December 6th 2010, Newcastle’s board to the brave and hugely unpopular decision to sack Chris Hughton as manager, fans, players, pundits and the media were in shock and familiar chants of “sack the board” were beginning to arise once again. Three days later, former Reading, West Ham, Charlton and Southampton manager Alan Pardew was appointed. He was given a torrid reception upon his debut against Liverpool, yet he overcame what some would say unfair (due to him not being at fault for Hughton’s dismissal) criticism by beating Liverpool 3-1. A lot has happened since the day he took charge, but no one can argue against the fact he has taken the Toon army to a heights not seen since the likes of Keegan was in charge, Pardew has changed system, style, personnel, coaching and most importantly, results.
Due to his appointment taking place before the January transfer window, for the first few matches Pardew was in charge, he had to make do with what he had inherited. His squad was built towards a more direct game with the likes of Carroll, Ameobi and Best being the 3 front line strikers at his disposal, with the likes of Lovenkrands and Nolan making for effective second strikers/attacking midfielders. In the January transfer window, there were two pieces of business that were made that would affect Newcastle in the long term, firstly the permanent signing of Hatem Ben Arfa who missed the season with a broken leg, this show of faith would be returned the following season, the second piece of business is the sale of Andy Carroll to Liverpool, the fee of £35 million was too much to turn down, and although a replacement wasn’t acquired immediately, Pardew managed to adjust the side accordingly in order to see out the season in best form possible.
This is the first squad that Pardew chose for his debut against Liverpool, by opting for a safe forward line of Carroll and Ameobi, he ensured that he would always have an aerial outlet, it may not have been pretty, but it was pretty effective. Pardew had to make sure that the team gained a hard working mentality before results would come in, by choosing a midfield of Gutierrez, Tiote, Nolan and Barton he would be choosing 4 players with a mix of work ethic, profressional tactics, experience and enthusism. His continued confidence in Krul would also show that talent would also be a defining factor in selection. The 3-1 win over Liverpool was a great start to Pardew’s already controversial appointment.
By the end of the month, Pardew was beginning to utilize his squad to a much better ability. The results were at times inconsistent but every match was a build-up to the season 2011/2012 season. In this match Pardew played a 4-3-3 formation but played Barton much closer to Carroll, with the protection of Tiote and Smith, both fullbacks continuously overlapped the wingers and caused problems for Tottenham despite the defeat, playing variations of this system would become more common throughout Pardew’s reign. The match against West Ham was another example of Pardew implementing the 4-3-3 system. With Barton on the right providing a more traditional form of wide play, and Lovenkrands playing off Best, it gave allows for more fluid play and the build-up play allowed for Nolan to make his classic late runs into the box with Tiote covering. This was a fine example of team confidence growing and perhaps more importantly in the long term, confidence in Pardew’s ability to handle a managerial position known for instability.
Without question the most famous game of Pardew’s reign as Newcastle manager was the 4-4 draw with Arsenal, this was the first match since Carroll was sold and there was an air of fustration at St. James Park. Going 4-0 down at half time was a nightmare for the Geordie faithful but somehow managed to pull off a 4 goal turnaround in the second half; tactics did not play an important part due to Arsenal’s structuring after Diaby’s sending off and Newcastle’s commitment to attack with numbers due to knowing they have nothing to lose. This game banished memories of Carroll, at least for a while.
Although the result was negative for Newcastle, this match showed Pardew’s bravery in deploying a system that was unfamiliar to him and the team. Due to Stoke’s direct approach, Pardew wanted to best equip himself with 3 central defenders in order to cope with the threat. Tiote and Barton provided aggression and tenacity in midfield which was required. The problem came from Nolan who naturally drifts towards the box and be on the end of service provided by others, however due to Stoke neutralising Newcastle’s wingbacks with brilliant wide play of their own, Nolan failed to adapt and stay deep to take advantage of the numerical superiority the 3-5-2 allowed them, this in turn starved the strikers of the ball and Stoke dominated proceedings.
The final match of the season saw Pardew give chances to the likes of Guthrie and Ferguson as well as squad player Ryan Taylor. A 3-3 finished Newcastle in 12th position, a stable position for a club who were still suffering from relegation. This was a season of much needed realism and stability and the summer that ensued showed that Pardew and head scout Graham Carr were ready to take Newcastle to a level not seen in years.
During the summer transfer window, fans began to see the shrewd but effective approach Pardew was implementing into his playing philosophy, he wasn’t buying a team full of stars, but a team full of talented, humble and hardworking players who could adapt to the differing situations that could arise during the season. The key players brought in were Cabaye (£4.3m), Demba Ba (Free), Santon (£5m), and during the January window Papiss Cisse (£8m). Campbell, Nolan, Barton, Routledge and Enrique all left for varying fees but indicated a clear out of personalities and a change in style, less direct, more patient and penetrative.
These three examples are once the window had closed and Newcastle had finished their transfer dealings, each show differing combinations such as the two central midfielders, the common factor being Cabaye is the ever present. His influence on the team was a big factor on Newcastle’s success and showed incredible passing ability, dictation of varying tempos as well as a superb free kick. Newcastle changed their striking combination often during the first few games but Ba became a regular with Leon Best providing support till Cisse arrived in January. The Best Ba combination favoured a more direct approach and so Pardew stuck with a 4-4-2 formation, two deep central midfielders allowed the fullbacks to create width and utilize the aerial ability of both strikers and Ameobi who would often be the first call off the bench. The direct approach of Newcastle was shown in full when they defeated Stoke at the Britannia, Demba Ba’s goal coming from a direct build up from the back, by passing midfield and Ba finishing swiftly.
This match was the first time Pardew would see his team thoroughly out done, by playing Ben Arfa off Ba, he placed too much emphasis on staying forward but didn’t cover Romeu who was a free man in midfield, by leaving him free, Chelsea were given numerical superiority and were allowed to dominate the match. This would influence Pardew’s tactics further down the season.
During this period, Newcastle was suffering from the loss of Tiote due to the African Cup of Nations. The loss of Tiote meant the loss of Pardew’s effective aggressive pressing system in midfield and lessened the protection of his defenders. However in the match against Tottenham, Pardew would come to realise a tactical flaw that would change his approach for the rest of the season. His deployment of a 4-4-2 system against a Tottenham team playing a similar system but with far greater fluidity meant consistent overloading in midfield, Newcastle were simply unable to cope with Kranjcar moving infield. By doing so he would cause one of two problems, either take Gutierrez inside with him and effectively eliminate the best outlet Newcastle possessed, or exploit space in midfield due to Perch and Guthrie beyond already occupied by Modric and Parker. This would lead to Pardew changing formation to 4-3-3 for most of the remainder of the season.
For the most part, this was the best team Newcastle could put out, the change in shape meant greater stability in middle of the pitch where Newcastle felt they were overrun in previous games. This stability allowed freedom for Ben Arfa to come off the line and 1) Allow Simpson to overlap and move into the space that Ben Arfa left behind and 2) Do what Kranjcar did to them previously and create an overload in midfield by becoming a penetrative threat by combining with Cisse much more centrally. Ba unfortunately was the player that would benefit least due to the change, not only was he fatigued due to the ANC, his duties now play in providing width on the left hand side which meant less combination play with the other two attackers. This was due to Santon having to defend deeper to facilitate the right hand side of Newcastle’s attack.
These are two examples of Newcastle’s change in formation, and improved results due to the change. Although Ba was struggling to score, Cisse was on fire and gave Newcastle an added threat of pace behind the defence, with Ben Arfa’s movement coming in off the right, onto his favoured left foot, it allowed for blind side runs by Cisse to be found in a fluid motion.
This example taken from the Stoke match shows the difference in movement between Ben Arfa and Demba Ba. Ba is playing deeper and much more restricted to the left hand side of the attack; however Ben Arfa is given the freedom to roam and combines with the midfielders and moves centrally. This intrinsic movement was fundamental to Newcastle’s success towards the final third of the season. Ben Arfa plays with a hunger, desire, willingness, drive and determination, combine that with incredible talent and you have someone who can change not only a match, but a season.
The match against Wigan was seen as more important to Wigan due to survival rather than Newcastle’s mostly secure European ambitions. Newcastle deployed their now usual 4-3-3 system but were tactically outdone by Roberto Martinez and his 3-4-3 system which you can read about (and others) here. Following this match, Pardew decided to go back to a 4-4-2 formation which would see Ba and Cisse continue to develop a partnership and understanding.
When Pardew played Cisse and Ba up front as a partnership, the result showed how effective they could be. Cisse was the star of the show with two superb goals (one of which was nominated Goal of the Season), however upon analysis of Ba’s shots on goal, the angles of the shots are much more varied than previously when he was deployed on the left hand side of the attack.
In conclusion Pardew, along with the help of his coaching and scouting staff, gave Newcastle and their loyal fans the belief to soar to new heights. Finishing is an incredible 5th place showed how much progress was made in such a short period of time, and for once critics could not put it down to quick spending and panic buying, Pardew was efficient with the money given and clever with the players he brought in. The 2012/2013 season has already brought Newcastle shrewd purchases in the forms of Vernon Anita and Amalfitano with the likes of Smith, Guthrie and Best leaving. An opening day win over Champions League spot rivals Tottenham was a great start but unfortunately lost to Chelsea in their second game, the season is long and the challenges are many but the fact that many fans, managers, and pundits alike predict a high finish for Newcastle is testament to everyone involved at the club, considering they were relegated, and gained promotion only 3 seasons ago.
Thanks to ESPN Soccernet for providing stats and figures, This11.com for the pitches and most of all FourFourTwo StatsZone for all the diagrams, line ups and information.
Written by Zaheer Shah, I’m on Twitter! @ZazooShah