What ever happened to newly promoted sides being the whipping boys of the Premier League?! Norwich, QPR and Swansea are all comfortably in mid-table with over a third of the season passed, which is pretty much where NUFC finished last term.
Last week Norwich bullied us into submission following the defensive crisis we suffered. We need players back and it would also be nice if they could be match fit and niggle free if we are to overcome a Swansea City side that will fancy themselves to take all three points at the world renowned St James’ Park against a weakened Newcastle United squad.
Dan Gosling’s inexperience blew his big chance of staking a claim for a place in the side after he got himself sent off last week. As a result he sits out for three games. Fabricio Coloccini (thigh) and Cheik Tiote (knee) are both in contention, whilst Mike Williamson (ankle) came through 45 minutes for the reserves in midweek against Bolton, but Swansea may come too soon. Sylvain Marveaux and Danny Guthrie (both groin) are out, whilst Steven Taylor (achilles) will not return until next term.
Alan Tate (broken leg) and Ferrie Bodde (knee) are both long term absentees, whilst Angel Rangel (ankle) misses out. Midfielder Joe Allen returns from suspension. No more team news to speak of, but Swansea have a bit of depth and whoever plays will be fighting hard to keep their place in the side.
Shamrock’s Top 10 really interesting Facts and Stats:
1 – It’s a good job Angel Rangel is out, as he and Ashley Williams both sit in the Top 10 of the Premiership Passer’s league. Top spot goes to Yaya Toure (1104), with Williams (1051) 2nd!..
2 – Swansea have not beaten Newcastle since 1980 when they claimed a 4-0 home win. They beat us three times that year, twice in our own back yard.
3 – Demba Ba is joint 2nd Top Scorer in the Premiership with 11 goals this term. He shares the position with Wayne Rooney and Sergio Aguero (11). Meanwhile Yohan Cabaye is 3rd in the tackling stakes with 64, four behind Liverpool’s Lucas and four ahead of Spurs’ Parker.
4 – With betting odds of 4/5, the Magpies are still firm favourites despite our injury problems. The Swans are 7/2. Not a bad punt for the neutral or away fan.
5 – Swansea are the worst side in the Premiership when it comes to away form, with two points to show from a possible 21.
6 – This game will be NUFC’s tribute to the late legend Gary Speed. Cwm Rhondda will be sung before kick-off by Welsh tenor Gwyn Hughes Jones, fitting that we should have Welsh opposition to remember a great servant to our team and their Nation.
7 – Swansea’s Michel Vorm is the Premership’s 2nd most prolific saver of shots on goal (60) with a saves to shots ratio of 75%.
8 – Shola Ameobi is still looking for his 50th career league goal! Or his 25th in 5 years.
9 – There have only ever been 14 Newcastle v Swansea league fixtures. Perhaps the most memorable was a 6-0 win on 27th October 1962 for the Toon, when the Swans were known as Swansea Town.
10 – Only three players have more assists this season than Swansea’s Mark Gower (5). They are Samir Nasri (6), Juan Mata (7) and David Silva (9).
Tactical ponderings and possible team selection:
Swansea have decent depth in certain areas, which means that they can keep fresh and play positive football. Whilst Norwich were aerially dominant and intense, Swansea are more probing and technical. They have very good passing ability for a side with very little top flight experience and will play the ball out of defence if time and space allows.
They have wingers with pace and crossing ability as well as fast, if not clinical strikers. To be honest I would be inclined to say that on their day, Swansea City are a match for anybody. With a bit of luck we will have Fabricio Coloccini back to bring some measured calm and aerial ability to our back line and we may even see Cheik Tiote return to marshal the space between the half way line and our final third. That would cast aside any concerns about our defensive abilities and we can then get on with looking for the win.
That said, Swansea will look at our recent form and possible slight lack of confidence and will try to seize on it. This is where my key man comes into the fold. I believe our best chance of winning this game depends not on the form of Tiote, Cabaye, Ba, Coloccini or Krul – but of our fans.
Yes, the 12th man. This will be absolutely vital. Swansea may fancy springing a surprise, but I cannot help notice their dire lack of form away from home. From seven games they have managed only two draws and five losses. Lets not forget they are not used to visiting big stadiums. Their ground has a capacity of 20,532. That is far less than half our ours and until they hit the Premiership for the first time, they’ve rarely experienced crowds bigger than 25,000.
In November 2009 Swansea were on an 11 game unbeaten run in our Championship season. They came to SJP and in front of a crowd of 42,616 got ‘hammered’ 3-0 despite having more possession, more corners and more shots on goal than us. It came down to them being blown away by the environment and not having the concentration or confidence to give a proper account of themselves in front of goal. (That’s my theory anyway!)
If the home fans can really make this an atmospheric, spine tingling ampitheatre then I think we will already be half way there.
Now then, yet again our full backs will be tested. Nathan Dyer has had a good season so far, but they also have former Magpie Wayne Routledge able to play down the right. They will offer pace and trickery and one mistimed tackle could cost us a penalty.
Up front they have a bit of a mixed bag. Danny Graham has banged in five goals this term and offers a bit of aerial presence, but they also have Leroy Lita for pace and strength with former Villain Luke Moore and Stephen Dobbie likely to settle for the bench. There is a fair chance they will go with a 4-2-3-1 type formation, using Graham as a spearhead with Sinclair and Dyer as advanced wingers with Joe Allen behind the front man. Having Tiote back to counter this would be invaluable if that’s the case.
I’d like to see Davide Santon be given the opportunity to build on a decent first start by playing this match at left back. That would leave Ryan Taylor at right back if Simpson is given the nod in the middle, however if not then he may have to get used to the bench again.
Arguably Swansea’s weakest position is central midfield. An ageing Mark Gower seems to be the preferred option along with Leon Britton. They are by no means bad players, but I feel Cabaye and Ben Arfa would both be able to exploit the space between the Swansea box and the half way line with some freedom as they have that cutting edge that I cant see Gower or Britton addressing. I would describe them as steady at most things, but exceptional at nothing. This is the ideal game for Benny to try and express himself a bit and gain some confidence with the crowd behind him.
Hopefully Swansea will be without Rangel at right back. He is a very good passer of the ball and quite composed. 20-year-old Ashley Richards may have to step in, otherwise Brendan Rodgers will have to play a centre back such as Steven Caulker out of position. Either way, this presents an opportunity for Gutierrez to attack their right side. Former Toon target Neil Taylor is pretty steady at left-back and if Gabriel Obertan plays he will need to be decisive and intelligent to beat him. I’m not convinced he will ever be any of those things, but then what do I know?! It’s early days in his Newcastle career.
Again in central defence Ashley Williams is calm and technically sound on the ball. He can pick out a pass and trigger a counter attack, however his positioning is not particularly sharp and a player like Demba Ba should be able to get some joy out of him and Garry Monk if he is his usual hustling, intense self.
It’s a tough one because I’d actually like to see us playing two strikers as well as Benny for this one. I genuinely think going narrower would hurt Swansea. Our wingers usually run inside anyway, so it feels like it ought to be a natural progression. The trouble is, how do we address the balance in midfield to accommodate what would basically be a three man forward line?
For this one I would consider dropping Obertan and playing Cabaye on the right, with Tiote and Benny in a diamond and Guti on the left. Cabaye can cross the ball in, whilst Guti can attack the full back. With a combination of Ba and Best or Ameobi hustling the opposition’s central defence and opening up space for Benny to pick up the ball around the edge of the box and go on his mazy runs I am sure goalscoring opportunities would come our way.
It is then a case of trying to get past Michel Vorm – aka ‘The Penalty Killer’ in his homeland. As shown in the facts and stats, he is a useful keeper and will pull off a few decent saves so we need to test him regularly. Having a three man attack would hopefully see to that. Maybe it would compromise us a bit defensively, but why not just go for it this week and see what happens? Benny has not looked right with only one striker in front of him this season and we have played arguably our best football when Leon Best has been up front alongside Demba Ba. We should not lose too much with Cabaye out wide as long as Tiote plays, as I don’t think their central midfield are strong enough to take a game like this by the scruff of the neck.
After all that I have to say begrudgingly however, that Pardew likes his familiarity and we will probably see an acceptable 4-4-2, or a faulty 4-5-1. If that’s the case, lets have Obertan on the bench and give young Sammy a start.
My total guesses and hopes for starting line ups:
Newcastle United: Krul, Santon, Coloccini, Simpson, R Taylor, Gutierrez, Tiote, Cabaye, Ben Arfa, Ba, Best.
Swansea City: Vorm, N Taylor, Williams, Monk, Richards, Britton, Gower, Sinclair, Allen, Dyer, Graham.
The man in the middle is 40 year old Bolton born and based Lee Mason. He has been involved in the game since the late 80’s and his brother actually used to play for his hometown club. Mason finally made it to professional refereeing in 2002 and made the Select Group in 2006. Other than that, he has not done a lot of note. No international involvement of any kind and no major cup finals. A decent referee, prone to the odd mistake like the rest of them these days…
He took charge of our 4-3 Carling Cup win over Nottingham Forest this season but has not taken us in the league yet. We have had mixed results when he has taken charge of us in the past, but a good one was our 3-1 home victory over Liverpool last season. That was a win in difficult circumstances, as it was Alan Pardew’s first game in charge amidst protests ringing around the ground at Chris Hughton’s dismissal. Ironically, it was two Merseysiders in Nolan and Barton and a future Liverpool forward in Carroll who would fire us to victory!
A quick word from Jonas Gutierrez:
“We now have to give a gift to the fans. We want to give all the supporters who have followed us all season a boost. Swansea is a good opportunity for us to return to winning ways. We need a win because we have not picked up three points for four games. When that happens you start dropping down the table and we cannot let this happen.”
Date: Saturday 17th December
Kick Off: 15:00
Venue: St. James’ Park.
Howay the lads!