5 Areas Where Newcastle United Must Improve Next Season
While recent off-field distractions have papered over Newcastle United’s disappointing Premier League season, their 16th-place finish exposed a few home truths.
With the prospect of relegation to the Championship banished with just one game remaining, the sense of relief was swiftly supplanted by an inquest into the Magpies’ failings.
Fingers were pointed in the direction of some of the club’s biggest names as well as manager Alan Pardew. But before answers were fathomed, the spotlight switched to Joe Kinnear’s puzzling appointment as director of football.
Now, with the first game of the new season at Manchester City just seven weeks away, efforts to galvanise the squad are seemingly underway, with a new striker high on their list of priorities according to The Evening Chronicle.
And with much still to ponder following their brush with the drop, we take a look at five areas on the field of play that require improvement if Newcastle are to avoid another anxious campaign.
Too often last term, Newcastle failed to deliver from wide areas, and quality service from the flanks to forward Papiss Cisse often left the striker isolated and frustrated.
The system deployed under Alan Pardew during the previous campaign, where the club finished fifth to qualify for the Europa League, utilised width in the shape of a three-man attack.
With the craft of Hatem Ben Arfa and the powerful running of Demba Ba either side of their target man, the Magpies were able to find the No. 9 with regular ease during a spell that saw Cisse score 13 goals in just 14 games.
But in a team that lacked fluidity last season, the effective use of wingers was often nullified as United looked to create through the middle of the park via the likes of Yohan Cabaye and Moussa Sissoko.
With a new strike partner reportedly on his way to offer Cisse some much-needed support, hitting the front men early from left or right could prove an obvious yet rewarding approach.
Well-voiced concerns surrounding Newcastle’s inability to score from set-pieces became something of a familiar soundtrack to last season, and is an area that demands serious improvement.
In an interview with Scott Wilson in the Northern Echo, Alan Pardew admitted as much, saying: “Our record from set-pieces is definitely something I'll look at in the summer, 100 percent.”
Despite a side that housed dead-ball specialist Yohan Cabaye, United fans were left scratching their heads on numerous occasions as a string of corners came and went without reaping any reward.
And if the Magpies are to steer clear of danger this time around, they would do well to take a leaf out of Manchester United’s book. The Red Devils scored from 14 corners by the middle of April, as highlighted by John Drayton in the Daily Mail.
Conceding three goals or more in a single game is a worrying habit to get in to, but it’s an occurrence that blighted Newcastle's goals against column on seven occasions last term.
Their most alarming collapse came at home to Liverpool in late April, and a game that ended 6-0 to the visitors asked grave questions about the Magpies' ability to defend as a unit.
The welcome return of captain Fabricio Coloccini shored things up at the back for the final three games, as Premier League safety was secured with a gritty draw at West Ham and a win at Queens Park Rangers.
The point gained at Upton Park, won thanks to some resolute defending and organisation, answered many of their critics, but similar purpose will be required on a weekly basis if United are to progress next season.
In a season that saw Newcastle languish in the bottom half of the table from mid-November onwards, consistency was one luxury that escaped Alan Pardew’s side.
On more than one occasion, good results were followed up by bad ones and vice versa, and with little room for momentum to build, the campaign quickly became fragmented.
A well-earned draw away at Liverpool in November was followed by two home defeats to West Ham and Swansea. In stark contrast, a 2-1 loss to relegated Reading at St. James’ Park in January preceded back-to-back wins over Aston Villa and Chelsea.
While the Premier League is often lauded as the most competitive division in the world, consistency is what separates the wheat from the chaff, and United must do their level best to find some if they are to improve.
Shorn of defensive responsibilities, Yohan Cabaye has proved his worth as an orchestrator of invention for Newcastle. His artistic instincts, however, were sadly lacking last term.
When used in front of two holding middlemen, such as Cheick Tiote and Jonas Gutierrez during the second half of the 2011-12 campaign, the Frenchman has the freedom and vision to cut through the opposition with consummate ease.
But more often than not, Cabaye was utilised in a central midfield pairing last season that nullified his natural tendencies and underused his ability to support the forwards.
With like-minded inventors in the squad, such as Sylvain Marveaux and Hatem Ben Arfa, the Magpies must devise a system that encourages their attacking urges rather than bogging them down with pedestrian precaution.