Writer: Mehzeb Chowdhury
Date:Tuesday February 10 2009
Newcastle United FC have been swimming in a pool of mediocrity for much of the last four seasons. It may be attributed to a lot of causes, but primarily, when one watches a match involving The Toon, it is hard to imagine that the eleven players fielded by the manager are team-mates rather people randomly picked from a variety of sides brought together to play a charity match.
The Magpies have lost the two games out of the last three - a 2-1 loss at the Eastlands against Manchester City, and an embarrassing 3-0 mauling by former manager Sam Allardyce's Blackburn Rovers.
Yes, the club are suffering from injuries, and there is tension in the locker-room due to board-room conflicts and uncertainty of ownership, but what football fans don't quite understand is that, often, a team who may lack in talent can make up for in work-rate to save the day.
When examining the tapes of the City, and Rovers games, one thing was evident - the team simply does not have what football experts call 'team chemistry.'
The decision-making of the Toon is the worst in the league, and when players can't understand their team-mates, and engage in off-field shoving matches (ala former Toon player Charles N'Zogbia and Andy Carroll) it is time to reexamine the coaching structure and the skills of the manager.
Geremi... oh Geremi...
In the above diagram you can see the actual position Geremi found himself in, at one crucial point of the City match. He had two options (1) to take two defenders on, and try to cross, or (2) to pass the ball to Gutierrez inside the box who was screaming for it. Geremi chose (1) and nothing came of the chance.
Duff... the destroyer of chances...
You can see clearly: the choice was obvious between the well-marked out-of-poistion Andy Carroll, and a clear shy at goal... Damien Duff chose to pass it to his team-mate, and with no result other than a disappointing sigh.
Despite having Kevin Nolan among the ranks, the Magpies' passing is questionable at best. Nicky Butt is the biggest question-mark, and as most games he was the one who gave away the first goal against West Bromwich Albion after a loose uncontrolled effort made way for The Baggies to put one passed the Toon.
Food for thought:
Notwithstanding the result at West Brom - which saw the side triumph 3-2 at the Hawthorns, NUFC are a club of confusion both on and off the field.
1. New players - Kevin Nolan, Peter Lovenkrands, Ryan Taylor, Sebastien Bassong, Fabricio Coloccini and Jonas Gutierrez all arrived this season. It will take them at least a season to come to terms with life in the North-East, and to coordinate with their team-mates.
2. Injuries - None of United's first-team strikers can honestly say that they have been injury-free this season. Mark Viduka, Michael Owen, Alan Smith, Shola Ameobi, Obafemi Martins, Xisco, and Andy Carroll have all suffered lengthy periods off the field this season due to injuries. By the time they get back the team is different from the one they last played with, and working with the new crop of players or in the new system becomes a problem.
3. Managerial changes - The last two years has seen the Magpies change managers like socks. Glenn Roeder, Sam Allardyce, Kevin Keegan and now Joe Kinnear. A revolving door of managers leaves players dazed and confused as they have to adapt to different approaches and tactics even before they can settle on any one.
4. Team selection - United lack a confident and gutsy manager to step in and say, 'Alright. If you don't play well - you won't be picked.' However, Toon managers always pick players not based on their performances, but rather their reputations, and/or namesake. E.g. Nicky Butt, Shola Ameobi etc.
5. Tactics - The longball tactic adopted by Joe Kinnear simply does not work unless at least one of the frontmen has pace. Michael Owen is obviously not the answer, and Oba Martins does not play off anyone, so, the best bet is newboy Peter Lovenkrands. However, once Martins comes back from injury, it is inevitable that Lovenkrands will be benched to allow Ameobi to do what he does best - nothing worthwhile.
As the season draws to a critical stage, the Magpies are in a genuine battle to fend off relegation. With an unconvincing win against West Brom in the weekend, the team may have earned a respite - but nothing has been accomplished yet.
Togetherness, and honest intent from the players is what the club needs. Understanding does not develop in a day, but the road to better team chemistry can be paved if the right mentality is infused in the players. Whether Joe Kinnear can accomplish that, remains largely unknown.
Date:Tuesday February 10 2009
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