Ever since the draw against Wolves, most of the talk regarding Newcastle has been focused on tactics and defensive shortfalls.
We can all crow to our hearts content about formation changes and what not but chances are come Sunday we will see the tried and tested 442 facing off against Sunderland.
Taking that to be the case, I wanted to take a look at the Sunderland side and focus on a few key areas which could have a bearing on what will be no doubt a high-tempered affair.
Both sides are coming off the back of a poor result and even if they weren’t would be raring to go for what is probably the most hotly contested derby in the Premier League.
After Newcastle took the three points and bragging rights home from the Stadium of Light early this season, make no mistake, Sunderland will be eager as ever to get one over on Newcastle and I fully expect them to perform.
For that reason I think Newcastle, despite being at home, could have the lean share of possession and might need to resort to sly tactics with clever and cool heads to take the three points from this one rather than putting in an eye pleasing performance.
Let’s start with their danger men. The obvious one who springs to mind is Stephane Sessegnon. He played extremely well first half in the Stadium of Light until Cheik Tiote got a hold of him in the second half, and has been on some sterling form under Martin O’Neill.
They could go all out and play Frazier Campbell with him but given that he is just back from injury and they are the away side, I think this is a risky match to start him in. Regardless of whether he plays or not the tactics have to be the same from a defensive sense.
Both have the pace on Williamson and Coloccini without question and if we play a high line we will be playing right into their hands. I think our centre backs need to forget about the offside trap and make sure that they draw Sessegnon into a physical battle instead.
To avoid that he will probably drop deep when possible, and Tiote needs to be there as he was in the first fixture to basically bully him, make sure he can’t get shots off and pick little pockets of space. Tiote will have to put in a Man of the Match performance for us on Sunday in my opinion.
Which brings me to the midfield and one of my most hated players in all of football. For all the assaults Nigel De Jong has committed in his time there is only one who surpasses him in the scum stakes. Yes, you’ve guessed it. Introducing none other than Lee Cattermole.
He will be so up for this game after the last time, it simply has to be taken advantage of. Yohan Cabaye really has to keep a cool head in this game because Cattermole will wind him up. I think it would be actually quite easy to manipulate his overzealous nature, to put it nicely.
Tiote and Cabaye have a habit of playing little five yard one-two’s with each other at times. Quite simply, they should do it around Cattermole as much as possible, hold onto the ball for an extra second and be willing to take a hit or two. He will be booked and walking on egg shells in no time.
Craig Gardner is the exact same. He likes to shoot more than Darron Gibson so that has to be watched but like Cattermole he has a tendency to leave the foot in. All Tiote or Cabaye have to do is pull a Keano or Viera on it and clatter him ten seconds after kick off. It will escape a yellow card and rile him no-end. Then resort to clever one-two’s, suck him in and get him booked.
Jack Colback will more than likely play, and all animosity towards the red and whites aside, I actually think he is a handy little player on the ball. If Sessegnon plays up top then Tiote has to watch Colback like a hawk but otherwise, Cabaye will have to play deep whether we like it or not.
Next up, McClean and Larsson either wing. Larsson is decent but limited to one real strength. I don’t think he is that good a player, but given time and space his delivery is quality. For this reason I think Santon would be a massive risk to play against him in case he goes missing.
Someone has to sit and watch him, and in a general sense make sure we don’t give away free kicks within thirty yards of our goal. If nothing else he can deliver from a set piece and defending them also happens to be a massive weak spot for Newcastle this season.
As I said, Santon could be a risk for this game in particular but one thing we will have going for us is Phil Bardsley is not the type of full back to be bombing up and down like Ronald Zubar did to us last week, so that should free up Gutierrez a bit to double up on Larsson with the full back and eliminate his threat, much like we did to Pennant against Stoke.
Speaking of Bardsley, he is another who will be foaming at the mouth coming into this one after the last time and that has to be manipulated. I have criticized Gutierrez of late for his lack of productivity but I don’t think his role will be about that on Sunday.
Nothing will frustrate Bardsley more than Jonas doing his trademark backing in and holding onto the ball. A master in the art of buying cheap free kicks and this will be his time to shine. I would almost guarantee Phil Bardsley will be booked in the first half if Jonas makes the most of Bardsley being itching to get one over on us. Then life is easy, just run at him, sucker him in and buy fouls the rest of the game.
Sorry, back to one of their definite danger men of late, James McClean. Hate to say it but the lad does look a prospect and unless Danny Simpson is on top form, McClean will give him a torrid time unless we can stop him playing high up the pitch.
For this reason I think it would be naive to play Ryan Taylor on the right wing, simply because they will probably play Kieron Richardson at left full back and he is much more comfortable going forward than being made to defend and we all know what inviting pressure on ourselves has achieved of late.
If Ryan isn’t going to play then who gets the nod? Again, many an argument has been made in favour of Hatem Ben Arfa over the past week or two and I really want to see the lad get a good run of games, but I can’t see Alan Pardew starting him.
If that is the case then next name on the list is Gabriel Obertan. Pardew seems to have more faith in his ability to track back so I would presume he would choose him above Ben Arfa, some would say rightfully so. Either way I think the job of the right winger will have to be different to that of Gutierrez.
As I said, Richardson likes to push forward, and in fairness is pretty effective when he does, and we don’t need them doubling up on Simpson. In contrast to that, Richardson is not a natural full back or defender, and does look decidedly uncomfortable when he is being ran at.
He also has a very similar to Simpson in that he shows players inside constantly, and has no right foot to defend once they have. This could work in favour of either Ben Arfa or Obertan as they both like to cut inside the defender when on the right rather than going to the byline for a cross.
If we can get the ball out to the right wing and use that as a countering or attacking outlet early on rather than long balls up to Demba Ba then I think Richardson and McClean could be unsettled and forced onto the back foot rather than attacking us as a pair if we sit deep, and in my opinion, inevitably hurting us.
I think Obertan would be the obvious choice if full faith is not in Ben Arfa to do this considering Pardew will have faith in him to track back when needed, and despite his critics, me included, early on in the season did prove to be that effective out ball I’m talking about.
That leaves our forward line against their centre backs, and if we can get decent supply into them, this is where I actually have no worries whatsoever.
It is almost certain that the two at the back for Sunderland will be Michael Turner and John O’Shea. It’s quite simple. If we play route one, we won’t get a thing out of this pairing. They are both very strong in the air.
Where their downfall is, as West Brom exploited last weekend, is in their mobility and comfort on the ball. They are actually very similar players to Mike Williamson and if they can be put under pressure by our front two will be forced to play hoof-ball.
This will play right into our hands as Sessegnon, or Campbell if he plays, won’t stand a chance in the air against our trio of Coloccini, Williamson and Tiote. As it does with us when we play hoof-ball, it will in-turn eliminate wing effectiveness and make the game scrappy, which could suit us at the moment.
In terms of supply to our strikers, Yohan Cabaye and whoever plays right wing will be pivotal in creating chances. For that reason I personally would go with Ben Arfa and let him free to attack and torture Richardson, thus creating space for our strikers, but if it’s Obertan then once he gets his head up he can do relatively the same job.
All said and done I think no matter what they will score at some stage, so I do think we need to go out with the mindset of unsettling their defence. As mentioned earlier, I think they have a number of players who can be manipulated into bookings and maybe sendings off, but certainly free kicks, and for this reason I would probably play Ryan Taylor instead of Santon or Simpson.
The build up to a derby is always a time of squeaky bums no matter what the confidence level. The form book goes out the window more often than not and it comes down to who wants it more, and in that regard I am hoping to see much more desire and passion from Newcastle than we have witnessed in recent games. That said there is a fine line between wanting it a lot and a little too much and this is a game for boxing clever.
Sunderland have Martin ‘Midas Touch’ O’Neill on their side and will be confident coming into the game on Sunday despite their loss to West Brom, but fact is they got beat in their own back yard earlier this season and they will be itching to get revenge. Hopefully Newcastle can manipulate that fact and outsmart them if not outplay them.
Less than a day to go now and both clubs run-ins could hinge on the outcome of this result. For me it is definitely one of the most highly anticipated derby days in recent memory, but as always, the knees are a-knocking as it draws closer.
Think I may have to glue a Lee Cattermole mask on the dog and roar abuse at him to release some tension or the telly will be smashed come half-time on Sunday.
The joys of being a Newcastle supporter eh? Never a dull moment!