Friday, November 16, 2012

This time last year we were flying high in the Premiership as we  started  the season with an 11 game unbeaten run.

This season has been less spectacular - although it is not quite panic time we will wanted to address our slow start and look at how can kick start our campaign. Like I said we have not started terribly Draws away to Everton, Liverpool, and Sunderland are great results. Defeats to Cheslea and Man Utd are not the end of the world. I can think of our draw at home against Villa and our defeat to West Ham as our only poor results.

We certainly have not hit the heights of last year where really we over achieved. Our big players are currently not on the form we saw last year and Alan Pardew has struggled to get the troops going so far this season.

Following is my take on changes I would make:

I would get back to playing 433 - like we did for the second half of last season. For me a forward 3 of Ba on the left, Cisse in the middle, and Ben Arfa on the right offers us the best attacking option available. We have all seen that Ba and Cisse as a front 2 does not work, and Hatem Ben Afra is not a right winger where he is shackled by defensive duties.

I would also play a midfield 3 of Tiote, Cabaye, and Anita. Tiote would do his usual defensive duties allowing Cabaye to push on and support the front 3. Anita has taken a little longer than hoped to settle into the speed of the Premiership however he is a talented lad who will offer plenty to the team with his energy and passing ability.

Jonas would be dropped to the bench - though he is currently injured. For me Jonas wants to re-invent himself as a centre midfielder, however it is not as simple as that at premiership level. Jonas has a great engine and offers tons of work rate though this is not enough to just expect to fit in perfectly. There is a certain understanding needed to play in the middle of the park and after years playing as an out and out winger it really is hard to change. We saw his lack of awareness at Anfield where his slack passing was punished as Suarez grabbed the equalizing goal.

Maybe a spell at fullback might be an option if Jonas and Pardew feel he can no longer offer anything as a left winger. Truth be told Jonas has been ineffective as an attacking option for a few years now. For me if 442 is Pardews choice then Shane Ferguson, Sammy or Obertan are the better attacking option from a wide position.

Obviously suspensions have hurt us really bad this season - missing key players like Tioe and Colo has been key - also we dropped points from a winning position in the games they both received their red cards.

Consistancy is key - last season it seemed as though we never changed our starting 11 for weeks, whereas this season it seems as though we are chopping and changing each and every week - this makes it really hard to get any consistancy going on the pitch.

All in all it has been a mediocre start to the season - obviously we have plenty of time and games to turn it around and in my mind making a few changes could be a catalyst to kick start our season.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Returning heroes

Tomorrow West Ham United visit St James park with three former Magpies in their ranks. Former NUFC manager Sam Allardyce brings his Hammers squad north with former captain Kevin Nolan and local hero Andy Carroll in his team.

After Allardyces failure to win over the NUFC faithful, or produce the results on the pitch he is guaranteed a frosty reception from the home crowd - although in his defence as soon as Mike Ashley arrived with his new regime Big Sam's days were numbered.

Andy Carroll is no doubt going to receive a mixed reception from the Toon Army - there are many who still feel he loves our club, and that he was forced onto the helicopter heading for Liverpool - others however feel he deserves the Judas status for leaving his home town club for the big money on offer at Anfield. I have a feeling now Carroll is wearing Claret and Blue and not Liverpool Red his reception will not be as ferocious .

The off field receptions are all part of the drama of football and add a certain spice to this game - however for me they are really irrelevant to the outcome of the game. That being said it is the return of Kevin Nolan that I feel may have the biggest bearing on the game.

Nolan's abilities divide supporters. I am a big admirer of what he brings to a team, while I am also aware of his limitations. For me he led our team with the spirit and desire we require. He plays the game with the passion of a supporter and really understood what NUFC means to our city.

Kevin arrived at St James park in January 2009 in a 4m deal. He went onto make 85 appearance and scoring 29 goals. Nolan was appointed club captain for the 2010-2011 season and really did lead from the front with Newcastle winning the Championship at the first attempt.

29 goals is a great return for a midfielder in anyone's book. Nolan seemed to have a 6th sense which allowed him to be in the right place at the right time. So many of his goals came from Andy Carroll knock downs or goal keeper rebounds. Whenever a goal was needed Nolan would pop up and win 3 points for his team. For me this was enough to get him in the team each week and while we won the championship and then set out to remain in the Premier league Nolan was just what we needed.

The down side of Kevin's game is his lack of mobility and energy. No one would call Kevin a box-to-box midfielder and he relied heavily on his team mates to cover his defensive duties. He has been accused of carrying too much weight, although Nolan has never been a top athlete - he is an old school footballer who relies on grit, determination and passion to get him through each game.

As Newcastle looked to step up to the next level and push for a European spot it was obvious that Kevin was going to be left behind. The direct football style played under Chris Houghton was being phased out and with that Kevin's place in our team was under threat. The arrival of Cabaye, Ba, and Cisse,  the return to fitness of Ben Arfa and the importance of Tiote meant Nolan would struggle to get in our team. Alan Pardew's style is a fluid game based on pace and power which relies heavily on a pass and move game. Kevin did not fit into this model so when West Ham made a offer for him it really suited all parties. West Ham are likely to be battling for Premiership survival after achieving promotion and are adopting the same style Newcastle did during our first season back in the big league. Nolan would be ideal for any team in the bottom half of the Premiership.

The double act of Carroll and Nolan is working well for the Hammers this season and they currently sit in 9th position after a surprisingly bright start to the season. No doubt the direct style can cause some problems. Our centre half's will have to deal with the aerial attack from Carroll and our midfielders will have to pay close attention to Nolan as he drifts into the "hole" and takes up positions off Carroll and feeds of his knock downs.

Of course the focus will be on Andy Carroll coming home - especially after Alan Pardew again publicly stated his desire to bring Andy back to the club - however for me Kevin Nolan will be the returning hero who I feel can have a bigger impact on the game.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Over the last few months I have watched the fly-on-the-wall documentary Being: Liverpool. Below are my thoughts on this ground breaking program.

The first episode starts in the Liverpool changing rooms with Brendan Rodgers asking his players to huddle around him so he can offer his final words before the first pre-season game. "Today's the start of a long hard journey for us," he tells his player. "You can only trust yourselves, no one else, you can trust the supporters because they're the best and you can trust your family at home." This is the first of many Rogerism's we hear throughout the series.

For Liverpool fans a behind-the-scenes look at life at Anfield must be a real treat. Fans see inside the homes of Captain Gerrard, Lucas and Brendan Rodgers. The camera is allowed into the unseen headquarters of Melwood - and even venture into Chief executive Ian Ayre's inner sanctum. In terms of a football documentary Liverpool are breaking barriers and setting a new standard.

Being: Liverpool however feels like an hour long promotional video for the club - From narrator Clive Owen and a local Scouse playwriter all we hear are stories of Liverpool's glorious past and how in twined the local people are with their football club. Both of these are very admiral and gain nothing but my respect.

Much of the series focuses on new manager Brendan Rodgers. It must be said that Rodgers comes across as eloquent, intelligent and above everything, determined to succeed. It feels as though Liverpool are determined to show their new manager as a cutting edge leader of a new pure football revolution. It is as if Liverpool are trying to convince themselves that they have hired one of the worlds top managers when in reality Rodgers is unknown outside of the UK. It could also be argued that even on our shores he has limited experience or success. As a club Liverpool seem desperate to raise the reputation of their new manager.

It is obvious that Rodgers picked up so much from his time at Chelsea working under Jose Mourinho - the certainly listened hard during his time at Stamford Bridge. "It's not just about winning, it's about how you win on and off the pitch," Rodgers explains in a of sit down interviews. "It's not just about training players, it's about educating players. You train dogs," he says in another. "We were brought up not with the silver spoon but the silver shovel," he says of his upbringing. You can imagine Jose Mourinho coming up with many of Rodgers footballing quotes, however the difference being that Mourinho is one of the greatest managers ever, and has a CV to back that up. Brendan Rodgers does not. Rodgers comes across as a likable guys, however for me there are many cringe worthy moments during his interviews. Rodgers talks a great game

For me Liverpool fans with enjoy seeing their hero's in a different light - and if this was a Newcastle documentary there is no doubt I would be fan. However I can see the older fans feeling this is a sell out for their once glorious club. Liverpool are one of the biggest names in the footballing world and for them to be the first to allow TV cameras access to one of footballs true cathedrals will not sit right with football purist. I could not imagine the bastions of old - Shankly, Paisley, or Souness posing for the TV camera, especially during a time when the current squad fall way short of Liverpool teams of the past.