First and foremost, I just want to make it clear that in my eyes, Alan Pardew will never truly succeed at Newcastle United, for a variety of different reasons; a) he’s an inept coach b) he will never be given the tools necessary to achieve success in the eyes of the Newcastle fans, but these are topics I will cover in greater depth as we move forward. However, right now, what I mean by “succeed” is to at least play attractive football, and claw back some of the respect he has lost among the toon army, as well as win some football matches.
Over the past few seasons, much has been said and written about what exactly is the best formation for Newcastle United. In our successful 2011/12 season Pardew predominantly played a defence oriented 4-4-2, before opting for a more fluid 4-3-3 after the signing of Papiss Cisse in January 2012. We started the 2012/13 season with the same method in mind, a 4-3-3, instead with Papiss Cisse on the wing, but this did not bring about the same fluid football. Injuries to players like Hatem Ben Arfa, Yohan Cabaye and poor performances from the likes of Cheick Tiote and Papiss Cisse as well as the departure of Demba Ba in January 2013, forced Pardew into adopting a different formation. Having signed the likes of Sissoko, Yoan Gouffran as well as having Yohan Cabaye back to full fitness, it seemed that his new look 4-2-3-1 formation could work, especially since our first away win of the season against Aston Villa was followed up by a dramatic comeback at home to Chelsea to give us our first run of back to back victories, as well as positive performances.
As the season dragged to a close, however, it appeared that Pardew’s 4-2-3-1 was retreating into itself. Sissoko was being played as a No 10, Jonas was being played everywhere except for where he should be played (on the bench in case you were wondering) and Vurnon Anita couldn’t get a game ahead of Chieck Tiote even if Tiote was dying. Not only that, but our “star” striker Papiss Cisse proved utterly incapable of playing the lone striker role, and the likes of Sissoko and Gouffran who had started so positively, began to look like poorer players under this system.
Can a formation really make that much of a difference? Under most managers, I would say no, but it would appear that formation maketh the man when Alan Pardew is involved, as was aptly demonstrated in the 1-0 victory over Fulham last weekend. For the first 70 mins of the match, Pardew had played with a 4-4-2 system that had given some stability in the back line and midfield, but offered no goal threat in the final third. Pardew took Shola Ameobi, Sylvain Marveaux and Vurnon Anita off, and put on Loic Remy, Yoan Gouffran and Yohan Cabaye on, but more importantly, he changed the formation to a 4-3-3 and suddenly we looked like a different animal.
Within minutes of this change being made, Newcastle were playing slicker more incisive football, and through a wonderful striker from Hatem Ben Arfa, we were also a goal to the good. But for the profligacy of Gouffran and the safe hands from Fulham’s goalkeeper David Stockdale, we could have ran out 3-0 winners.
While I could get ahead of myself and say that Pardew has “seen the light” and is going to revert back to the 4-3-3 that saw us destroy West Brom at the Hawthorns and spank Liverpool at St James’ in 2011/12, I am sceptical. Marveaux and Anita were only on the field because Jonas and Tiote were injured, as well as Cabaye’s ‘issues’, and Shola only came off because he had played 45mins against Morecambe midweek and needed to come off.
All I can say is that the true test of Pardew’s bottle will be if he can play Anita, Marveaux and Remy when the likes of Jonas and Tiote are back to full fitness, and whether we get to see this 4-3-3 again.
If he can keep his best players fit, and play them in a formation that suits them, then maybe we can crack the top 10 this season. Not exactly “success” so now you see what I was referring to earlier…