On Monday night, a Christian Benteke-inspired Aston Villa thrashed Sunderland to claw themselves further from the dreaded third relegation place and drag Newcastle closer to it. The three sides are now all level on 37 points and thanks to Villa’s 6-1 win combined with the Magpies’ 6-0 dismantling at the hands of Liverpool, Paul Lambert’s men have climbed above Newcastle with just three games to go.
The result capped one of the worst weekends in recent history for Alan Pardew and his club, as they turned in their worst performance of the season and were comfortably torn limb from limb by a rampant Liverpool.
To make matters worse, there are murmurs of a dressing room split at St James’ Park, triggered by the criticism being levelled at the new French signings.
There were seven Frenchmen on the pitch at the time of Liverpool’s third goal at the weekend, a strike that made those in black and white give up and stop trying, much to the anger of the passionate capacity crowd who exercised their right to walk out well before the final whistle.
But how much of the awful performances of late should be pinned on the foreign contingent at Newcastle?
Firstly, there is certainly a problem having so many non-English speakers on the pitch at any one time. Despite the mother tongue at St James’ on Saturday being distinctly Gallic, mistakes still littered Newcastle’s play and communication was clearly a problem.
The perfect example was the decisive third goal. After Philippe Coutinho had robbed Hatem Ben Arfa on halfway, it was a straight two versus two at the back. Steven Taylor and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa were certainly in trouble, but still had a chance of keeping the Reds at bay in that particular attack.
However, due to what can only be described as a lack of communication—almost certainly down to the fact Yanga-Mbiwa does not yet speak English—the Frenchman came across, allowing Coutinho to find Sturridge and effectively end the contest.
When the most experienced player in a back four is English and knows the Premier League well, the defence must be built around him. Instead, Taylor is surrounded by three Frenchmen (Mathieu Debuchy, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Massadio Haidara in this instance) and unable to communicate as well as normal, when he is partnered by Fabricio Coloccini and flanked by English-speaking Davide Santon.
Fortunately for Pardew, Coloccini is nearing a return to action and is expected to start on Saturday when the Toon travel to West Ham for a crucial clash. The partnership between him and Taylor could be key to Newcastle getting the points they need to stay in the division.
So there’s one huge problem that Alan Pardew must figure out a solution to. However, it is perhaps not the biggest.
For me, the very least a manager can do when his players are struggling is play his best side. When a team’s best 11 is on the pitch, at least you know who is to blame if the result does not go your side's way.
On Saturday and in a few games recently, Pardew has simply not done this.
Moussa Sissoko played the entire first half on the right wing against Liverpool; somewhere he has never played before joining Newcastle and is significantly less effective. The powerful, combative style of Sissoko was wasted as he was starved of the ball on the flank and had to drift round the pitch in search of it, allowing Jose Enrique and Stewart Downing more space to play on that side of the pitch.
Jonas Gutierrez tried his hardest on the left as usual but continues to go through a poor run of form, posing the question as to why Yoan Gouffran—a hard working, effective left winger—was benched until the second half?
James Perch failed to make an impact in defensive midfield, a position he has played numerous times but never convinced in. Cheick Tiote was also a villain, having somehow kept his place this season despite looking a shadow of the man seen scaring opposition into surrender last season.
Vurnon Anita has been completely frozen out since the French influx and could be forgiven for asking why, as the players ahead of him have been less effective than the man who finally appeared to be settling well after his summer move from Dutch giants Ajax.
When Pardew visits his former club West Ham on Saturday and plans to keep in-form target man Andy Carroll quiet, he simply must get the big decisions right or face even more pressure.
Sissoko must play in central midfield, the back four must speak English and boast Captain Coloccini, the midfield must have balance and the attack must feature Hatem Ben Arfa, who is almost solely possessive of the creativity that could keep Newcastle United in the Premier League.
Time to step up and toe the line, Alan.