I. Newcastle Are In Trouble
This match was terrible. It was always going to be a tough ask to go to Carrow Road and bring home three points. Road matches in general are difficult to take points from more often than not. Let's not fool ourselves here, though. Norwich were not good on Saturday. Yet we did our level best to not only let them stay in the match, but we nearly gifted them all 3 points giving them the most wide-open header that you could ever want to have on the last tick of the match.
This was a listless performance. Think Brighton but with the "right" names on the team sheet. But for some vintage Tim Krul performances early on, we could have been out of the match early... or at least trailing. Who knows if an early concession would have awakened the players from whatever deep slumber they were in against Chris Hughton's men, but the safe money would have been on "no". Alan Pardew has been insisting on trying a 4-2-3-1 formation (I'll write more on this later on), and on this day, it was poor. With Cheik Tiote gone to the ACoN and Yohan Cabaye still on the path back from injury, Vurnon Anita (who, like every player on the pitch outside of Tim Krul had a sub-par match) and James Perch were the "2". If Pardew is in fact interested in playing the double-pivot from the 4-2-3-1, this may be the best pairing with regards to players with this skills to play both defensive and offensive midfield duties. (DISCLAMER: I do not mean that this gets our best players on the pitch - it does not - and I do not mean that it should be our preferred starting CM pairing - it should not. I just mean that in purist terms, these two players in tandem most directly fit the purist idea of the double-pivot, if that is in fact what Pardew is intending in the 4-2-3-1) Let's not worry that particular idea to death just yet, though.
When the lineup was announced, it was met with some degree of enthusiasm. Cisse playing through the middle is clearly the best situation that we could have up front at this point; playing Obertan on the right and Sylvain Marveaux as a withdrawn striker with Jonas in this instance on the left side looks nice on paper. In practice, it was... not so good. As often as not, there was a disconnect in practice and in physical presence between the "3" and the "1". Marveaux was largely unable to function as any kind of link between Cisse and the rest of the squad, let alone try to provide or support Cisse in attack. As it plays out on the field, I don't know that any formation could have backfired more. There were many who said Obertan had a good game prior to his substitution. He really didn't have a good game. Relativity made it seem so, however... that's how bad things were.
II. There Are Some Good Signs
Tim Krul has not at all looked like the same goalkeeper that he was last season. In fairness, the same can be said about many Newcastle players... but it's important to establish the point in order to make this point: Against Norwich City, Tim Krul looked like 2011-12 vintage Tim Krul. He commanded his box well, was secure and assured in his aerial takes and was employing very good technique in his saves. This is a good thing and something that has not always been the case in 2012-13 vintage Tim Krul. We did keep a clean sheet which is also a positive, but it really must be noted that a) Norwich were very wasteful in front of goal and b) Norwich were very wasteful in front of goal.
Mathieu Debuchy was slow to integrate into the squad, but this is to be expected as he had only a week of training to get accustomed to his new teammates. As time went along, he seemed to get more involved on the right hand side, but was partially culpable for one of Norwich's best chances of the match, as well. All told, obviously, the jury will remain out on the Debuchy transfer... but there are reasons to be encouraged. It is probably not a difficult argument to say that Yohan Cabaye in the midfield will make things easier for Debuchy to make runs/receive the ball in dangerous locations/look better when playing the ball forward. So-- it wasn't all bad.
III. Is Alan Pardew Playing A Dangerous Game To Prove A Point?
For large parts of the season, we were playing a 4-4-2 (or perhaps more correctly, a 4-4-1-1 with Demba Ba as the striker and Papiss Cisse in a more withdrawn role) with personnel who are not best utilized in that same formation. Players have been played out of position with startling frequency and, of late, the 4-4-2, 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 have all been tried by Pardew. Is he gambling that "there is enough quality in this side that we won't go down" (a disturbing falsehood) and purposely shifting and pushing weird buttons to prove a point to Mike Ashley and Derek Llambias that the squad needs more (and specific) players?
It seems unlikely that a manager would do that... but with an ownership that has failed to buy a desperately needed CB for 5 consecutive transfer windows, you wonder what kind of convincing it would take to get specific targets when they are needed. On paper, Sylvain Marveaux should have worked in the middle of the 3 in the 4-2-3-1 employed against Norwich. On the strength of an admittedly very small sample size, it doesn't look like he is best utilized there. He has looked best on the left of the "3" in the 4-2-3-1, if that is where we're headed. We know from experience that HBA in a more central role is folly... and he can be devastating cutting in from the right of the 4-3-3 (or 4-2-3-1 for that matter). Who, then, takes that central role? Yohan Cabaye? Potentially, but he is probably not a polished enough striker for that particular role while it also brings him a little far away from the defense to try to orchestrate any sort of coordinated ground attack. Not that we look very interested in this sort of offense these days... we're still enjoying our fruitless forays into hoofball. Romain Amalfitano is obviously not doing whatever is needed to get a look from Pardew. Gabriel Obertan is more of a wing player, although he has shown glimpses of effectiveness in a free role through the middle at times.
It is probably a bit of a reach, but shortcomings in the formation (particularly in the 4-2-3-1) have highlighted needs in the squad. It shouldn't be necessary for a situation like this to get ownership's attention. It is extremely unlikely that this is, in fact, a real situation. I would hope, as well, that even if Alan Pardew felt that it was necessary that he would not be taking these gambles or risks in matches that we should reasonably be thinking about taking the points from. At the end of the day, it was a point. An ugly point that highlighted very real concerns, but a point nonetheless. On and upwards and whatnot... and a potential arrival of Loïc Rémy to look forward to early in this next week.
Some of this is admittedly far-fetched... what are your thoughts? Did you find the squad as lacking of life in the Norwich match? Why not check out the transfer latest here?