Newcastle United's Tactical Options This Season and How They Could Use Them
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And top of manager Alan Pardew’s to do list will be to pick the right formation as he looks to instill improvement following their recent 16th place finish in the Premier League.
With just one senior signing at St. James’ Park so far this summer, his options haven’t improved greatly since last season.
While further new faces may arrive between now and the beginning of September, Pardew must go with what he’s got. So, ahead of Monday’s opener at the Etihad Stadium, we take a look at the Magpies’ tactical options for the new campaign.
At The Back
Alan Pardew has never been one to deviate from a traditional back four during his managerial career, and nothing we’ve seen in preseason suggests he’s about to start now.
French right-back Mathieu Debuchy has a tendency to get forward in support of his fellow wide man, but it is an impulse that may well need curtailing against the Premier League’s top sides for fear of leaving wide open spaces for them to exploit.
Likewise, on the other flank, Davide Santon is no stranger to marauding runs on the left.
The Italian has impressed during preseason with his regular forays down the wing—a leftover characteristic of his previous role as an attacker before José Mourinho switched the 22-year-old to full-back at Inter Milan.
In the middle, as he has done for the past four seasons, Fabricio Coloccini holds the key in terms of defensive stability.
His composure brings a much-needed air of authority to the back four, and whether he is paired with Steven Taylor or Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, the Argentine’s sense of timing will be crucial once more.
Though the personnel will undoubtedly change once injuries and suspensions kick in, it’s hard to envisage Pardew tinkering with this tried and tested ordering in defence.
Not many Newcastle fans need reminding of how good Cheick Tioté and Yohan Cabaye can be individually, but as a central midfield pairing, they often nullify each other’s ability.
Too often last season Cabaye was to be found in a deep-lying role alongside Tioté, rather than unlocking defences further forward in support of his attackers.
Cabaye’s creativity and intelligent eye for goal were often underused last term, and giving him a protected free role behind the strikers, as he had with great success during the 2011-12 campaign, could be instrumental.
In a 4-3-3 formation, a defensive safety net formed by the likes of Tioté, Vurnon Anita, Jonás Gutiérrez or Moussa Sissoko could spark Cabaye into life and bring some much-needed invention to United’s midfield.
If finding a balanced central partnership is paramount in a 4-4-2 line up, Pardew’s capacity to glean regular service from the flanks will be of equal importance.
As well as Gutiérrez, Hatem Ben Arfa, Yoan Gouffran, Sylvain Marveaux and Gabriel Obertan were all charged with providing width last season with varying degrees of success.
Ben Arfa’s penchant for running at defenders often leads him infield, and coupled with Debuchy’s surges forward, a risk of exposure down United’s right remains a precarious prospect.
On the left, while Gutiérrez’s work rate and defensive qualities have never been questioned, his lack of deliveries into the penalty area should give Pardew cause for concern and prompt immediate action.
In an ever-evolving game, the use of wide forwards has become commonplace, and at Newcastle, deploying a three-man forward line during the 2011-12 season worked wonders.
With Demba Ba and Ben Arfa either side of the prolific Papiss Cissé, the goals flowed throughout the second half of that season as Newcastle raced to a fifth-place finish.
Last term saw Ba and Cissé struggle to find any real fluidity when used as a front two. And when the former left to join Chelsea in January United often found goals hard to come by.
With Cissé and Ben Arfa still at the club, Loïc Rémy’s arrival from Queens Park Rangers opens up the possibility of reigniting this system, but Pardew’s intentions in attack remain to be seen
A two-man forward line is a tried and tested formula providing all of the pieces are in place elsewhere.
Shola Ameobi’s height and power provide the Magpies with an obvious outlet up top, but his inclusion often leads to defenders and midfielders releasing the ball high and early at the risk of being caught in possession.
Gouffran is another alternative, but if the former Bordeaux man does have a role in Newcastle’s starting XI, it is yet to reveal itself, with the Frenchman used in attack and on the left wing in equal measure so far.
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