Saturday’s early kick off sees us journey north for a match against (insert cliche) the Premier League’s ’Surprise package’ Newcastle United who will be putting their unbeaten record on the line a fixture the Blues were victorious in last season
Toon in good shape
Whilst Ashley is clearly a vile human, the business plan he and the ‘cockney mafia’ have implemented has served the Toon well. Firstly, beer belly skipper Kevin Nolan and the people’s poet and rebranded gobshite extraordinaire Joey Barton’s fat contracts were rightly disposed. Secondly, they have looked to a specific scouting policy executed by the astute Graham Carr to recruit talent – notably Cabaye – to compliment a side who were comfortable in mid-table last season, whilst at the same time balancing the books.
Newcastle’s stable rearguard has been the key variable in their success so far. In Colocinni and Steven Taylor they have two robust centre backs flanked either side by Ryan Taylor & Danny Simpson; fullbacks who will tuck in and form a compact unit. The 4 defenders know each other well – along with Krul they have been ever presents in the 10 league games so far. During the summer Pardew introduced twice weekly split training sessions enabling his defenders to work on defensive positioning and covering and it has paid dividends.
They are afforded superb protection from the midfield platform of Cabaye and Tiote who will drop deep to minimise space for the opposition when not on the ball. Both have covered around 12 km per game this season and Newcastle generally have good endurance. In the recent home fixture with Spurs they came from behind to score 2 second half goals and run a combined 9 miles more than they had in the first half.
These 7 players form a solid unit and make it very difficult for teams to play through them. This defensive solidity coupled with a player like Ba – who has fired 15 goals in 21 apps since moving to England – gives them a fighting chance against any team.
I would expect Moyes to deploy a 4-2-3-1; playing our usual pressing game high up field. We’ve spent 26% of games in the opposition final third this season– the 2nd highest in league. This is mainly due to pressing high in our opponents half and the numbers we get into midfield. Baines will move forward and act as an additional midfielder to supplement our 5 man midfield. With Newcastle playing an orthodox 4 man midfield we can get joy here - as the graphic shows (left) we should outnumber them in midfield and crucially take them 3v2 in the centre, hopefully enabling us to dictate play and get joy between Newcastle’s lines of defence and midfield.
If fit I would see Drenthe come in on the right. Ossie will shift to the left with Cahill pivoting between midfield and striker roles. Moyes may look to use Coleman (who was on song last week) on Ryan Taylor – a right footer playing left back – to expose his weaker foot and use Drenthe on the left. This week I did a short statistical post The 50 most crucial stats of the season so far – which highlighted how crucial Drenthe has been since coming to the club. So far, we score every 36 minutes with Drenthe on pitch – 6 goals in total – whilst without him it takes us 149 minutes to score– registering just 4 goals when he isn’t on the field.
The article also highlighted the alarming stat that 85% of the goals we have conceded this season have come from our right flank and with Gutierrez on form we have cause to worry here. There are numerous factors as to why we have struggled down the right – Hibbert is a limited player for starters, whilst our lack of pressing on opposition players in crossing positions is another. One of the key reasons is our defensive shape when we go to 3 at the back to accommodate Baines marauding – this means Hibbert tucks in and Jags/Distin shift over to form a tight 3 man defence which often leaves us exposed down the right flank.
There’s no question this Newcastle side are a solid unit and deservedly occupy 3rd spot. If we can control midfield we have a great chance of getting something – a point would be a cracking result given the momentum Newcastle currently possess. I’ll go for a 1-1 draw.