Goals win games. Creativity is key to unlocking defences. Modern full backs are required to be wing backs. Touchline wingers seem to be a dying breed. More is demanded than getting to the byline and whipping in a cross.
These are the positions up for debate in terms of true quality at Newcastle. Danny Simpson and Ryan Taylor have performed well but are far from the best full backs in the league. Both have their critics defensively and are not cut from the Jose Enrique cloth in terms of constantly overlapping in attack.
Our striker strength has been up for question without reprieve. The failure to secure a marquee number nine is still a concern for some. And despite Leon Best and Demba Ba looking like they can do a good job there is still a seed of doubt. Will they hit well into double figures?
The jury is out on our wingers in Jonas Gutierrez and Garbiel Obertan. Although work rate is not in question and both have done a good job to date, creativity, consistency and more so end product is where the questions come up with both.
So taking all that into consideration how are we doing so well? Is it luck? Does our league position and unbeaten record flatter us? Or is it because we have an element to our side we have not had for a very long time?
This season I have been thinking the Newcastle team now looks very different to the one I grew up watching. The days of free flowing attacking football and cavalier mentality of you score four we`ll score five are gone. We are not that side any more. We are a different monster. I would argue potentially a better one.
What we have instead is a team that even on a bad day can grind out a result. I don`t think I have ever said that about Newcastle, even in the days of pushing for the title. So how are we doing this? What has changed?
The answer as far as I can see is we now have a spine. The central core of our team and budding partnerships seem to be our real strength. More than that it is the specific personnel and complimentary blend of players which makes us hard to beat and inspires confidence going forward.
Tim Krul although still young has learned from some top goalkeepers in his development. He has unbelievable reaction time and shot stopping ability which is something I thought I would never see again after Shay. There is still room for improvement in terms of his distribution but it was clear to see from the Aston Villa game it is something he himself is aware of and addressing.
To have such a promising keeper at our disposal is a massive luxury to have. A luxury many clubs struggle season after season to secure. It is possibly the hardest position on the pitch to get right and there are endless examples of the effect a shaky keeper can have on the men in front of him. Which brings me to Steven Taylor and Fabricio Coloccini.
As well as having confidence in their keeper they seem to have confidence in each other, and despite only playing together for a limited time with Taylor being out for a lot of last season, they seem to have struck up a very good understanding and look very solid as a partnership.
There is more to a strong defensive partnership than having two good individuals. They have to compliment each other and attributes combined show few weak points. The perfect example of this is Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic at Manchester United.
Rio is a sweeper style, ball playing centre back who makes last ditch interceptions and blocks time and time again. Vidic is the uncompromising, no frills powerhouse, winning everything in the air and the first to stick in a tackle.
Not for a second would I rate the Newcastle pairing on the same level, nor would I even say you could make a direct comparison in terms of the type of players they are. However I do think between the two they have all bases covered and have the makings of a formidable defensive partnership as the season progresses.
Coloccini is a class act. Composed in possession, always looking to play on the deck, yet intelligent enough to know when row Z is best. A vastly experienced, set by example, leader who brings great organisation to the defence. A very effective man marker who reads the game brilliantly, intercepting through balls and cutting out danger.
I can`t remember the last time I seen him have an average game, never mind a bad one. His only weakness besides maybe struggling aerially against big strikers, as most defenders do, is his pace or lack of. He has managed to adapt his game to compensate though.
This is where Taylor comes to the fore. His strongest asset for me is his aerial prowess. Commanding at the back and the man you want to aim for from set pieces. As well as this his burst of pace is impressive for a big lad. On the odd occasion where Coloccini gets done for pace you will see Taylor belting across to cover and hoof one into the stands.
That is a pivotal part of the great blend of the two for me. Taylor although being the player who goes to the ball when it`s an aerial battle is more often than not the one who adopts the sweeper style role. Cleaning up any loose balls that break. If he can`t get to them in time he’ll put his body on the line to block anything heading for goal.
Although Taylor has his critics and many don`t like the fact he seems to be self-appointed Mr. Newcastle, it is something I personally like. To have a last line of defence that bleeds black and white is an unquestionable asset and someone who will give everything he has for the team every single week is a massive bonus.
True he still shows glimpses of making mistakes that could cost at times but they are becoming few and far between as time goes on. Even when they do happen his recovery skills are second to none. There has been a handful of occasions this season alone where Taylor has denied the opposition a certain goal with off the line clearances and rib breaking blocks.
All things considered I think the two compliment each other extremely well. Coloccini has an abundance of strengths in areas Taylor may not and vice-versa. With Krul behind them now too it bodes well for us going forward and I would struggle to name many other sides outside the big guns that can boast true strength in all three positions.
In saying that the defence is only as strong as what`s defending in front of it sometimes, which brings us on to the centre of midfield. Cheik Tiote and Yohan Cabaye in my opinion are two of the most ideally suited players to play together in the Premier League. That is not to say they are the best central midfielders around, merely that they compliment each others games near on perfectly.
Tiote was the signing of last season for me. An absolute revelation for a team like Newcastle who has rarely had that type of midfielder. An out and out holding player who gives so much protection to a defence and no attacking midfielder an easy ride.
In terms of his role in the midfield blend, Tiote is obviously the man who shines off the ball more than on it. Whether it be his engine and reaction time or the fact he reads the game well and can sniff out danger I don`t know, but I lost count long ago the amount of times the opposition gets a breaking ball and the first man on the scene, no matter where it is on the pitch is Tiote. Charging in full steam ahead to clear the ball and sometimes the player with it.
This is quite simply invaluable for any defence to have protecting them. I would say Taylor and Coloccini love the lad as much as I do. He is a dying breed of midfielder which used to be so vital to every team, and with many sides adopting the strategy of playing a player in the hole, he is a player who is tailor made to snuff out that threat.
His only weakness for me is his tendency to delay and turn a bit too much on the ball. When he is sharp he does it no problem but when he is not we have seen it can put you in trouble sometimes. I am not worried though as I think it is something we will see less with every game and the development of his partnership with Cabaye should help it too.
Cabaye is starting to show many who waited to see what the hype was all about exactly what he is made of. There will be games he finds it hard in and some settling in is still needed, but in my opinion it is only a matter of time before people see his class show through week in week out.
He is the perfect blend of player to go with Tiote. A cultured player alongside a demolition man who wants the ball at every opportunity. Someone to dictate play and set up attacks. An intelligent player with a great passing range. Nearly always picking the right pass and really comfortable in possession even in tight spaces.
He also has the ability to push on in games when we are on top and give us a real attacking threat through the centre that Tiote does not provide, and as everyone could tell from the Aston Villa game in particular, has no problem having a crack from distance, most of the time they come close too.
In games where we are up against it he is more than comfortable sitting in deep and giving Tiote a hand out with the off the ball dog work. He has no problem sticking a foot in and doesn’t seem intimidated or easily brushed off despite his small stature.
I am really excited about these two to be honest. As I said I think they are the perfect blend of players to have as a midfield partnership and give us something both defensively and in attack. The only worry I did have early on was if they both sit deep we have quite a large gap between midfield and attack in the centre which was leading to the ball coming straight back at us a bit too much. I think with the return of Hatem Ben Arfa this problem will be no more.
From what I have heard, anyone who went to see the Forest cup tie got to see glimpses of what I recently spoke about as regards Ben Arfa. I really rate him highly, and when playing in the hole, he fits into the central midfield blend perfectly, giving it a further dimension.
I won`t go on too much about him as I covered it in a previous article but what he gives you is above all else a real and ever present attacking threat no matter the opposition. From a defensive point of view with a player like Yohan Cabaye or Fabricio Coloccini feeding him to feet he can take pressure off in games against bigger sides and be the one man with the ability and confidence to go it alone on the counter when there is not much up to support him.
In games where we are dictating play, he gives us the same option, just more frequently. Like Cabaye, he wants the ball as much as possible, can create chances and is more than willing to have a crack from distance, but is different in the sense he will run with the ball a lot and play more of a free role, drifting out to the wings and playing through the centre which will make marking him a real headache.
I think this will benefit Yohan Cabaye massively in terms of getting a bit of space and not being man marked, which has happened him in a couple of games so far. You have to try and man mark Ben Arfa, simple as. Even if you don`t, as seen against Forest, he will eventually occupy the attention of more than one player, sometimes three, every time he gets the ball.
This will free up space for Cabaye to make runs and generally get on the ball and cause trouble with his passing and long shots, not to mention give the likes of Jonas Gutierrez, Gabriel Obertan or the impressive Sylvain Marveaux more opportunity to exploit defences. A great blend of central midfielders to have in my opinion, potentially as strong as we have had in my lifetime anyway.
Briefly mentioning the strikers too, as I said at the top of the article, goals win games and to date Leon Best is doing the job. Demba Ba is looking more energetic and influential as the games go by too and in those two I think we have enough goals to see us through until January with our creative midfielders chipping in too.
So conclusions to draw from it all. I don`t think our results have much to do with luck even though there has been an element of it involved. I think it is more so the strength of player and character in the spine of our team which makes us tough to beat, and has maybe raised the game of those on the flanks as a result.
I, like most Newcastle fans, am quietly confident but that said would not be one to get ahead of myself despite the praise and positivity outlined above. Top ten is still the realistic aim and something I would be more than happy with this season along with a couple of good cup runs.
For the moment I am excited to see the key partnerships and personnel develop into what I see as a new look Newcastle. A strong blend of creative talent and defensive strength built from the spine of the side. A team that is going in the right direction, and going the right way about it too.
A lot of credit should go to Graham Carr. He seems to have found some real gems. Alan Pardew deserves credit too for the job he has done in putting it all together so far. Long may it continue.
Next up, Blackburn.