Despite a brilliant start to the season Newcastle have come crashing back down to earth of late, there must be a reason... well, actually there's six.
Worrying lack of depth.
In a press conference this week, Alan Pardew claimed that Newcastle's strongest 11 was good enough to compete with any other team in the league. It's hard to argue, given that a side that had virtually no changes made to from August to December was beaten only by Manchester City (arguably unfortunately so). But since the visit of Chelsea on December the 3rd the team has failed to name an unchanged midfield, and its unchanged defence lasted only until the lively Davide Santon was forced off with an injury at half time. It's also failed to win once. No coincidence.
While the likes of Guthrie, Vuckic and Perch have entered the fray and deputised ably, none of them have offered the key skills that the men they replaced provide. Guthrie, though more than able on the ball, lacked Tiote's battling tendencies and thus left the back 4 exposed; Vuckic, though lively and offering a goal threat, can't put his foot on the ball and dictate the tempo like Cabaye; and James Perch simply isn't a centre-half, never mind an all action, blood and guts centre half like Steven Taylor.
Still no service from wide areas.
Despite starting the game with Ba and Best, and finishing it with Ba and Ameobi, Newcastle failed to provide and real service for the two of them from the flanks. Over the 90 minutes, a measly 11 crosses were fired in from open play, only 3 of which found a target (compare that to the 30 Norwich got in against us at Carrow Road).
All three of those successful crosses, by the way, came from Gutierrez, meaning that the increasingly unpopular Gabriel Obertan had only the winning of Demba Ba's first free-kick to show for his evening's work. It also means he's now played a staggering 1200 minutes of Premier League football this season without registering a single shot on target and merely 1 assist.
Substitutes making no impact.
Whilst the squad has been wracked by injuries of late, those chosen to come off the bench have had little to no impact. Alan Pardew's triple change of Vuckic and the brothers Ameobi failed to create a single chance or shot at goal against Swansea, and Shane Ferguson didn't even touch the ball at Norwich.
Currently, Hatem Ben Arfa appears to be Newcastle's only real option from the bench, having come on against West Brom and created more chances in his 30 minute cameo, including an assist for the 2nd equaliser, than any other player managed in the whole game. It's fair to say though that, all things being equal, his role in the side is in the starting 11, not making an impact from the bench.
Shola Ameobi's late equaliser against Tottenham is still the only goal of any consequence that a Newcastle substitute has scored this season.
Tim Krul's distribution.
It feels unusual to find a fault with a player who has been on the receiving end of so much positive (and deserved) acclaim from fans and media alike this season, but Tim Krul's repeated failure to find a colleague with a pass is proving to be a serious problem of late.
Against Norwich City, a game when both goalkeepers saw plenty of the ball, his pass completion rate dropped as low as 27%. That means it took him 4 attempts to find a team-mate with a clearance or goal-kick. Top goalkeepers should be aiming from nearer 80%, and indeed John Ruddy, his opposite number that day, recorded 74%.
It's certainly a small gripe to indulge, but when your team is finding it difficult to unpick a resolute defence, or indeed, to keep a lively attack at bay, ball retention becomes paramount. Newcastle have developed into an excellent passing side this season, and there seems to be no reason why attacks can't be started with simple balls out to the full backs.
A lack of height.
Of the 11 goals Newcastle have conceded in their last 4 games, all but three of them have been scored or assisted by a header. In fact, nearly 70% of their goals conceded have come from set-pieces this season, a Premier League high.
Whilst the route one deliveries of Chris Houghton's side have been gradually phased out for Pardew's far more technical approach, a solution to defending balls into the box still hasn't been arrived at. Nolan, Carroll, Enrique, all excellent in the air, have been replaced by Cabaye, Ben Arfa and Ryan Taylor, none of whom are renowned for their height or their ariel presence. The return of Mike Williamson should go some way to easing this problem, but until then Newcastle remain susceptible to set-pieces.
Plain old bad luck.
Yep. Despite all the statistical foreplay Newcastle still more than deserved to beat Swansea and West Brom, were without any sort of back four against Norwich, and hit the woodwork about 8 thousand times against a Chelsea side who should have been a man down inside 5 minutes. Had we correctly caressed Lady Luck bulbous labia we might well still be sitting in the Champions League spots at the moment.
There's also plenty of positives. Overall passing accuracy, attempts on goal and chances formulated have actually increased during their 6 games without a win. Plus their phenomenal run of form in the early stages means they're still sitting pretty in 7th, with a mere 3 points separating them and Kenneth Dogleash's closet-racist and DJ bashing XI.
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