Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Swansea City v Newcastle Utd, PL, Match Preview

Gawn alang the Scotswood Road, to see the Blaydon Races.

Just a few days after Newcastle's telling victory over Liverpool last Sunday, where Toon joy equalled our later in the afternoon disappointment, we face a harder than expected outing against a team that's generally considered to be out-performing early season misguided predictions.

It was mistaken in the extreme to write this Newcastle squad down, as some did, simply because of it's lack of headline making performances in the EPL, but we, as well as they, will testify to the value of players of lesser renown but undoubted ability.

The stand outs in the squad were given too little regard earlier and have proved over the last few months particularly that they are players of outstanding quality. Take a look at this lot, initially, and think how they've melded to make a team with some lesser considered individuals taking the fight to the rest.

The early part of the season saw Demba Ba, an almost direct replacement for Andy Carroll, recycled on a free from WHU due to a reputed "dicky knee", both confound the naysayers and set him up for Tyneside ledgend.

Alan Pardew, their increasingly well regarded Manager, was wise enough to advance and tinker further, with the recruitment of Papiss Demba Cisse, Ba's fellow Senegalese striker, bearing great reward from the further investment.That led to a regularity of performance, and we were happy to come away from a December meeting that saw us snaffle a point at St James Park, or the SDA as is now. (sic)

In other words, that canny tinkering with the squad in the January Transfer window has shown the Londoner's ability to both evaluate where they were and are, and make the necessary adjustments to continue to evolve, although the value of Newcastle's chief recruiter - the Scout Graham Carr - has been justifiably identified as being equally as crucial as the Manager's abilities to get fresh impetus from the excellently performing squad.

That win against Liverpool saw them line up with this team......

Newcastle United
26 Krul, 05 Simpson, 06 Williamson, 14 Perch, 04 Cabaye, 08 Guthrie (Gosling - 65' ), 10 Ben Arfa (Santon - 90' ), 18 Gutierrez, 24 Tiote, 09 Cisse (Sh Ameobi - 74' ), 19 Ba

35 Elliot, 03 Santon, 16 R Taylor, 31 Ferguson, 15 Gosling, 29 Vuckic, 23 Sh Ameobi

That line up went Krul in goal, with a back four of Simpson, Williamson, Perch and Jonas, a middle three of Tiote deeper behind Guthrie and Cabaye, and a genuine attacking trio of ben Arfa right, Ba left, and Cisse up the middle.

Despite several square pegs in round holes, it worked, and they got a comfortable 2-0 win over a sad Liverpool, with the Merseysiders unable to exploit any of these perceived weaknesses.

Here are the square pegs in that set up, and why they fit the round holes so successfully on this occasion.

The first of those is James Perch, currently covering for the injured Fabricio Coloccini, their experienced Argentine CB who has had a great season. He, Perch, despite some disgraceful play acting in response to Pepe Reina's aggressive posture, managed to contribute to the Liverpool keeper's sending off. He had an excellent defensive game that won him the MoM award. He remains, however, a player who has spent as much time as a secondary choice, especially at this level, so may be vulnerable.

Secondly, they played Jonas Gutierrez, the Argentine right sided MF'er at Left Back, and although he was used by Maradona in the last World Cup as a Right Back occasionally, remains, in essence, a grafting running MF'er by instinct, and one can't help but wonder that should Pardew go the same route, Brendan Rodgers may be tempted to let Nathan Dyer have his head and go for it. I dearly hope so.

This puzzled me last week - after all, they had both Davide Santon and Ryan Taylor on the bench, and both are Full Backs of some talent (albeit R/Footed) - but this probably tells you more about Pardew's abilities as a genuine football man with knowledge, as opposed to my analytical approbations as a blogger and fan. Still, that's sometimes what it's about - opinions.

That 2/5ths of the back 5 were out of position didn't disturb the confidence and performance of the unit as a whole - made up as it was by another decent day for Mike Williamson, a journeyman CB some would say, or Danny Simpson, who has settled into the RB berth to make it his own.

This defensive unit was topped off, of course, by the excellent Tim Krul in goal, who, just like his fellow countryman our own Michel Vorm, continues to offer a dual challenge to Maarten Stekelenburg, Holland's current no 1. The Dutch are indeed fortunate to have 3 excellent keepers likely to go to this Summer's European Championships, all in top class form.

I've written before about both Cheick Tiote, the Ivory Coast enforcer, and Yohan Cabaye, the French creative hub of the Mid Field. Both are having outstanding seasons.

Tiote is what I like to think our own Kemy Augustien could become.

Blessed with the physical make up of a Michael Essien, allied with the temperament and skill of a Frank Lampard, this bullish enforcer is as happy mixing it in a physical environment as he is gracefully constructing and pressing forward attackingly.

Newcastle's job, as is ours with Siggi for instance, is how to retain a talent that has the elite 4 at the top of the division sniffing around and proffering tempting treats elsewhere, although the player has never signalled that he is anything other than happy where he is.

Similarly Yohan Cabaye - a genuinely constructive and creative MF'er from the top drawer of French Football.

I was interested that when Man City payed £20m + for Samir Nasri at the start of the year, some realistic experts on French Football (Phillipe Auclair, Paul Doyle, and several others) all made the point that both Cabaye and Ben Arfa were equally as good.

There are a bundle of French MF'ers of this quality - check out Yann M'Vila next year - so Newcastle's good fortune in having two of them on their books is not just some sort of lucky break. Back to that scouting system, then eh?

That leads us to the front three, and this is where the explosive talent of the team has stood up to be counted of late.

Hatem ben Arfa took a long time to get into the side on a regular basis. Signed initially on loan last season from Marseille, he suffered an horrendous leg break when clattered by Nigel de Jong, Man City's greeter of shrinking violets, and long in the memory for this assault on Spain's Xabi Alonso in the last WC Final.

He had done enough to make the move a permanent one, and is another product of France Football's Clairefontaine Academy.

That awful injury kept him out for a long while, and led, from his comeback into the game to Pardew offering that he didn't give enough to the team to command a regular place.

What has happened since is that in successive performances, as well as delighting the crowd with his wonderful skill he has proved to be an important contributor, bringing his team mates into the game from his numerous assists, and scoring some terrific goals from his ability to take on and skin even the best defenders, leading the Geordie faithful to question why you would ever want to leave such a talent out of the team.

Predominantly left footed, like Citeh's Adam Johnson, when he takes on players he is able to go either way and create havoc in opposing defences. This is a player you're happy to pay money to see.

The Senegalese pair at the very front have been a refreshing take on the "Moneyball" ethic of modern scouting.

When Ba was at West Ham last year, his stats for goals and assists were amongst the highest in Europe, but there was a persistent nag and rumour that he achieved all this despite carrying a long term permanent degenerative knee condition, and it would seem Stoke City were amongst several suitors who turned down the opportunity to sign him as a result.

Deeper exploration of his personal circumstances by Newcastle, coupled with a pay-as-much-as-you-play type contract settled the Geordies into buying him - and reaping the fantastic reward of his all round performances and goalscoring. Who's sorry now? Several Clubs, but not the Toon.

Papiss Demba Cisse, signed from Freiburg of the Bundesliga in that January window, for some £9m pounds followed a season where, with 22 goals, he was only behind Bayern's Mario Gomez, who got 28. Having spent the bulk of his career in France, this success in Germany for a low achieving club should have alerted many sides, but Newcastle were the ones to prosper.

Given the iconic no9 shirt at the Toon, he has continued to score regularly and consistently, and his 2 goals in that Liverpool victory showed a tenacity and confidence that will see him well going forward. Between the Bundesliga and the EPL, he has now scored 16 goals in 24 appearances. Not a bad record, really.

Re-uniting with his Senegalese International partner Ba has also shown the value of players who respect and trust each other- a cute psychological move from Pardew and his team.

Worth a mention as well are the bench that started against the Pool. As said, Santone, Gosling and Shola Ameobi all came on, the better to squeeze out the game and there was depth left sitting down.

So, from that consideration of their recent line up, what can we expect?

We can be certain that in a club that's now legitimately pushing for a European Place in the Table, of lesser or greater import, this will not be a straightforward fixture. They will, I suggest, come looking for a win that consolidates a high League placing.

Newcastle sit 6th, on 53pts, and have a realistic prospect of maintaining that level. I've said before, and I'll say it again, until we get over that almost magical 40pt barrier ourselves I will continue to live on my nerves.

Our remaining fixtures after this Good Friday see us with QPR, Bolton and Man Utd to visit, whilst Blackburn, Wolves and Liverpool come to us. From that line up I can see us getting the requisite results.

A home draw would take us to that level, but I expect them, Newcastle, to come to us and go for a win, and that's doubly dangerous.

There have been very few occasions this season, particularly at Home, where we've been comfortably beaten.

Unfortunately for us, that last performance at the Lib, v Everton, was one of those times, as was our recent besting at White Hart Lane, so we will be looking for a confident and effective bounce back to get us back on track. I'm confident it won't be for lack of effort.

When I write these little vignettes both in advance and after games it's because I know, deep within me, that I'm but one of thousands of us Swans who feel the same way.

Who could possibly have said that if we were offered a position of 11th in the table on 39pts and 11pts clear of the relegation cut off point with 7 games to go we'd have done anything other than to bite off the hand giving so generously? Not me, and I suspect, not you, either.

That doesn't mean that all in the garden is rosy. It just has a reddish-tint.

We will need to have a couple of confirming victories over the next few weeks to put the tin hat onto a decent, and don't forget, first, season.

I'm still absolutely loving it - and I guess I'm not alone.

Onward, Swansea City!

1 comment:

Bob T, Newcastle said...

Excellent summation of the Newcastle team. Well impressed with your knowledge of the opposition. I certainly couldn't do the same regards your team. Can't wait for Friday, but one thing you missed is that we need the 3 points more than ever to achieve that Europa Cup place. We want 5th to make sure. Going for 2-1 Newcastle.