Nov 30, 2012

NUFC back to basics: hit the flanks

David approves.

Stoke 2 – 1 Newcastle.  The fourth league defeat in a row for the Magpies.  Seven goals conceded – two goals scored – zero points; from a run of fixtures which was expected to be Newcastle’s relief to a tricky first season quarter.  None of this is a secret…

Setting aside the safety second transfer policy adopted by the board in the preceding summer, the distinct 442 formation insisted upon by Alan Pardew has bore the brunt of many critics, even ourselves at an earlier stage in the season, here.  Whilst many of the views contained within that piece written in early September remain, there is an overriding thought that the current layout is still underachieving for the resource that has been available.

A 442 lives or dies by its strength on the flanks – the ability for one, or preferably both wings to stretch the opposition’s midfield and get behind their defence to deliver to the forward line.  Without width or an outlet on the flanks the ball is forced through the congested centre, or straight over the top to serve the front two – sound familiar?  The typical left side combination of Santon and Gutierrez fails in an attacking sense primarily through the pair being heavily reliant upon their right foot and unable to cross or cut inside without cutting back or leaving the ball exposed.   There is no quick knock and in-swinging cross available to them – no cut across the defender with the ball on the safer goal side.

The squeezed middle

The right side fairs no better.  The heavily enigmatic Hatem Ben Arfa has the potential to destroy a team on his own, but stationed at right wing has a very predictable tendency to cut inside onto his stronger foot.  Although his sheer brilliance has seen this performed to some effectiveness, teams have understandably looked to block off this avenue through a covering man – limiting Hatem’s ability to deliver from wide (again, forced onto his weaker foot) and in turn tightening / condensing the midfield / attack space by  his movement inside.  To compound problems, Ben Arfa has a compulsive preference to roam the field to find space and or generally follow the ball, occasionally leaving the right flank exposed to a nervy Danny Simpson and, again, the field narrowed.

With these basics in mind, it’s no surprise the strikers are squeezed and feeding off the very scraps of service.  The first step should be to balance to flanks and give it a fighting chance to deliver to the forward line, along with the ability to defend it already has.  At present, I believe NUFC wouldn’t go far wrong with a left side combination of Ferguson and Marveaux, and a right side of Santon and Ben Arfa / Jonas / Obertan – the latter depending upon Ben Arfa’s potential use as a free-role player to provide an alternative link between midfield and striker.  We only need look back to the devilishly simple but effective combination of Gillespie and Ginola (the former particularly simple) providing crosses for the powerhouse that was Les Ferdinand and the success it brought: you can argue the players available may have been slightly better suited, but was the system any more complicated than it needed to be?  Let’s take a few minutes to remind ourselves:

Resources may be finite, youngsters still learning, players still coming to terms with the English game but there is certainly enough ability there to increase our potency going forward and in turn our effectiveness as a team in the short term.

It can’t, and won’t be ignored, that this is only one part of a ball of problems contributing to our current plight – but NUFC cannot continue in their current stride as the football produced is undeniably ineffective against the most routine of opponents, the current dismal run only highlighting problems which have been visible for some time but left disappointingly unchecked.

NUFC can and will play better, more successful football again. But first they need to go back to basics.


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