Newcastle United: Adjustments Needed Now

I am not a football (soccer) wonk, but my football knowledge has grown thanks to the enormous amount of football that is now shown in North America.  With up to five soccer channels available in the US (counting ESPN2 / ESPN3 as one of them), we Americans can watch more football games than most digital TV subscribers in the UK (which is simply wrong, but I'm not complaining!).

Back in 1993, I almost randomly chose to support Newcastle United.  In 2002, I finally got to see them play live on satellite TV.  And today, I see them once or twice a month with my fellow supporters at Nevada Smiths.

In their last two league games, Newcastle have underperformed.  The last game has left fans particularly nervous, as the Mags were lifeless in the first half, which resulted in a late goal before the break.  And they could never quite get back into the game as Blackpool defeated them 2-nil at St. James' Park.

Newcastle Manager Chris Hughton strikes me as a conservative manager.  He doesn't make substitutions until the 70th minute.  He seldom takes all three substitutions.  And he has used the same formation (4-4-1-1) and almost the same exact starting players in the first four matches of the season.  

Well, something needs to change as Newcastle head to Goodison Park to face an Everton squad fighting hard to get their first win of the season.  And this Everton side is hot.  They scored three goals against Manchester United last week to earn just their second point in the table.

Newcastle fans have quickly lost their patience with Kevin Nolan.  The team captain, in just three weeks, has gone from prolific goal scorer to an old player who seldom touches the ball.  

Football is a game of forwards, midfielders, and defenders, of course, but it is also a crucial game of wing play. And last Saturday against the Tangerines, their wingers were shockingly ineffective.  Both Jose Enrique and Jonas Gutierrez failed to defend well.  Same with the usually impressive defender, Coloccini.   

Jose Enrique misses his block attempt on PJ Campbell's goal in the second half, September 11, 2010.

So what is Chris Hughton to do this Saturday.  Who does he start?  My two cents:

I don't think Kevin Nolan and Allen Smith should start the game.  Nolan could be replaced by either Hatem Ben Arfa or Shola Ameobi.  Allen Smith should sit in favor of Cheick Tioté.  He's eager to contribute.  

The more probable scenario, courtesy of the fine pundits over at Shite Seats, is that Ben Arfa will start in place of Joey Barton.  Both Barton and Nolan scored in Newcastle's rout of Aston Villa, but have since fallen out of form entirely.  So Smith and Barton out; Tioté and Ben Arfa in.

Hughton isn't silly enough to start Ameobi over Nolan (I would, and that's why I'm not a football manager).  So I am sure Nolan will start, with Ameobi replacing him at the 70 minute mark.  We can also expect Hughton to make a defensive substitution at the same time.  Either 35 year old Sol Campbell or Ryan Taylor can add fresh legs to the defense for the final 20 minutes.

Which leaves me with the question I have had since the season started.  What is up with Peter Lovenkrands? Newcastle need nine more wins to ensure survival in the Premiership this season.  They're not getting nine wins without substantial contribution from one of the best Dutch midfielders alive.  We need McLovin.  He has been used a sub all season.  But he is yet to make his presence felt on the pitch.  I suspect he needs to get healthier and fitter as the season goes on.  But he needs to make an impact as soon as possible.