5 Changes Newcastle United Must Make to Alan Pardew's Starting XI
Alan Pardew has struggled all season to get things right for Newcastle United, both with tactics and with personnel.
Against Liverpool, he failed miserably with both.
Pardew's squad was decimated by the Reds in front of their home fans 6-0, which has left the Magpies in 17th place in the Premier League table. Now many of the Geordie faithful want their gaffer's head.
If Pardew is going to win over any of the fans he's lost, he will need to put out a squad against West Ham next week that is a far cry from his usual negative formation.
Here are the changes Pardew must make to salvage a horrendous season.
Last week, Newcastle's first team looked like this:
Elliot; Debuchy, Taylor, Yanga-Mbiwa, Haidara; Tiote, Perch; Sissoko, Cabaye, Gutierrez; Cisse
While the 4-2-3-1 has proven to be a very versatile tactic for many teams across Europe, it has utterly failed Newcastle in recent times. Especially against Liverpool, having two defensive midfielders on the pitch has taken the teeth out of the Magpies' attack and has put more pressure on a back line that can't handle it.
That's why against West Ham, Alan Pardew should revert back to the old 4-4-2.
Earlier in the season back when Demba Ba was with the club, the 4-4-2 was unproductive. Ba and Papiss Cisse would frequently attempt to make the same runs and their success rate was limited.
However, even after the departure of Ba, Pardew has almost entirely forgotten the 4-4-2 over the past several months. While it's good to try new things tactically, that doesn't mean the old formation doesn't have its benefits.
Take, for example, Newcastle's match against Fulham on April 7th—the first time Pardew had used the 4-4-2 since January. For the first 15 minutes—until a Davide Santon injury necessitated a change in formation—the squad came alive. Rarely does the club get off to good starts, but on that day Sylvain Marveaux and Yoan Gouffran in particular looked fantastic.
After Santon's injury and a switch back to the 4-2-3-1, Newcastle's offensive form dropped off until Cisse's goal in stoppage time.
While it may seem counterintuitive with just three matches left in the season, a change in formation would be good for the side.
And in all honesty, almost any new idea would be an improvement on what happened against Liverpool.
Hatem Ben Arfa Back Where He Belongs
Aside from Danny Simpson taking the place of the suspended Mathieu Debuchy at right-back, the most obvious change Alan Pardew can make is to reinsert Hatem Ben Arfa in the starting XI.
The French international playmaker has been on the physio's table on and off for most of the season, but after several appearances as a substitute, he is undoubtedly ready for a return to the right side of the midfield.
The most creatively talented member of the squad, Ben Arfa's substitution gave an obvious boost to the club when he was substituted on at halftime against Liverpool. The first seven minutes of the second half were the only enjoyable moments of the half for Newcastle supporters, with Ben Arfa looking likely at several points to create good goal-scoring opportunities.
Leaving a talent like Ben Arfa on the bench is just asking for trouble, both in terms of on-field performance and off-field stability. Not known for always getting along with managers, it will be important to keep Ben Arfa happy to avoid a last-minute dressing room collapse.
Of the 270 minutes left in Newcastle's season, Hatem Ben Arfa should be involved in every single one of them.
Moussa Sissoko in His Actual Position
In case you hadn't heard, Moussa Sissoko isn't a winger.
After years as a box-to-box midfielder with Toulouse, Sissoko has rarely been used in that position since coming to Tyneside. And other than two immaculate performances to begin his Newcastle career, it hasn't worked particularly well.
Sissoko belongs in the midfield, and in a 4-4-2 next to Yohan Cabaye he is an excellent option to replace the struggling Cheick Tiote.
The French international's physical presence in the midfield will allow Cabaye to focus more on creating chances, and his composure on the ball is much better than Tiote's.
Pardew has an excellent weapon in Sissoko; he just needs to be utilized properly.
Yoan Gouffran Up Top
Since the departure of Demba Ba, very rarely has Newcastle used two strikers in a formation.
It's about time the club gives it another shot.
Yoan Gouffran, a shrewd purchase from Bourdeaux in January, has been a spark plug on the wing since joining the club, but he has received few opportunities as a striker.
Giving the 26-year-old a chance would not only benefit him, but also Papiss Cisse.
Cisse has suffered for much of the year as the lone striker, but not because he lacks the ability to put the ball in the net. Cisse relies on good service from a strong man in the box because he doesn't have the strength required to hold the ball on his own.
And while Gouffran is no Andy Carroll, his presence along with Cisse in the box can only help in this regard.
A move to striker won't take away Gouffran's pace and work rate that he has demonstrated on the wing. It just gives him a better opportunity to score.
And more goals is something Newcastle fans certainly wouldn't complain about.
Take a Chance with Sylvain Marveaux
Jonas Gutierrez is a nice enough individual. He plays hard and has done good work for the club.
But he has been dreadful this season, and it's time for Alan Pardew to finally make a change.
The obvious choice at left midfielder—assuming he will be fully healed from a knock that's kept him out of action since the Tyne-Wear derby—is Sylvain Marveaux.
The Magpies' assist leader (with four) has been largely overlooked for most of this season, only starting in 10 Premier League matches. This is most likely due to his occasional disappearing acts that can't be afforded in the midfield.
However, when he's on, Newcastle's midfield can be one of the most dangerous in the country.
With Massadio Haidara playing for the injured Davide Santon at left-back, Gutierrez's ability to cover attacking full-backs is not as crucial, and Marveaux's attacking upside well outweighs anything the Argentine brings to the table.
Marveaux has proven he deserves more playing time than he has received, and it's time to reward him for his quality play in a season filled with disappointing performances.
Bright-Eyed, Bushy-Tailed Substitutes
Does anyone remember the last time Alan Pardew made a positive, attacking substitution in a close match? It's been quite some time.
After such excellent judgment with substitutions last season, Pardew has resorted to a steady diet of Shola Ameobi with the occasional pinch of Vurnon Anita or James Perch.
Nowadays a striker in name only, Shola functions best as a holder of the ball upfield in a match where Newcastle have the lead, but Pardew brings him on regardless of the score.
It always seems that Pardew is much more concerned with preserving the score than improving it, and that has to change.
Seemingly every game, Yoan Gouffran is removed an hour in, usually for Shola. Assuming Pardew has a reason to substitute Gouffran at that time every match, why not send in someone who has a genuine chance of scoring? What would be wrong with adding someone who has pace, ball-handling prowess and a desire to prove himself in front of his hometown fans?
Adam Campbell, the 18-year-old Geordie native, deserves much more time on the pitch.
In case you weren't keeping track, Campbell has played in two Premier League matches, both as a late substitution. In both matches, Newcastle scored in stoppage time to win. Not a bad start to a career.
If a substitution up top is to be made, Adam Campbell should undoubtedly be the replacement.
In the midfield, it has become commonplace for a defensive midfielder to come on as a substitute, even if the man they replace is a creative attacking force like Yohan Cabaye.
So why not give a young man from Burundi with sky-high potential a shot to do something special at the end of the game? What would be so wrong with throwing on a player who might try to press forward in the midfield rather than absorb pressure?
Gael Bigirimana, the only member of a group of disappointing young players who was impressive enough not to be loaned out, would be a much better option off the bench than the players currently utilized.
It's time for Alan Pardew to begin pushing. Time to prove that he really wants this team to win and to win now. Time to leave behind his excuses and negative football and try to score some goals.
If he can't do that, someone else very well may be doing it for the Magpies in the Championship.