English Premier League Football

Newcastle Rescue Themselves

Newcastle have rescued themselves from relegation for the second consecutive year. Last year it was an improbable home win against Manchester United. This year it was an even more improbable win against a red hot Manchester City. In both matches, Matt Ritchie scored the winner.

Newcastle are too good to be relegated this season. I didn’t believe that a few months ago, but it is apparent now. Even when they were failing to win points, their defense was holding together. Their back four have helped keep their goals allowed total one of the lowest in the league. And they were unlucky. They’ve lost points due to final conceded goals in injury time. They have drawn matches that they should have easily won. They’s been an odd team, finding more success on the road than at home.

They practically got a new midfield in January. Issac Hayden, who repeatedly asked to be transferred, accepted his situation and decided to focus on his football. He got selected to start more as a result. Back in September, their best passer was arguably Jonjo Shelvey. Now, with Shelvey on the injured list, their most expensive signing ever, Miguel Almirón is in charge of counter-attacking. Together with wonderkid Sean Longstaff, Issac Hayden and Matt Ritchie, the Newcastle midfield is getting balls closer to goal, and is driving wins.

Before Almirón joined the club, Newcastle whupped Cardiff on their home pitch. Another big step towards safety.

Then with Almirón, Newcastle pulled themselves within 6 points of safety with back to back wins over Huddersfield and Burnley on just 2 days rest.

Their dominance over Burnley was notable. The first half brought the goals, and the second half closed the clean sheet.

There are nine matches remaining in Newcastle’s season. They ought win four of them. I think they only need to win two and draw some others. I will see half of one of their future matches in the Toon next month.

Newcastle’s talent and growing English Premier League experience have gotten them through another season in the top league. The question remaining is whether Rafael Benítez will give the club another year to find a new owner. Newcastle never do anything the easy way under Mike Ashley.

Will Pardew Ever Figure Out His Midfield?


And I much as I want to like this guy, I can't trust him as a manager if he can't figure what should be a good problem for a manager to have. His problem is, he has too many midfielders, but doesn't know where they should fit, and in which formation.

Where do they fit?

We have learned an awful lot since things fell apart last October after a season start that had Newcastle on pace for an 8th place finish. A year ago, Yohan Cabaye and Cheik Tiote were the core of what could be one of the best midfields in the English Premier League.

Flash forward to last month, and it clear to many armchair analysts like myself that Canaye and Tiote should not be on the pitch at the same time. Tiote is a defensive midfielder, and enforcer. He strikes me as someone you bring in to defend a second half lead (something Newcastler were terrible at last season). Cabaye is supposed to be one of the best attacking midfielders in Europe. But for reasons most pundits don't know, his passing simply disappeared last season. Couple that with Cisse's poor year, and the offense was effectivly disabled. 

What can bring the triangular passes back? The simple passes that generate scoring chances?

If there are zero expectations for Jonas at left wing, why keep starting him? Surely Marveaux can take over?

And can Hatem Ben Arfa at right wing ever be trusted? Yes, he's a magician when he runs with the ball. But a rebuilt midfield would not include him, would it?

We fans and pundits have the correct questions. Alan Pardew does not know the answers.

What Newcastle United Must Do In The Next Four Weeks

Well, the answer to the question is obvious, isn’t it? Newcastle need a few more players. Maybe only two more if they don’t lose Yohan Cabaye.

It appears likely that Newcastle United are close to their first major signing of the summer transfer window. While I really like Gouffran and Sissoko, their two newest forwards signed in January, they need additional strikers to make up for the gap left when they lost Leon Best and presumably will lose when Papiss Cissé leaves the club.

The best striker, as things stand, the best available striker is Bafétimbi Gomis. Newcastle have expressed interest in him, and better still, he has reciprocated. So get the deal done, right?

Well, not so fast. Since 2011, Newcastle have not been quick to buy any new players in the summer season. No one really has an answer as to why this is so. The most pessimistic of Newcastle supporters fear that the four signings from January are the new summer signings. Considering what happened last summer (one signing), they have every right to be concerned.

Newcastle need two new strikers, with our without Cissé on board, and at least one of them needs to be world class. The clock is ticking. Get it done.


NUFC: This Is Not The Change We Requested

This is a very late post. But this blog needs to repeat it, as if the point hasn't been made enough.

While we wait for Newcastle's first significant signing of the summer (if there is going to be one at all), it just needs to be acknowledged that Newcastle United Football Club have arguably the worst front office in all of professional sports.

As an American, I know there are some really bad front offices here. Actually, there is a long list: The Chiefs, Knicks, Mets, Pirates, Bruins, (Arizona) Cardinals, Twins, and Royals, just to name a few.

So apparently there has been a power struggle between manager Alan Pardew and chief scout Graham Carr. Alan Pardew, of course, has recently finished one of the most disappointing seasons in recent Newcastle United history, with a 16th place finish in the table, and a staggering 45 league goals conceded.

Having signed an 8-year contract last October, it is understandable that the board would put Pardew on a short leash. But their next move has the press, fans, and even the competition confused and bewildered. The club hired former manager (and arguably one of the poorest managers in the top flight in recent years) Joe Kinnear as Director of Football.

The news of Kinnear’s appointment leaked on Sunday June 16, just a week after I returned from my annual visit to Vieques, and around the time I was hoping to hear that Newcastle was preparing a few bids for players once the transfer window opened on JUly 1. Newcastle fans remember how disastrous Kinnear’s tenure was with the club as manager. But it still came as a shock when Kinnear walked into a radio station on Monday June 17, before the club had confirmed his appointment, and declared himself to be the final word on new signings, as well as Alan Pardew’s boss. He also declared, before the official announcement, that Managing Director Derek Llambias was on his way out. Oh, and it was simply offensive and bizarre.

Derek Llambias did indeed resign. Friendly with fans, and seemingly on board with Pardew’s French and African recruiting plan for the club, Llambias’ departure set off alarms all over Tyneside.

But when Pardew broke his silence after his summer vacation on July 8, he showed no sign of wanting to quit, and expressed his commitment to the new power structure in the front office. He even said that he and Llambias didn’t work well together.

It would appear that Alan Pardew has the toughest task of any Premier League manager in the 2013-2014 campaign. He has to use the squad he currently has, plus or minus no more than 4 players total, and deliver a top 12 finish, while being overseen by one of the least successful and most despised men in all of English football. Joe Kinnear hadn’t been re-hired by any top flight club since being fired by Newcastle in 2009. His being re-hired by the club that should know how terrible he is makes this story all the more extraordinary.

It will be, in words of The Guardian’s Louise Taylor, a minefield.

UPDATE, July 21, 11:00 EDT, The Mag reports that Kinnear has just hired former Sunderland and Newcastle player, Mick Harford, as a coach. He had agreed to join East London club Milwall as a coach just last month. This probably puts additional restraints on Alan Pardew, and not just because Harford used to wear red and white stripes. These are interesting times, indeed.

UPDATE, July 22, Harford has rejected Kinnear's job offer. Smart move, Lad.

NUFC: A Summer Of Change Is Required

I have wanted to write about Newcastle since their dreadful, historic loss at home against the Mackems. But I've spent too much time being nervous about relegation.

It was too late for Newcastle to make any tactical changes late in the season. They just had to win one more match between April 14 and May 19, and they just got it done against QPR on Sunday. Now we cal all relax a bit. Bit there is so much to be done betweeen now and the end of July.

It is clear to every knowlegible supporter that Newcastle United is a squad full of talented players. But the tactics and player slections were off the entire season.

There are also clear talent gaps. The squad can't afford to have wingers who cannot cross. I'm sorry, Jonas, but you have to go. You also have to go, Tioté.

In the current campaign, this squad has consistant difficulty delivering the ball to the strikers. The combinations are off. They have scoring machines up front. But it's all for nought if the team can't contruct sustained attacks. Giving up the first goal of the match is not the way to 60 points either.

It hurts to think that if this team had gotten just three more wins, they would be sitting in eighth place in the league, right behind Liverpool. That's not a spectacular finish, but very respectable, and away from the cluster of poor teams at the bottom. But what this means is that they are a poor squad. The club needs a lot of rebuilding, and they are going to have to help themselves.

Also, assuming Alan Pardew is given another chance to make things right, he needs to stop saying silly things. Someone get the Silver Fox a public speaking coach.

There really isn't much to say until the summer transfer window is well underway. So I'm going to enjoy a week in Puerto Rico and then hope I return to mainland to news of players bought and sold. This was the case in 2011, when the team bought Marveaux, Obertan, and Cabaye around mid June.

This team needs a bigger, better squad so that it can compete in both the Premiership and in tournaments. That's where the money is. If Newcastle is to reamin a big club (the biggest football club in the world north of 53.5 north latitude, in fact!), then they need to be far better than this.

A January Transfer Window Wishlist For Newcastle United

It's been a painful two weeks for Newcastle United. We supporters all saw it coming. We didn't expect any wins between Boxing Day and January 5th. But each loss was a blow to the squad's confidence, morale, and greadually, the supporter's faith in manager Alan Pardew (who knows what the players think of him).

This post Christmas run has seen three league losses, and a crash out of the FA Cup Third Round. Newcastle now have a week to recover before a trip to Norwich, where the Canaries have been inconsistent, but have scored more goals than the Magpies this season. Because Norwich is in 12th place in the league table, and Newcastle are barely in 15th place, this upcoming match is a virtual must win for the Magpies. It's no easy task. But with one or more key midfielders set to return from injury, and their new right back, Mathieu Debuchy, set to make his debut as the replacement of Danny Simpson, the Lads are yet again, on paper, the superior team. Except that we have seen time and time again this season that have a superior squad sheet means nothing if your team cannot score first, or score and hold a lead.

Newcastle have lost too many leads this season. In their Boxing Day match at Old Trafford, they lost three leads in a single, heartbreaking defeat. Newcastle have shown distressing patterns all season long. They fail to win when they concede a goal first. They have much difficulty holding on to leads. And they have too many scoreless halves, especially the first half, thus making it all the more likely that they don't score the first goal in a match. There is a lack of football fundamentals. The lobs and crosses into the box, required of any team that scores goals and aims high on the table, are simply not happening. They say Tyneside loves goals. But these are not the days of Ferdinand, Beardsley, or Shearer, when Newcastle scored a ton of goals to finish near the top of the table two decades ago.

The reasons behind this decline appear to be the continued use of tactics that have been proven to be ineffective, a broken attacking partnership at the front, and most important, the lack of new signings in the summer of 2012.

Alan Pardew set a theme in June 2011, when he signed four players with French names (three of them are actual Frenchmen). It signaled a “French strategy” at Tyneside, and a renewed focus on the midfield, both of which seemed to reflect all that Pardew had learned in over ten years of managing. He signed star midfielder Yohan Cabaye, Italian defender Davide Santon, and reserve midfielders Gabriel Obertan and Sylvain Marveaux. Today, all four of them are crucial first team players, due to injuries and suspensions this season. Plus, Marveaux had a very productive December, putting him in competition with Jonás Gutiérrez for the left midfielder starting role.

Sylvain Marveaux had a breakthrough month in December 2012.

In that same month, Pardew signed Bemba Ba on a free transfer after he was released from West Ham. Seven months later, he shocked the EPL with the signing of another Senegalese striker, Papiss Demba Cissé. He and Ba formed a productive tandem that almost propelled Newcastle United into the Champions League.

Injuries to defenders Ryan Taylor and Steven Taylor in 2011/12 should have been a warning to sign or rent additional defenders. With only Mike Williamson, James Perch, and Danny Guthrie as the available defensive utility players, the Magpies were thin in the backfield. Pardew released Guthrie in June, 2012, highlighting this fact.

But in the summer of 2012, there were just two reservist midfielder signings, Gaël Bigirimana and Vurnon Anita. Again, both players are on the first team today due to injuries and suspensions. But at least one of them probably wouldn't be traveling with the squad if they weren't so unlucky. 

Newcastle went into 2012/13 a very vulnerable team. Losing one of the Taylors would negatively effect their goal differential (they have lost both to injury). The partnership of Demba Ba and Papiss Cissé fell apart as Ba refused to let Cissé run down the middle, his preferred, natural position. Johan Cabaye was failing to produce chances as promised (Ba might have had something to do with that), and fell to injury himself. He's expected to return soon.

The current January 2013 transfer window is a chance for Alan Pardew to make up for the giant lost opportunity that was the summer of 2012.

Here is my very amateur, obvious, and FIFA video game influenced wish list for this month:

Mathieu Debuchy, right back. They signed him last week. He replaces Danny Simpson, who coincidentally fractured his tow last week. Already, Newcastle's defense is stronger heading to Norwich.

Loïc Rémy, striker. He will have to play next to or behind Papiss Cissé. He will have to get along with Cissé. He should get along with fellow Frenchman Yohan Cabaye. Newcastle have been watching him for at least a year, and now is the time to make a bid. They need to replace Demba Ba, and Remy needs to be their top priority order of business this coming week. Remy's club, Marseille, have reluctantly agreed to sell him, so long as a big club bids at least ₤11 Million for him. Alan Pardew would have prefered to spend ₤9 Million. But with QPR and other teams likely to make a bid for Remy, his price will creep towards ₤15 Million. If Pardew thinks Remy is the best replacement available for Ba, he has to act now.

Douglas Franco Teixeira (“Douglas”), center back. Newcastle scouted him in 2011, I believe. He has expressed a strong interest in playing Germany or England. Why not make a bid? Pardew would have to request more transfer funds from Mike Ashley, but these are despirate times, and Newcastle needed another center back a year ago.

Mahmoud Abdel Razek Fadlallah (“Shikabala”), attacking midfielder. I am aware of the spotty history of Egyptian players in the English Premier League. They don't usually blossom in England. Also, they are not usually big enforcers, as English attacking midfielders should be (I always felt that Wayne Rooney would make a better midfieder than striker, due to his body type). Shikabala is another player Newcastle have scouted in the last two years, and he might fill the attacking midfielder role left vacant by Joey Barton (and Johan Cabaye has not yet filled). He can also be a backup striker who could replace both Ranger and Xisco (how and why is Ranger still on this team?). Who knows? Why not approach Zamalek about buying him when he returns from loan in June? 

Now for a paid journalist to sum it up, and this was just before Newcastle were dumped out of the FA Cup.

Lee Ryder, Blog On The Tyne:

Pardew's troops need seven wins from the remaining 18 matches before we can start to think about anything other than mere survival...fasten your seatbelts, the black and white roller-coaster is ready to depart for 2013.

NUFC: Trying To Right The Ship

19 year-old Gael Bigirimana scored his first ever Premier League goal on Monday, December 3rd.

For most of the 2012-2013 campaign, Newcastle United have not found their form, or shown us what they can do. Their pattern in nearly all of their matches has been slow starts. Most of their goals have come in the second half. Three of their matches featured late equalizers. And three of their drawn matches involved poor calls that went their way and a fair amount of luck.

Their October 4th victory against Bordeaux in the Europa League briefly broke that pattern. Newcastle came out running, passing, and shooting. Scoring once in each half, they put together a perfect game, while keeping three of their best midfielders rested for the next match against Manchester United.

Then things fell apart for nearly two months. Suspensions, injuries, and some of the worst defensive play the club has seen since their 2009 relegation season put them on a long winless run. That winless run happened to coincide with the extrodinary 8-year renewal of manager Alan Pardew's contract. 

But on Monday, Newcastle got their first Premier League victory since October 28th with an easy triumph of 10-man Wigan. The vicory was a gift. It was a lifeline. 

Today, Newcastle have yet another chance to string two victorys together and show if they can carry momentum through squad and tactical changes. They are in Bordeaux today for their sixth and final Europa League group stage match. A win would secure the top of Group D. A draw or loss would probably send a team of equal caliber their way when the Europa knockout stages begin in February (teams like Lyon and Viktoria Plzen come to mind).

Newcastle supporters thought that the club was finished with Nile Ranger, who has not been able to stay out of trouble and arguably should have been released long ago. But Alan Pardew has chosen Ranger to start as one of the forwards today. It could be a last chance for him to prove he is worthy of wearing the black and white stripes. 

Newcastle strategy, I would think, would be to score first, and then give the younger, reserve players a chance to hold the line. The senior players need to rest and heal before Monday's trip to Fulham, in what will be Newcastle's second globally-televised (ESPN) game in as many weeks.

Bordeaux are slight favorites today. But Their defense is not as strong as Premier League opponents. Pardew wants to win, but I suspect he also wants to see what his reservists can do. And so, two young midfielders, Frenchman Yven Moyo, and a home-grown prospect, Conor Newton, are on the bench today, available to make their senior squad debuts.

Score first. Hold the line. That's fundamental football. And Newcastle need to re-master the fundamentals before they can work on getting back into the Premier League top ten. There were bruises suffered in Monday's victory. Newcastle need to recover as bigger tests are just days away.

Now onto the more professional Newcastle blogs.

Lee Ryder, The Evening Chronicle:

Another highlight of the night was midfielder Sylvain Marveaux’s sparkling display as the French ace shone for long periods and set up Bigirimana’s wonder goal.

Black & White & Read All Over:

The clinching goal, when it arrived, came from a most unlikely source. Master T [Bigirimana] touched the ball to his left before walloping a splendid left-foot shot into the top corner of Al-Habsi's net. A fine way for the teenager to register his first for the club.

Newcastle Warp from 44 to 59 Points

A beautiful two month unbeaten run opened the season. Key injuries and a dismal December nearly killed it. But Newcastle United had the grit and character to keep working and find their groove. And in March, they found it, taking a full 15 points thus far in their final 10 game stretch. They control their own European destiny. If they can somehow get another 15 points, they are almost certainly in the Champions League for 2012/13. If Everton somehow lose today in their FA Cup semifinal against struggling Liverpool, then Newcastle are guaranteed a spot in the Europa League no matter what happens. European football is a very real possibility for the Toon a full year ahead of manager Alan Pardew's schedule.

Despite lacking a potent offense for much of the season, Newcastle have still scored 50 goals thus far, which is sixth highest in the league, just behind Chelsea. It's been a true team effort. Just enjoy this cathartic, if chronologically mixed tribute video, which was posted on April 12th. It wonderfully reminds us of what has transpired since Newcastle's relegation in May 2009. There are some unforgettable goals here, including Hatem Ben Arfa's unbelivable 70 yeard run which sealed victory against Bolton on April 9th.

So, here are my silly predictions for the five remaining games the Lads have before them:

Saturday, April 21, Newcastle v Stoke: W 2-1

Saturday, April 28, Wigan v Newcastle: W 2-0

Wednesday, May 2, Chelsea v Newcastle: L 2-0

Sunday, May 6, Newcastle v Manchester City: W 3-1 

Sunday, May 13, Everton v Newcastle: L 2-1

Looks like I'm predicting 9 more points out of a possible 15. A total of 68 points. Midway through this season, I predicted 60 points total.

If Tottenham and Chelsea continue to slip, Newcastle could very well squeeze into fourth place in the league table and enter the Champions League no matter what Everton do.

Once again, the Magpies have captured the hearts and minds of their loyal supporters. These are exciting times.  

Newcastle United On Target For 60 Points

Newcastle United did not make it through the November / December "Stretch of Doom" unscathed. It was hoped that they would emerge from their matches against Man City, Man United, and Chelsea with two points. Instead, they emerged with the luckiest point of any team this season and the loss of star defender Steven Taylor to a torn ACL. They were battered, exhausted, and undiciplined (as evidenced when Dan Gosling got dirty and earned himself a three game suspension).

I wanted to blog all about this stretch a month ago. But Newcastle's dense and busy scheule had me transfixed and nervous with each passing round. We Newcastle fans were on edge as the midfield and defense suffered failures and made too many mistakes. In effect, Newcastle went into a new Stretch of Doom as they dropped points to Norwich, Swansea, and West Brom. Three more matches, just one point. They needed to shift gears.

And the shift came rather organically. Manager Alan Parew didn't have to make any call ups from the reserve squad. He didn't have to start Alan Smith. He simply rested the right players (notibly Hatem Ben Arfa) and released them onto the pitch when they were ready. And the point scoring resumed (the dismal loss to Liverpool notwhithstanding).

Since Christmas, Newcastle have taken 9 out of 12 available points. They also won a thrilling third round FA Cup match to earn a very winnable fouth round draw. And the points earned in the last four league games have been obtained in very different ways. At Bolton on Boxing Day (a day Newcastle had not been victorious lately), two very quick goals caused an almost instant deflation and concession by the hosts. Then at home against Manchester United, Newcastle expected to face a furious Red Devil side, eager to avenge the pont Newcastle stole in November as well as the embarassing loss to Blackburn Rovers the week before. However, Manchester United's midfield didn't exert its superiority. Forward Wayne Rooney only got off one shot.

Newcstle played a spirited game that fetured two extraordinary shots by Demba Ba and Johan Cabaye to put Newcastle up 2-0 and cruising to victory. It was a win for this generation, despite Man United's lack of energy and drive. United's performance was unnacceptable, but Newcastle still had to break through twice to put Man U away, in difficult, windy conditions at a packed St. James' Park. It was a true team performance, and it was inspiring.

In the thriller against Blackburn in the FA Cup third round, the key to victory was playing Hatem Ben Arfa on the right wing. It had to be an epiphany for Alan Pardew, who has not seen eye to eye with Ben Arfa since his arrival as Manager over a year ago.

And then today, Newcastle simply had to play possession football against a depressed and sinking QPR squad. Three wins. Three different ways to win.

There are 17 matches remaining for the Magpies in league action this season. Today's game against QPR should prove to be the easiest through May. There will be no more easy points this season. But the Toon have 36 points, and sit in sixth place in the Premiership table. If they can upset Everton, Aston Villa, or Arsenal, they would have a shot at 60 points for the season. The Magpies have proven that they can defend well without Steven Taylor. Now they have to score goals without Bemba Ba and Cheik Tiote, as those players are serving their nations in the African Cup.

17 games. 51 points for the taking. I think they can take 24. They are on pace for it. They just need one upset against a stronger club, and defeat Wolverhampton and Swansea, among other events. 

Stay the course, Newcastle....and set fire to the rain.

Toon Still Unbeaten In League Play

Newcastle have earned an extraordinary 19 points in 9 league games. They still need 40 points to ensure safety in the league. However, given how weak the Premiership seems to be this season, Newcastle should race to that total before the ground thaws in the spring of 2012.

But are they really good enough to qualify for an UEFA tournament next season? So soon? They are going to remain in the top six so long as Tim Krul remains brilliant in net, and the defense and midfield continue to develop as a unit. But their first league defeat has to be on the horizon. If not against Stock, then Everton, or Manchester City. The first league defeat is coming. How the squad deals with it will help define this season and the team's spirit.

Two highlights from Saturday's match against Wigan sum up the game. In the first half, Tim Krul made a tremendous save against Wigan's Vctor Moses, who fired a rising shot that was labeled for a spot under the crossbar. Then, late in the second half, the French midfield finally produced a goal. In the 80th minute, Sylvain Marveaux fed a beutiful pass backward to the outside center-right of the box, where Yohan Cabaye fired a rising shot into the top left corner. It was a perfect shot, perfect finish. Game, set, match, Newcastle. 

Here' wat my favorite NUFC blogs had to say:

Black and White and Read All Over:

Pardew had what he referred to as "<em>a little chat</em>" with the players at the interval - not quite the stirring oratory of half-time in February's meeting with Arsenal, you'd imagine, but certainly enough to urge them into a hungrier and more purposeful second-half performance.

Blog on the Tyne:

Cabaye's character is already shining through at Newcastle and long may it continue.

View From the Shite Seats:

It was an undeserved victory for a United side who had struggled all afternoon to create any chances of note and also to keep out a Wigan team who looked far more impressive than their lowly-position would suggest.