What is the best form of defence? Attack - and as the first half of the WBA game proved, NUFC are an outfit capable of ripping anyone to shreds.
By dint of Fate or Grand Design, Mike Ashley and Alan Pardew’s Newcastle United find themselves at the high-end table of The Premier League casino still playing for the most glittering of prizes. It may look a long-shot from the outside yet as another unpredictable season on Tyneside reaches its climax, there could still be a dramatic finale as the Geordie dark horses could beat the mighty Chelsea into 5th place Europa League heaven.
In a throwback to Kevin Keegan’s almost-glory days, The Magpies have an abundance of attacking riches capable of destroying teams yet without injured Captain Argentina, defence remains an issue. However, this was an eventuality everyone knew was going to happen since January - including Pardew & the NUFC hierarchy - and I believe, the non-signing of centre-back cover was strategic.
MIKE’S BLACK AND WHITE ARMY
Instead of buying the centre half many would say Newcastle urgently required in the January transfer window, Pardew and Ashley bought a new no. 9 - not as a replacement for Andy Carroll, that was Demba Ba - but to push the club onto Europe when it mattered in the final 3rd of the season.
What is the best form of defence? Attack, and as the first half of the WBA game proved, NUFC are an outfit capable of ripping anyone to shreds. As Jamie Redknapp extolled on Sunday, “That was the best 45 minutes of football I’ve seen from an away side this season.” and it’s a mentality Newcastle will play with for the rest of the campaign.
While all about them are playing safe, NUFC are going for it and it’s a philosophy that has served them brilliantly so far under Ashley, who has been making unpopular yet bold, and in hindsight, successful, decisions since he took over the football club. Don’t sit back & think of England when Europe beckons.
When William the Conqueror landed on English shores from France in 1066, the first thing he did was burn the boats that had carried his soldiers over the Channel. It was a win or die mentality and history tells us that fortune favoured the brave. With attacking and winning their only option, expect Newcastle United’s multi-national squad to continue thrive against all expectations - the story of their season so far.
ATTACK. ATTACK, ATTACK, ATTACK.
Certainly in genius Hatem Ben Arfa, NUFC have a playmaker who is capable of winning games single-handedly yet with the Sengalese Demba partnership, Ba and Cisse, alongside him, he won’t have to. This front three - and indeed new fluid 4-3-3 formation - that Pardew unleashed to devastating effect at the weekend - looks set to upset the European applecart.
In Papiss Cisse, they have signed a genuinely lethal finisher reminiscent of Andy Cole at his best and it is his goals that are currently firing his new side up the table. If Demba Ba can recover the goal-scoring form that carried The Magpies in an attacking sense till January then anything remains possible. Ben Arfa is recapturing top form in time to give Euro 2012 national boss Laurent Blanc a major selection dilemma, staking his claim with goals away at Arsenal and WBA amid a virtuoso performance and the best is surely yet to come from him at St James’ Park.
With the aerially-adept Andy Carroll and company coming to Town on Sunday, Newcastle’s best chance of victory is ending up on the right-side of another famous Tyneside-Merseyside 4-3. Make no mistake about it - back-up James Perch could be destroyed by Carroll and Liverpool. Here is a player who gives his all and is decent cover for Tiote against the likes of Norwich in shoring up the Geordie defensive midfield - less so at Spurs away - and has appeared at either full-back with credit this season.
Yet as the first meaningful cross into the box after he replaced the injured Collocini versus Chelsea in November which Drogba headed home proved he isn’t a centre half. Its certainly a challenge for the much-criticised Williamson and I expect him to produce his best form in The Magpies hour of need at the back yet while I’m not expecting any repeat of Norwich away, I don’t think its going to be pretty for the Toon defence till Collocini returns.
GOALS, GLORY AND GLAMOUR
So far this season, Alan Pardew has demonstrated a tendency to err on the side of caution yet his new defensive reality means the shackles are forced to come off with goals and glory the only option. Expect a footballing rollercoaster like no other from the Geordies from now until the end of the season. And put your money on black-and-white no.s 9 and 19 and especially no. 10, Hatem Ben Arfa, whom surely the football gods will favour after his horrific injury last season, to inspire this mighty club back into The Promised Land of Europe where it belongs and with it the restored tag of The Entertainers.
Don’t Stop Believin’