In recent times, Newcastle United have looked a shadow of the team that defied the odds and stunned the Premier League last season. Their performance in Alan Pardew’s first full season in charge was nothing short of exceptional and led to the Newcastle boss being rewarded with a seven and a half year contract. However, Pardew has been unable to rouse his troops this time around and having recorded just 14 points from an equal number of games, they find themselves coincidently placed 14th in the table and tantalizingly close to the drop zone.
The Magpies were quick off the blocks last season but few expected them to sustain that form throughout the course of the campaign, scoffing at the suggestion of their potential to secure a Champions League spot. As it turned out, Newcastle did finished in 5th place, boasting a very strong challenge for a place in Europe's elite competition.
|Newcastle missed out on the Champions League last season|
Nevertheless, The Toon Army did make it to the Europa League and their fans were unsurprisingly optimistic at the start of this campaign. However, disappointing results including a run of four defeats in their last four games have significantly dampened the mood on Tyneside. They certainly have quality players, many of whom were courted by top clubs over the summer, so why have they struggled this season?
Every team suffers from bad injury spells and blaming them for their performances can be a rather flimsy excuse but for teams like Newcastle, it’s a legitimate one. As mentioned earlier, they have real quality in their side but unfortunately that quality doesn’t extend beyond their first eleven.
The midfield partnership of Yohan Cabaye and Cheikh Tiote is essential to their success. Tiote has made frequent visits to the treatment room already this season while Cabaye has been ruled out until February. The importance of Cabaye to Newcastle cannot be stressed enough. He is the one who dictates proceedings from the middle of the park and none of their other midfielders come close to emulating his range of passing.
Cabaye's absence is crippling
Academy product, Steven Taylor forged a formidable partnership in the centre of defence with Fabrico Coloccini in the first half of last season but the 26 year-old was injured early this season and is only expected to return in January. Hatem Ben Arfa has been a livewire for Newcastle ever since recovering from a broken leg last year but he has also been side-lined at the moment although he should return in a couple of weeks.
The problem caused by these injuries is that every time a first team player is ruled out, they are inevitably replaced by an average player. Hence, even when the first team is hit with two or three injuries, it significantly reduces the quality of the side.
Europa League distraction:
We see it happen to teams every year and Newcastle are no exception. For sides who aren’t blessed with strength in depth, European engagements can take their toll on the squad. The fact that the Europa League games are played on a Thursday night only adds to the inconvenience.
Europa League games have been taxing
An away game in Europe on a Thursday night is the last thing a manager would want for his side when they are scheduled to play a competitive Premier League game over the weekend. The recovery time afforded is next to none while the preparation for the weekend fixture is virtually non-existent.
Losing the element of surprise:
Reaching a particular standard is hard enough but maintaining it is probably twice as hard. Newcastle’s form last season earned them plenty of plaudits but it also served to warn teams of the threat they pose. Even the bigger clubs won’t make the mistake of taking them lightly this season.
Any title-winning side will admit that retaining the title is significantly harder than attaining it. Similarly, Newcastle are quickly learning that securing a spot in the top six on a consistent basis is no mean feat.
Loss of form:
At the end of the day, it all boils down to the simple things. The inescapable truth is that Newcastle have simply not played well. Tiote has earned a reputation for being one of the best ball-winners in midfield but his lack of tenacity this season has been disappointing.
Cisse has been most disappointing
Demba Ba has been prolific so far despite his side’s fortunes but his striking partner who took the Premier League by storm in the second half of last season has failed to replicate those performances this time around. Papiss Cisse scored 13 goals in his first 14 appearances in the Premier League and a couple of them were quite breath-taking. His below-par performances this term have earned him just two goals in 14 outings. The Senegalese international’s fall from grace has epitomized the lacklustre displays of the entire team.
It’s difficult to see how Newcastle can turn things around at the moment but keeping their players fit would be a good start. The team looks a bit disjointed and Pardew will need to find a way to rekindle the fight and team spirit they showed last season. Their next encounter is a home fixture against Wigan Athletic and it is shaping up to be a must-win game for them even this early in the season since a defeat could see them slip into the relegation zone. A repeat of their achievements last season may be unrealistic now but they have the ability to string a few good results together and make a dash for a Europa League spot once again which would be an impressive accomplishment given their current state.
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