Smith, Nolan, Barton in three-man Toon midfield
Newcastle United are now in 19th place in the Barclays Premier League with relegation now a real possibility rather than a fear. Alan Shearer, the interim gaffer at the club has stated that he would now put all his money in one hat, and go all-out to prove a point (no pun intended) against Portsmouth.
Big Al has repeatedly stressed the importance of the front three - Obafemi Martins, Mark Viduka, and Michael Owen, and how they must start scoring regularly in order to keep the lacklustre Toon afloat in the English top-flight.
What about the midfield? Shearer has used up every option possible, he will argue. But with Joey Barton coming into contention for the vital clash against Pompey, one avenue is yet to be explored.
But what combination of players will be essentially suited to battling the threat that is Portsmouth?
In midfield at least, United need those individuals who have high levels of energy, who can hold the ball up, interchange play, play the odd through-ball, or go wide to put in a cross.
To that effect, let us not continue the 3-5-2 formation anymore. Five players in midfield who are unskilled is worse than three midfielders with skill who have good movement, who complement each other, and who can stretch play.
Let us adopt a 4-3-3 formation with essentially a 4-2-1-3, with three forwards, two attacking midfielders, a defensive midfielder, and four defenders.
So, in attack we have Obafemi Martins, Mark Viduka, and Michael Owen. All very good players with good movement, and shooting skills, all they need is coordination with each other.
[NOTE: For this system to work, both Obafemi Martins, and Michael Owen have to practice their crossing, and through-ball delivery.]
Enter the midfield of Alan Smith, Joey Barton, and Kevin Nolan. Three players with muscle, grit, stamina, and passing ability. Among them, former City badboy Barton is the player who has the best movement, and vision, while Smith's heading and tackling ability will aid the team greatly. Nolan can just sit back in a defensive midfield position and regulate play as and when he needs to, and chip in to help the defenders every now and then.
With this system, what happens is that both Smith, and Barton can attack the ball if either Martins, or Owen get a cross into the box. If the forwards get in on the act themselves, then the three midfielders can either shoot from outside the box, or track back to defend a counter-attack.
Leave Jonas Gutierrez and Damien Duff on the bench. They can be used after the first 60 minutes to stifle the opposition. Energy, and fresh legs can often turn games around. In that regard, they should be left out and unleashed when the time is right.
[NOTE: Big Al must make the players understand that movement is key to the system working. If players just stand around, crowd each other, go for the same ball, or fail to mark their territories in midfield, there will be serious repercussions.]
In defence, it is suggested that with Jose Enrique hopefully coming back to fitness, and Fabrio Coloccini returning from injury as well, both of them may be put straight into the mix. Let's not have Damien Duff at left-back anymore, as he could be used as a super-sub in the second-half as a winger - which is incidentally, if the management has forgotten, his natural position.
With Habib Beye at right-back, the forwards can expect the Senegal man to burst forward and put his crosses into the box, and with a physically strong midfield, there will be less risk of the team being hit back on the break.
Sebastien Bassong and Fabricio Coloccini work well, and their partnership has been commendable. Notice how Coloccini is at his worst when Bassong is not playing, therefore, I would suggest letting the Argentine calamity machine return to the team.
If Jose Enrique fails to make the squad, play Ryan Taylor at left-back (yes, he has played there for Wigan Athletic countless times) and keep the system in tact.
This is a side which can play technically sound football, and has a certain physical presence which will be needed against a team like Portsmouth. If Big Al plays this system, and the players truly believe, something may in fact come out of the game next weekend.
The plays have been marked clearly in the above formation sketch. Hopefully we will see something similar in the upcoming matches. Time is running out for the Toon. Let's not go down, lads. That would be too much to bear.