Newcastle United 2015. There’ll not be many books written about this mess. Liverpool fans wrote a collective seven books on their near miss in 2013/14 – universally mocked by some (me included) but the worse things get the clearer things become. I’m massively jealous of Liverpool at the moment. Their manager talks about the thing I used to read about in true faith 10 years ago. People leaving early. No atmosphere. Supporting the team. All I have as an adult Newcastle United fan is the promotion season and season 11/12, and no one wrote any books about them either. The great thing for Liverpool fans was that 13/14 got a whole city believing again. The narrative that the richest sides prosper and create an impossible bridge that cannot be breached. Liverpool spent money – of course they did – but that side that challenged the ‘big boys’ cost less than half of Man City and Chelsea’s oil rich sides. That’s the dream. It can happen and I think Jurgen Klopp’s appointment has a lot to do with that season. The team and now the board realised that the impossible was possible.
Similarly Tottenham, Hotspur are a side I hate to watch at the moment. When they turn us over at White Hart Lane in a couple of weeks it’ll be painful. Not because once again United are being humiliated in front of the nation, but because Tottenham Hotspur are a proper football club. The owner still isn’t popular, but Spurs try and win every cup they compete in. They come close to doing so. Loads of teams are like that, so why am I talking about Spurs in a Newcastle United match preview. Spurs are a side that try hard. Their players work for their manager. They spent big money in the summer (less than NUFC and with player sales only spent £10m) but their starting line-up contained Harry Kane and Danny Rose (academy graduates), Eric Dier (£4m), Deli Ali (£5m), Christian Erikson (£4m less than Winjaldum). Our super scout identified Ali, who chose Spurs. Why not offer £10m? He’s worth it. People are talking about Spurs as title contenders. Title contenders! That’s not supposed to happen unless you have a £30 million striker on the bench.
Spurs are everything Newcastle United should be. They’re proving things can be done with a sound scouting network and a good manager who is backed and given time to build a side. They’re investing in a stadium to allow more fans to come and see them, as they recognise they’ll be let behind if they don’t. TV cash is king, but having a packed stadium is crucial to a clubs development as a super power. If no one comes to watch you, what’s the point? West Ham, Man City, Liverpool, Spurs, Everton all recognise that extra TV cash can facilitate ground improvements or new premises. It’s clearly important yet Newcastle United’s owner is currently pushing through with plans to sell the only bit of land that would make stadium expansion possible. The only people talking about it or the NUST. Can you imagine if instead of moving to a new ground (which attracts lower Europa League crowds than SJP did under Pardew) Dany Levy was selling the land to make this possible for personal gain. National outrage and media shit storm. Besides the work of some volunteers at the Supporters Trust, the silence is deafening.
What has any of this got to do with Newcastle United at Crystal Palace this weekend? It’s a tenuous link. Most of you probably opened this page and expected me to go on about Alan Pardew, so here it is. I thought there was a bit of context needed but Alan Pardew believed Newcastle United could have emulated the clubs I’m talking about above. That doesn’t mean he ‘wasn’t as bad’ as many made out. His record speaks for itself. I used to love Alan Pardew as Newcastle United manager. I didn’t ever really call for his sacking, apart from on the train back, hanging and being sick in the bogs, from Spurs in the cup last year. My lowest moment following this club – and there’s been a few. I was at the talk in before the 12/13 season (after we’d finished fifth) and he said that Newcastle United should be aiming for the top 4 every season. No one laughed. He was deadly serious. He spoke passionately about the club, the area. He said he’s found his club. I believed him. We all did.
He spoke a lot of bollocks after that. Total utter bollocks. He shoved his face into David Meyler etc and there was the three transfer windows where Newcastle United became the first side to not sign a play permanently in European football history to do so (that didn’t have a transfer embargo placed on it). He was part of all of that. I used to think he was the best manager in the league. So did the other manager in the league that year and the Premier League bods who hand out the awards also felt that. Season 11/12 was class.
I’ve heard people say he was lucky. I’ve no time for luck playing a part in a 38 game season. There was no luck when the ref bottled sending off David Luiz when Demba was clean through after 90 seconds against Chelsea at home that season. That game saw us hit the bar three times and lose our only fit centre backs to injury – one for the season. Steven Taylor’s NUFC career has never really recovered. Who knows what would have happened if we’d have won that game. We went into the final game of 11/12 with a chance of finishing 3rd ahead of Arsenal. That was some achievement, and all credit to Alan Pardew for that. Few other managers could have made it happen.
What followed has been a disaster. An injury ravaged United pushed one of the best sides in Europe, Benfica (they lost the final on pens to Chelsea), all the way in a thoroughly enjoyable Europa League run. Credit to Pardew for that. You know the rest though. The pathetic performances at home. The inability to beat a side by more than one goal. No plan ‘B’. The Sunderland sides Alan Pardew came up against were not more talented than those Pardew managed. They were better organised, better trained. A Reading side came to SJP at the very start of 2013 already relegated. They were terrible. Hardly a football team. They beat Pardew’s NUFC 2 1. It was a listless performance, and ultimately a performance we saw more often than not under Pardew. Where and why it went wrong aren’t clear. Having no support in the transfer market doesn’t explain losing to Reading at home (that team’s only away win that season). It wasn’t just Mike Ashley. Just most of it.
United face Palace this Saturday in a crucial gamer for both sides. I watched the full game on Monday night when Palace inexplicably lost to a dreadful Sunderland side. I’ve seen Sunderland play twice now this season for 90 minutes. Both times they’ve served up performances equivalent to ours against Leicester. They’ve picked up 6 points in those two games. The Allardyce effect. The only thing that will keep Sunderland side up is Newcastle United. Palace were awful. Nervy defensively and dreadful going forwards. They didn’t get behind Sunderland once. Their pace on the flanks is negated by their pedestrian central players. Yohan Cabaye is better than anything United will throw at him this weekend, but a shadow of the player we sold for £20m to one of Europe’s best sides.
We need something from the game. Liverpool at home and Spurs away follow. We need something. The blue-print is there. Sit deep. Makes sure you can’t get done on the counter attack and chances will come. Pardew has lost two more home games than he’s won at Palace, collecting 19 points from 17 home games. That’s poor. We shouldn’t fear going there. If you’d have told me at the start of the season losing the perma-injured Cheick Tiote to injury would be a disaster I wouldn’t have believed you. Newcastle United have one fit central midfielder on the books and that midfielder is Vurnon Anita. Words fail me.
How can’t Siem De Jong get into this side as a midfielder? Surely McClaren has to play a 4 3 3 with Winjaldum, Anita, De Jong playing behind Perez, Mitro and Sissoko. Any of the other 3 formations McClaren panciked himself into trying against Leicester didn’t work. Thauvin isn’t the answer. To anything. He’ll persist with Dummet at LB. he can’t play LB. Play him in the middle and drop Colo. He won’t do that either.
Palace have only beaten a dreadful West Brom and an even worse Vile at home this season. Like Pardew’s NUFC bar one season, he needs the opposition to not turn up and not attack. I genuinely believe if McClaren ensures his side try hard, run about and play well, we’ll win. It’s a shame that the first two of those requirements aren’t a given. Palace are ropey at the back. They seem to struggle down both flanks. Sissoko and Janmaat are our best attacking threat. Keep them together. McClaren had Sissoko playing RW, LW, behind the striker and in holding mid against Leceister. He was terrible in all three positions, but what about the partnerships. Perez is wasted used as a wide man. If we need to play him wide, fine, but give him the freedom to cut inside to devastating effect as he did at Old Trafford earlier this season.
I’m talking myself into thinking we can win this game. We can. Forget Pardew. Forget revenge. We’re paying a side who’ve won two of their last seven home games this season and lost to the second worst team in the league. Forget their wins at Chelsea, Watford and Anfield. Sit deep, defend well, break with pace. Win the game. A defeat could be the beginning of the end for McClaren. We can’t be facing Vile at home on the 19th on the back of four defeats. Win the game.
0-1 NUFC if he picks this team (4 3 3): Darlow, Mbabu, Dummet/Lacelles, Mbemba, Janmaat, Winjladum, Anita, De Jong, Perez, Mitro, Sissoko
5-0 Palace if he picks the same side and formation as Saturday (which he will)