swansea fielded two full debutants—including goalkeeper Gerhard Tremmel—and teenager Ben Davies, while Newcastle had Tim Krul, Davide Santon, Steven Taylor, Hatem Ben Arfa, Cheick Tiote and Demba Ba all starting.
It’s true that the team has missed players due to injuries and continues to suffer them—which in turn leads back to the issue of squad strengthening—but his failure to admit the team just isn’t performing has turned Pardew’s post-match interview into a farce each week.
Papiss Cisse's form has been poor this season.
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I’ve written about this before, but the manager’s tactics this year have left a lot to be desired. Pardew insists on playing an outdated 4-4-2, even against teams like Manchester United, who simply overran Newcastle in midfield and put the game away.
The 4-4-2 has brought with it further difficulties for the team.
Papiss Cisse has struggled with form this year, with just two goals to his name—one a freak deflection off his backside—and it’s clear he and Ba are not on the same wavelength. The two strikers are too similar in nature, often making the same runs and getting in each other’s way.
Cisse has also struggled with the timing of his runs, frequently caught offside and making defenders’ lives easier by allowing them to run the offside trap further up the field.
The injuries to Ben Arfa and Yohan Cabaye have stunted creativity in the Toon midfield, leading to a brand of football known as “hoofball,” whereby the defenders bypass the midfield altogether and simply “hoof” the ball up towards the strikers in the hope that they will connect with it.
This is all very well when you have players like Andy Carroll who are strong in the air and hold the ball up, allowing any strike partners to make a run into the box, but Newcastle don’t have anyone to do that anymore.
Ba will sometimes get behind a defender and make something out of nothing, but with Cisse always offside he isn’t getting the chance. Ba was seen to throw his hands up in frustration last week at Stoke as Cisse again timed his run badly.
It’s true that the first half of the Stoke game was an improvement for the Toon as the players looked more comfortable in possession and were neater in their passing. However, the lack of midfield creativity soon showed and it was then back to long balls that conceded possession.
When Mike Ashley awarded Pardew an eight-year contract, some attributed it to the manager's continued subservience.
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For all his achievements last year, Pardew was still looked upon as something of a puppet to Mike Ashley’s master; brought in to do the board’s bidding and with no complaints.
The cynical sneered that this was the reason for his eight-year contract, and it was a telling sign that Pardew raised no objection to the club’s failure to add further depth to the squad over the summer.
The performance of the players this season has been made more disheartening by their apparent lack of belief in the system they are part of.
As stated before, playing Ba and Cisse together doesn’t work. Even when Cisse arrived and hammered goals in from every part of the pitch, Ba was conspicuous by his absence.
The 4-3-3 Newcastle preferred in the second half of last season relegated Ba to a role on the left that he wasn’t happy with, which was reflected in his performances. The team got results, but one player was sacrificed for another.
The more Newcastle play a system that is unsuited to their players, the more it shows Pardew’s unwillingness to rock the boat. Losing Ba in January would be a massive blow for the club, so the feeling persists that the 4-4-2 is here to stay until then. Recent reports state that contract talks with Ba have broken down, leaving his future up in the air.
Pardew has never been known for creative, flowing football, but when he had a full strength squad last year it happened simply by virtue of the players involved. Imaginative footballers like Cabaye and Ben Arfa will provide the spark that ignites the rest of the team; sadly, this has nothing to do with the manager.
Now that he is without his midfield, Pardew has been left exposed. The shift from attacking football to preventative measures only highlights this further.
The current incarnation of Newcastle United looks like it’s thrown together in the hope that something will happen, and when it doesn’t, Pardew’s excuses find targets everywhere but home.
Alan Pardew has remained tight-lipped about solutions to his team's problems, which continues to frustrate fans.
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When he isn’t blaming the wrong things, Pardew doesn’t seem to be saying anything at all. When Newcastle were flying high in the league, the manager was always available. Obviously, this is expected during a good season—it’s good promotion, after all—but the tough times are when you find out what sort of manager your club has.
There is a studied silence coming from St. James’ Park most weeks, as if the manager has barricaded himself within and is refusing to come out until the results go his way.
There is no notion of how things are going to turn around with the club in its current state, just that it’s not fair how the injuries and European commitments have conspired against the team.
The failure to bolster the squad after a successful season has been the catalyst for all the other things that have gone wrong, but that doesn’t mean Newcastle are a poor team, even with many first-team players out.
Pardew needs to address the fans via the media and assure them that he is the man to get the club out of its mire and return them to the higher reaches of the league table. The talent is there, but the phrase "too good to go down" doesn't mean "exempt from relegation."
Confidence in a manager derives from much more than the team’s performance; Pardew’s insistence that the team played well after each loss isn’t good enough, and he needs to show evidence that he is at least thinking about ways to rectify the situation.
If Cisse isn’t playing well enough, drop him. If Cisse only plays well with Ba on the left, make the necessary change. If there is confidence in the young players coming through, give them a run in the first team. If the team underperforms, make it known that the post-game reaction in the dressing room was one of fury.
All of those things seem obvious, but none of them have been attempted—or even spoken of. The silence of Pardew shows indifference to the team, and by extension, the supporters.
Every player has a responsibility to his teammates, but the club’s fortunes do not rest on a player. No matter how important they are, the players are ultimately bypassed when looking for those responsible for a decline in fortunes.
The comfort of an eight-year contract should not blind Alan Pardew from the knowledge that this responsibility is his alone.