The Season Just Gone
Like seemingly every other campaign Newcastle United have at the moment, 2014-15 was a dramatic and depressing ordeal for the Geordie faithful, who had to watch arguably the worst half-season in Premier League history. Had their first half of the season not been so bright, they would have been relegated without a shadow of a doubt.
Frank Drebin’s Alan Pardew’s mid-season departure, the Magpies avoided defeat in only six of their remaining nineteen games, winning three and drawing three. From the start of March until the penultimate game of the season in May, Newcastle took just one point from ten games, getting sucked into a relegation battle they were miles clear of in December. A final day win against West Ham, whose squad had also given up before the start of spring, made things slightly more respectable.
The memory of John Carver’s disastrous spell at the helm of the club will haunt fans’ nightmares for years and years. Indeed, the only good thing to take away from the 2014-15 campaign was that it could barely get any worse.
The Season Ahead
2015-16 promised so much: a new manager who isn’t completely and obviously out of his depth; a summer transfer window in which several attacking players were signed for big money; a sense that the terrors of last season would be swiftly forgotten due to the flair and finesse of the new boys. Sadly, it has started just as last season ended.
Steve McClaren’s men have taken two points from six Premier League games, and have just lost at home to newly promoted Watford and Championship Sheffield Wednesday’s second string. In their defence, they have twelve players out injured, by far the highest number in the division. On the other hand, their performances have been utterly disgraceful: completely rudderless, lacking in determination and with seemingly no idea how to play together.
If things are going to improve, McClaren, pictured below, needs to do some serious hard work on the training field and convince his assorted band of second-rate mercenaries that they really do have to put a shift in for each other. Unfortunately for Newcastle, the club is so blatantly and depressingly soulless that persuading the players to give a f**k might be only marginally easier than walking on water.
Having looked back over Newcastle’s previous games it’s hard to discern anything which could genuinely be called a tactic, so we’ll have to make do with a brief overview of their system (if, indeed, it can be called a system).
In every game so far Newcastle have started with a fairly straightforward 4-2-3-1, focusing their attacks down the flank of the opposition’s weaker full-back. They cross with great regularity: only Southampton and Manchester City put the ball into the box more often, and both sides have significantly higher average possession figures. Sometimes it looks like Newcastle are slinging the ball into the mixer because they don’t know what else to do.
In terms of defensive tactics, they don’t seem to have any plan to stop the opponents scoring goals. They somehow kept a clean sheet at Old Trafford and limited Arsenal, who had an extra man for almost the entire game, to a single goal, but in more recent games against West Ham and Watford, the side’s work-rate, commitment and general organisation have been absolutely non-existent.
Fabricio Coloccini has great hair.
In attack, no team has taken fewer shots per game than Newcastle’s 8.3. Unsurprisingly, no Premier League team has worked the opposition goalkeeper less often. Especially given how many crosses they put into the box, it’s testament to their incompetence that only three sides have had fewer attempts from within the six-yard box this season.
In defence, only two teams have allowed more shots on their goal, while the idea that they simply don’t work hard enough is proven by their low rankings in the tackles, interceptions and fouls per game rankings. Given that they spend an awful lot of time without the ball, they should be registering significantly more off-ball actions than they are.
Frankly, this list of weaknesses could go on forever, so we’ll stop here.
Newcastle’s injury list is almost as long as the list of Geordies who despise Mike Ashley, so Steve McClaren’s starting line-up should be fairly easy to anticipate. Florian Thauvin, whose habit of turning up in a tuxedo and playing terribly has started to grate, may be left out as punishment for being such an absolute weapon, but the brutal reality is that whoever comes in is unlikely to be any better. Right-back Daryl Janmaat, who to his credit hasn't been completely terrible this season, may miss out due to illness.
As for Chelsea, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois out injured and worst-human-being-in-the-history-of-the-world Diego Costa suspended, José Mourinho will surely continue with Asmir Begovic in goal and Loic Rémy up front. The temptation to take Branislav Ivanović out of the defence remains, and Kurt Zouma’s heroics against Arsenal mean he must surely fancy his chances of staying in the team, but if ever there was a chance for the old guard to regain their confidence, this game is it.
If Newcastle don’t fold like a house of cards within half an hour I will eat my own head. 3-0 Chelsea.