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.