Three weeks ago I wrote an article on here literally begging Pardew to revert to a 4-3-3 in a bid to turn around Newcastle United's season. He granted my wish the very next game setting up against Swansea with the attacking intent I promised would herald an avalanche of points at St James’ Park.
We lost. We then followed that up with fairly pathetic away defeats to Southampton and Stoke City. These are games we had no divine right to win but ones we should at least be picking up points from if we crave the top half finish all Newcastle United fans with a sensible outlook have set as a benchmark.
Last nights game against plucky Wigan fell into the dreaded ‘winnable-home-game’ category. Something had to change from our previous two outings and it did, we set up with a slightly altered shape and immediately I liked the look of what I saw. The back four picks itself at the moment but against Wigan it came with added Tiote protection. The Ivorian yellow-card specialist started in a deep lying midfield-position – the Claude Makélelé role – a tactic that seems to have gone out of fashion in recent seasons.
Why do we not deploy Tiote here more often? He’s perfect for it. It gives the defence an easier outlet going forward and gets one of our best passers on the ball even more and provides him with a bit more time and space to operate within. What I love about Tiote is his strength on the ball, he is great at retaining possession and doesn’t panic under pressure. I can’t recall him ever being out-muscled or shrugged off the ball. If there’s nothing on he’ll simply put his foot on the ball, turn and seek out alternative options instead of launching the ball forward or playing the cop-out ball back to Krul like some of our players *cough cough* – Danny Simpson.
Tiote's deeper presence provides a sturdier defensive outlook for our increasingly leaky defence. Better yet we have options when it comes to filling this role when suspension and International duty rob us of our snarling African. Perch would revel in this position - tackling everything in sight and generally putting out fires is what he does best. In the second half we got to see Anita deployed here and the extra time on the ball and space this role presents might steady some of the shaky performances he’s turned out thus far in black and white. We need to show Vurnon the patience we afforded Coloccini, Gutierrez and Santon when they first signed for us. There’s a good player in there somewhere, he just hasn’t found his Premier League legs yet.
Elsewhere the system seemed to bring more overall balance. Instead of flooding the flanks and trying the overlap until someone finds enough space to lob a cross over, I think a 4-1-4-1 formation will give us more of a threat through the middle, allow us to move the ball quicker and get some triangles going. It would be nice to give the opposition the run around for a change.
Marveaux took advantage of a more central position by producing some marauding runs during the second half against Wigan, and Bigirimana’s curling, dipping finish revealed we might have a serious talent on our hands, albeit a raw one at present. Two players capable of filling the two centre midfield positions in front of Tiote if Cabaye and Anita are not available.
Up front it was noticeable that after Ba’s second goal, he immediately switched with Cisse and went out to the right touchline with Papiss becoming the target man. A move clearly designed to get Cisse’s goal ratio and confidence back up to somewhere near where it was last season, even if Cisse wasn’t in need of a confidence boast I would encourage rotating him and Ba, purely to keep the opposition defenders guessing and force them into marking zonally.
Cisse deserved a goal purely for some of the runs he put in, at times he worked himself into acres of space but we didn’t have a player on the pitch capable of getting their head up and executing the expansive diagonal pass. For my mind Cababye is the only Newcastle United player that has this in his locker and with the Frenchman out until February perhaps Graham Carr has another Yohan up his sleeve? If he does January would be a good time to produce him.