Last year, on the whole, was brilliant. We went from mid-table also rans, to a top 6 side qualifying for Europe. We completely over-achieved. However, maybe that's the key word, over-achieved. Personally I think the players we have are a top 6 team at least and could quite honestly walk into most teams that have qualified for the Champions League, never mind Europa League. Cabaye, Tiote, Ben Arfa, Demba Ba, Papiss Cisse, Captain Colo, Tim Krul would all be worthy of standing on the pitch, pre-match, listening to the Champions League music blare out. Easily. So it isn't them that over achieved, so maybe it was our manager.
Last season went so well that we tend to forget where Pardew has actually come from. His CV isn't one of a manager who is at home in a top team, challenging on all fronts and competing in Europe. Far from it. Before taking the reigns at St Jame's Park, the losing FA Cup final with West Ham in 2006 was the highlight of his career. Ruud Gullit and Kenny Dalglish managed to do that here, just to put that 'achievement' into some perspective. The rest of his managerial career includes being sacked at West Ham after leading them to the worst run of defeats in their history, which worryingly included a first round elimination in the UEFA Cup and League Cup. Not being able to save Charlton from relegation, being unable to get them back up and being sacked. Taking over Southampton in League One, winning the Football League Trophy (nice) but eventually being sacked due to low morale in the club. How he got the job after all of this at Newcastle was at the time a surprise, but he has it all the same and has the LMA Manager Of The Year award on his mantle piece which nobody can argue with. I certainly can't because I made a nice profit on him from the bookies on that one. Nice work Al.
However, last season wasn't all perfect and rosie. There were performances, team selections and substitutions which really did leave you scratching your head in confusion. Especially given the fact at how bloody brilliant we were in others. On the 25th March this year we went down to West Bromwich to play a game on a Super Sunday in front of the Sky cameras. What we all witnessed was a sensational performance in which we attacked with speed, movement, skill, vision, penetration and clinical finishing. It was the birth of what all NUFC fans now know as 'the 4-3-3'. We continued this way of playing into the next 2 games v Liverpool and Swansea, where 2-0 victories came our way. Then inexplicably for the next game v Bolton we reverted back to the flat, narrow, ineffective 4-4-2 in which arguably the goal of the season from Ben Arfa rescued us from a 0-0 draw. Rightly, for our next home game v Stoke we went back to 4-3-3 and absolutely hammered them from start to finish 3-0, with Yohan Cabaye let loose in the hole in the starring role. This period in which the 4-3-3 was born resulted in a 6 game winning streak. We had seemingly hit gold, struck oil and all of us fans were loving it. We all had the same thoughts that this way of playing and system was going to be the future for Newcastle Utd and we were all behind it.
Unfortunately, the Stoke game on the 21st April is the last time we have seen 'the 4-3-3' as Pardew resorted back to 4-4-2 for the remaining 4 games. Where we would go on to lose 3 out of 4 and miss out on the Champions League. Myself and others can only explain this 'back to hoofball horsesh*t' was to try and please Demba Ba. As Papiss Cisse was stealing the limelight from him by being unable not to score. Whereas Demba was in a goal scoring rut & seen physically sulking on the bench when Cisse was scoring for us at Swansea. We all saw it. It was strange and seemed totally pathetic and selfish. Demba at the time had a release clause in his contract so seemingly the reason why Pardew changed to 4-4-2 with him up front was to try and make him stay. Pardew fell to his knees, skinned Demba's grapes and fed them to him in seeming desperation to convince him to stay. It was pathetic.
Pardew is the manager and if he want's to play a certain way than the players should do it or otherwise, get out. Simple.
So, onto this season. This is the season that will determine whether we are genuinely a top team and whether Pardew is genuinely a top manager. We have to say, it hasn't been a great start. We have played 5 competitive games so far and haven't played well in any of them. The two legged affairs v Atromitos were played by our second team so this goes some way to explain the average, but just about good enough performances. We won, we qualified, move on.
The 3 Premier League game's we have played are far more worrying. Pardew has lined us up in the dreaded flat, narrow 4-4-2 and it predictably hasn't worked. We managed to get the win v Spurs but this was down to 2 moments of class from Ba and Ben Arfa in what was an awful performance overall. Spurs should have won. We then went down to Chelsea and kept possession well, but didn't threaten Chelsea at all in the final third. It was poor, but they're good team so we weren't expecting a win anyway. However, yesterday v Aston Villa was the straw that has broken my back. It was pathetic. It was terrible. It was totally avoidable. Playing with Ba and Cisse up front with Jonas on the left and Cabaye suffocated in a holding role...DOES. NOT. WORK. It has never worked. It will never work. We all know 4-3-3 works a hundred times better so why aren't we playing it? Why? What is the explanation? Would Chelsea play this way with Hazard stuck on the wing? Would Arsenal play this way with Cazorla in a holding role? Would Man Utd play this way with Kagawa suffocated like Cabaye is and Rooney and RVP isolated with no service? Would they bollocks! So why do we? If it's still down to pleasing Demba Ba than maybe Pardew is out of his depth. Can't he handle players? He struggled with Tevez and Mascherano at West Ham after all.
We have a team that is good enough to finish 4th this season. I am adamant about that. We have players that could walk into most Champions League teams. So why are we playing like Stoke? In fact, we don't even do that because they play with wingers who get down the flanks and actually CROSS the ball to their 2 strikers. We don't. Jonas Gutierrez must be allergic to the by-line because he doesn't go anywhere near it. He is a work-aholic midfielder, he is not a winger. If anything he should be played at left back because that's where he spends most of his time when playing on the left. If you cant see it yourself, or believe me than this graphic below of where he spent most of his time on Sunday should give you a clue. Remember, we are at home against arguably the worst team in the league:
Is this a winger, or a left back?
I am hoping and praying this performance v Villa will finally hit home to Pardew that maybe this system he's choosing with both strikers up top, isn't working. We can't keep relying on Benny to come up with a piece of out of this world genius just to get us on the score sheet. I am hoping during this international break he gets the DVD out of 'When we played 4-3-3' and went on that 6 games winning streak at the end of last season to get it through to his brain. After all, it was him that introduced this style in the first place! Where is the logic in changing it? If it's to have 2 strikers up top to bully the opposition's defence, than it isn't working. This flat, narrow, ineffective, unnecessary, pre-historic, hoofball horsesh*t way of playing is a f*cking eyesore and needs to be stopped, immediately. Nobody likes it and more importantly, it doesn't work. What we want to see is the 21st century style of playing that worked so well for us, that all the other top teams in Europe play and that suits the top class players we have down to the ground. The days of Carroll and Nolan with Barton crossing from deep are gone. We've moved on haven't we? There is no excuses not to play this way. None. If the only excuse is because Demba Ba doesn't like playing Left Wing then there are three options a) Drop him, b) Play him in the CF role or c) Tell him to start the game at LW then have him and Cisse switch every 10-15 minutes or so. I would choose option c as this is what we actually did during the last couple times we played 4-3-3. It worked and Ba can have no excuses as he will have as much time up front as Cisse. The option of abandoning the formation completely shouldn't even be an option. If we line up away at Everton in our next game in the same way we have so far this season (plus at the end of last season when we lost 3 games out of 4) then I am afraid the question of whether Alan Pardew is out of his depth, may just be answered. No manager out there worth his salt would stick with this way of playing, especially considering it isn't working. Nobody.
It's not just the team line-ups and system's that have me doubting his mental health but the substitution he makes. Last year I lost count of the baffling subs he made, Benny not even coming on v Swansea when we needed a goal and creativity was a good one. Already this season he's at it again. Yesterday, when Danny Simpson came off injured he chose to bring on 18 year old Bigirimana and put Anita in at right back. When Sylvain Marveaux was sat on the bench and Jonas was refusing to get beyond the halfway line. We needed width. Sticking Jonas in at full back and allowing Marv to work his magic down the left was so obvious I could scream.
In the transfer market he has left us baffled. Not just the fact we haven't brought in a striker but the fact we sold Best and let Lovenkrands leave for free doesn't make any sense whatsoever. We have a weaker forward line than last season, with more games to play. How does that work? Plus with Raylor and Simpson injured we have a weaker defence. We needed a defender even before Raylor did his cruciate, never mind after. Illogical. The excuse that well Pardew isn't in control of transfer doesn't wash. He is the manager. He should be constantly banging on Llambias's door. If he was, he failed. If he wasn't, he should have been.
His press conferences make me either scream out loud laughing or with anger due to their complete boll*cks nature. I lost count of the gems he came out with last season. "I didn't bring on Ben Arfa because we needed a creative influence in the game" was a good one. After the transfer deadline day closed 3 days ago with no new much needed recruits he said, "I am sure the fans will thank Mike Ashley's ambition". Oh aye yea, we'll get right on that one. Not rejecting any actual official bids that came in for our players and not signing any news ones, screams of ambition.
I wont go into pushing linesman. Like Pard's says himself, that was just ridiculous.
There is no excuse or logical reason for the boll*cks we have seen at the start of this season. You can say we finished 5th last year so how can you doubt him?, but that was last year. Like I have said. It's a totally different animal this year. We have expectation. We have more games. The rest of the league know how good we can be and will try to stop us. This year will sort the men from the boys. If anything, all last year did was show us how good we can be and why we shouldn't have to put up with the type of Villa 'performance' any more.
Yes, it is very early days and it could be a lot worse but it should be a lot better. Stone me for having ambition and knowing what potential this team has. I have seen it. We have all seen it. We want to see it again and to not just have potential...but to fulfil it.
So for the love of God....Howay Man!