After an initial tremendous run to start the season, Newcastle United have lost three of their last four. Two might have been expected (at Manchester City and v. Chelsea), but the most recent loss to Norwich is troubling. It is troubling for two reasons. Reason the first: Tactical. Reason the Second: Building the Squad.
1) I'm not going to be challenging for the title of Tactical Genius of the World at any point soon. That being said, you could see the arrows laying in on the 4-4-2 app, and it looked EXACTLY. I mean EXACTLY like what we could assume it was going to. And we still didn't stop it. I get it. We had some critical injuries and they hindered us in exactly the ways that maximized the potential profit of the Norwich City game plan. This excuse is just that, however. An excuse. We had two chances to prevent a result like this from happening- we could have addressed the very real problems with the squad during the transfer window, or we could have addressed the Norwich tactics more directly in the week leading up to the match.
[Edited because we in fact did not lose to Manchester United, but did to Manchester City - OSotP]
I don't often question Alan Pardew on tactics. He has usually acquitted himself very well this season in this regard. Even on a macro level, you can see that he made changes to the lineup that he thought would shore up our known weakness. For instance, starting Shola instead of HBA was a direct result of the centre-half situation. Shola put in a shift on Saturday, and was all over the pitch, particularly in the box on set pieces. This is the adjustment is the obvious response to what AP anticipated from Norwich. + points here. Here's the problem. One Shola does not a solution make. All four goals came directly from set pieces. On 3 of them, the Norwich strikers were just left running free. The more I think about this, the more furious I get. It's not as though these goals were coming from surprising places. They had two main targets and those targets accounted for the three goals that weren't mildly flukey. - points here for AP because the players that we had to play with looked patently unable and unprepared for the set pieces. Look. There's a reason I'm not a Premiership manager... well... a manager of any level, actually. I can't fathom, though, why you would not have spent significant time with a line of balls from 30 yards out along the boundary up to 12 yards out and just pounded them in all day every day during training to help players that were under-capable to play the roles they were being asked to play prepare as well as they possibly could have to deal with the tactic THAT WE KNEW NORWICH WOULD USE. I believe that this was a failing on Alan Pardew's part. I see that he believed that he addressed it with starting Shola (and again, I felt Shola had a great match overall). Shola can't think for the other defenders, though. Tactical adjustment: Fail.
2) This is the level that disturbs me and causes me to be concerned for the long-term future of our club. Even while we were sitting there with Mike Williamson as our only real cover at CB in the summer (which in and of itself I view as unacceptable), we were (as supporters and club) charging around after this striker or that striker. We needed another striker, honestly, but center back was a more dire need with regards to depth. At the front with Ba, Shola, Best, Ben Arfa, Ranger viewed as viable options at that time (granted Ranger has pulled a tremendous flake job, but we're viewing this from summer information), we clearly got our priorities wrong. The possible reasoning behind this is what worries me. Strikers have higher resale value. If this fubar was driven by Ca$hley getting his priorities wrong again, I am quite worried about the "sustainable model" that we are hoping to run the club by. If this "sustainable model" is gained by ignoring the needs of the squad in order to maximize profit, this model will surely lead to our ultimate doom in the table. Don't get me wrong, we will survive this hiccup. We will survive this season. The squad has enough quality that we will finish solidly mid-table or higher. Here is the problem. I can understand a lower division club that has suffered some mismanagement having a squad as out of balance as our squad is currently. They wouldn't have as strong a financial position to try to get things fixed back up. Ostensibly, we still have double-digits of millions of £ outstanding from the sale of the number 9. In June and July, Alan Pardew, John Carver, Mike Ashley and Derek Llambias should have been sitting at a table and going through the squad. The fact that Pardew does not rate Tamas Kadar at all should have come out at that time. The fact that we had serviceable depth at the forward positions and no depth at center back should have been identified at this time. I was convinced earlier in the season that this January was going to be critical in identifying Ashley's ultimate intention with the club. I stand even more convinced today. Chiek Tiote looks more important than we thought- we are 2-1-3 in the six matches that he has missed... granted that included the #StretchOfDoom as half of that, but you have to think that we might have come out better through those matches had he been playing... but his presence in the lineup makes the center backs stronger and makes Yohan Cabaye stronger. Chiek Tiote is being linked the strongest with a move away from St. james' Park. I still maintain that Fabricio Coloccini fits the most into the most-likely-to-be-moved box. If either of these players gets moved without suitable replacements (that's right... plural) brought in a la the number 9 shirt last January, then we have serious reason to believe that we're right back where we were with regard to our owner and the state of the club.
I'm not writing this as a Chicken Little type "The Sky Is Falling" post. We are still in a strong position in the table. We still should not expect to compete for Europe. We will ideally have Captain Colo back in the mix on Saturday. Perhaps we will see Cheik in the black and white again some day. This squad will still bring lots of good results and good football to the table this year. Ultimately, however, we need to see movement with regards to addressing squad deficiencies, of there is real reason for concern.