Under any set of normal circumstances, a summer spending spree that includes Siem de Jong, Remy Cabella, Emmanuel Riviere, and could well see Loic Remy and Facundo Ferreyra be added to that list, should result in rapturous applause and dancing in the streets. While Newcastle and Alan Caligudew have done rather well on paper, in actuality, it’s doing more harm than good.
Before we delve into the details and particulars of the above, a bit of brief statistic dropping is in order;
Newcastle United in their two preferred formations from last season
4-2-3-1: 17 matches – 4 wins – 2 draws – 11 losses – 18 goals scored – 35 goals conceded
4-4-2: 10 matches – 6 wins – 2 draws – 2 losses – 10 goals scored – 9 goals conceded
Now, it truly does not take someone with a PhD in astro-physics to see that Newcastle were a far better side when deployed in a 4-4-2 than a more attack minded yet defensively less responsible 4-2-3-1. The question that must be asked then, is why on earth Mike Ashley and Caligudew acquiring targets that fit the bill perfectly for a 4-2-3-1, rather than players that are taylor made for the 4-4-2 system?
It is entirely plausible that Caligudew is in favor of switching to a 4-2-3-1 full time in the coming season, especially after seeing what Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers did at Anfield last season, despite the tactical system being deployed there is more akin to a hybrid between the 4-2-3-1 and a 4-3-3. Truly, the Premier League is becoming an attackers league, with many sides forgetting the fine art of defending over the past few seasons (just don’t tell that to Jose Mourinho), and it would appear that the Lord of Ludicrous has played into that notion – but is this the right call?
If Liverpool can teach you anything, it’s that a 4-2-3-1 only works to maximum effect if you have a back-four that can handle being counter attacked the minute possession is lost; let’s not mince words here, despite doing very well to capture Daryl Janmaat from Feyenoord, the last thing Newcastle have is a back-four that is capable of keeping things water tight in the defensive third.
Mind you, this is not to say that the acquisitions of the aforementioned attacking players should not be celebrated. De Jong is an excellent play maker in the true Ajax mold, Cabella shone brilliantly in Lique 1 at Montpellier, and Riviere is a speed merchant that has an eye for goal.
Fresh reports circulating that Caligudew has renewed his interest in Loic Remy after he failed his medical with Liverpool lend further weight to the notion that Newcastle will be far more attacking minded this summer; considering they only managed 43 goals in 38 matches last term, that’s not a bad thing. In addition, the club are now on the cusp of completing a loan move for Shakhtar Donetsk’s highly rated Argentinian striker Facundo Ferreyra – the potential to add two further strikers on the back of Riviere coming into the club, as well as Papiss Cisse also at the club (though injury prone), puts the writing on the wall.
Newcastle need goals, that is for certain, but when you put yourself in the position of having four first-choice strikers at the club, that lends weight to the notion that you’ll be playing two at once, which means 4-4-2. Why then, did Newcastle sign De Jong and Cabella?
De jong is very creative and a central player as well, but a central midfielder he is not; he lives and dies in the attack slotted just behind the striker. As for Cabella, he starts off on the right, but he loves to roam (see: Hatem Ben Arfa – they’re incredibly like for like); these two players are made for a 4-2-3-1, which coincidentally, both Ajax and Montpellier use. What then, is the point of purchasing players if you do not plan on maximizing their effectiveness? Neither of them are made for a 4-4-2, and could struggle significantly if they are forced into unfamiliar roles in that deployment.
One could suggest that the plan is to shift between a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-4-2 based of their opposition; a sound plan, but that sort of inconsistency in who will feature in the XI will only hinder your ability to not only find form, but keep it. More to the point, with the fact that a 4-2-3-1 is the far more exposed set-up of the two, why has there not been a more concerted effort to bring in central defensive reinforcements?
Another point worth highlighting, is the case of Moussa Sissoko, who was Newcastle’s best player last season when you remove the departed Debuchy, Remy and Yohan Cabaye. He is able to slot into both right-attacking midfielder and right-midfielder seemlessly, but his work-rate and ability to track back is better highlighted in a 4-4-2, and completely lost in a 4-2-3-1 unless he is used in center midfield; but such a move puts limits on his ability to influence matters further forward.
If this all seems confusing and convoluted, that’s because it is. While Newcastle now have the ability to, at least on paper, effectively deploy in two different tactical schemes in regards to the offensive side of the ball, they never addressed the defensive concerns that come with the 4-2-3-1 – the formation that their summer signings are more effective in. It is a very dangerous game to buy players and then try to force them to fit them into a different system. Why then, would you just not purchase players that truly fit the bill and are far more adaptable to change?
I do understand, however, Newcastle’s want and need for an offense more befitting of the Premier League; surely, there is no issue with the addition of goals into your side. The problem comes where the other problems have been swept under the rug, not just in regard to further purchases to address glaring defensive issues, but the fact that the signings present a tactical conundrum is the more pressing concern.
Unless Caligudew has more than stick-figure flip action drawings in his famous black book, Newcastle could well be on their way to doing a Liverpool all the way to another mid-table finish.