17.12.2011 – Saturday 3:00pm
Location: St James’
Early prospects: Cautiously positive
Newcastle United take their injury ravaged squad back home this weekend to face Premier League new boys Swansea, looking to return to winning ways after a rough sequence of fixtures.
Home comforts are certainly needed with the exertions of the previous weeks being fully exploited by a brutal and ruthless Norwich side last weekend in their own back yard. A run of four games without a win may be understandable when put into the context of the games played, but it is still a run of which has only gathered one point and a return to winning ways this weekend is certainly needed to hold up confidence and self-assurance.
Our opponents today travel to St James still looking for their first Premier League away win, having only managed two draws on the road so far.
Despite taking a physical pounding on the field, NUFC miraculously managed to leave Carrow Road with no new injuries to report. Dan Gosling’s straight red however appears not to have been appealed against despite it having a strong case of it being downgraded to a second yellow rather than a three match ban inducing straight red – either way he’s banned for this one. Mike Williamson played 45mins of a reserve fixture midweek and subsequently declared himself fit – although NUFC still rate him as doubtful to start. Captain Fabricio Coloccini and midfield attack dog Chieck Tiote are equally on the fringes and their potential participation is likely to go to the wire. Worst case would see the same line-up that faced Norwich but with Mehdi Abied or Alan Smith replacing Gosling – best case would see the aforementioned trio of injury doubts all pass fit to play. Let’s stay positive…
Swansea also come into this game with no new injuries of note, and can welcome Joe Allen back from suspension to the midfield. Following a very welcome home win against Fulham, it’s likely the talented Brendan Rogers will keep a similar line-up for this game in a midfield centric 4231 formation, with Danny Graham and Nathan Dyer also possibilities to return to the starting XI.
Opposition strengths and notable dangers:
After gaining promotion to the Premier League via the play-offs, the Swans have taken little time to adapt to the top league – retaining confidence largely in the squad that brought them there.
• Ball hogs! : The most obvious and well documented strength of Swansea City this season, and indeed a fair few seasons previous. A very impressive average possession of 56% and pass competition rate of 85% allows Swansea to play a very patient and methodical style, building up pressure to create scoring chances whilst also providing reasonable protection against exposure to a defensive line largely unfamiliar to Premier League life.
• Michel Vorm: Another well documented strength and success of Swansea this season has been the performances of their Dutch ‘keeper (sounds quite familiar…). The act-like reflexes of Vorm ensure that any breach of the Swans defensive line will still require some serious work produce a goal – Vorm proving this as recently as last week keeping Fulham at bay, even from the penalty spot.
• Sinclair / Graham: Particularly in their places within the 4231 formation. NUFC have often struggled to deal with this formation when fielding a 442, regardless of the opposition, with the numbers in midfield and free movement from wide positions causing us defensive and attacking headaches. The explosive Scott Sinclair operating from the left flank in particular will be one to pay heavy attention to going forward, as will the poaching Danny Graham working solo between the central defenders.
Nothing too expansive required for NUFC in this one – just pay proper attention to the simple things.
• Press high up the field…: Swansea setting out to play possession football is a given and through the stats shown earlier it’s equally obvious that they are competent at playing it. With home advantage, NUFC should look to take the game to our visitors and press them highly up the field, attempting to corner them and pick up on loose balls.
• …and keep it: The second part of that strategy is to ensure we don’t surrender possession back to the pass-masters easily. Against Norwich, NUFC on the whole treat the ball like it was a live hand grenade with a number of very clumsy passes making life on the whole greater more difficult for ourselves – Dan Gosling’s disastrous ‘through ball’ that lead to the Canaries crippling third goal being the most high profile. As a prioirity, this needs to change this week.
• Make most of the aerial advantage: Expecting another physical forward line of Ba and Ameobi, NUFC should look to use their expertise in the air both to build attacks and to directly attack. The familiar strategy of one of the strikers dropping off to support the midfield in the build-up should be beneficial against an opposition who are heavy in technical ability, but not so in muscle.
Final thought and gut feeling:
Regardless of opposition or injuries, there is still a sense of shell-shock at the number of goals NUFC have conceded (11 in the last four, compared to eight in the first 11 games). The perception of losing the steady base upon which has undoubtedly resulted in NUFC’s excellent start to the season can have a pretty un-nerving effect on the remainder of the team and with that in mind could easily lead to an uneasy game this weekend. I still expect a result with home advantage, but not an easy or convincing one at present: narrow home win.
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