The season is done and now we can really start to pick the bones out of it to find out what really went wrong in what was a disappointing campaign.
After finishing fifth last season optimism was high and the hope was that we would build on that this season.
We didn’t and now the heat is most definitely on Alan Pardew as fans vent their frustration. The article from Stardust yesterday hit the nail on the head for a lot of people, but I’m wondering if there are any mitigating circumstances that could be at least party to blame for our rotten season. We all know that the squad wasn’t strengthened enough last summer, that we’ve suffered injuries, that we’ve been playing in the Europa League, but did any of these set us up for our downfall? I believe that our season can be split into three sections.
Phase 1 – Instability
At the start of the season I was mildly optimistic. Fair enough we hadn’t strengthened enough but we had a good team and a European campaign to look forward to. I was expecting to finish 6thto 8th or somewhere in that region. I, like most people, if asked to name our strongest team would have said: Krul; Simpson, Coloccini, Taylor, Santon; Jonas, Tiote, Cabaye, HBA; Ba and Cisse. A team that never played together this season.
The first ten games saw us win three, draw five and lose two. We were 10thin the table with 14 points. Not as good as expected, but we used 17 players in those ten games such was our instability. By now even I was bemoaning our failure to strengthen in the summer. And we hadn’t seemed to solve the Ba/Cisse conundrum up front.
In goal Tim Krul played six times, winning two and drawing three whilst in the middle of that Steve Harper made four appearance, winning one and drawing two. The defence was even more unstable. Granted Davide Santon played all ten, but Danny Simpson only played five with James Perch making four appearances and Shane Ferguson making one. I central defence we had the Taylor/Coloccini partnership which played three times (D2, L1), then Taylor/Williamson for three games (W1, D2), Coloccini/Williamson were paired together twice (W1, D1) whilst Perch played once with Steven Taylor which we won and once with Mike Williamson where we lost.
In midfield We had Yohan Cabaye partnered by Vurnon Anita five times (W1, D3 L1), Cheik Tiote three times (W1, D1, L1) and even James Perch once which we won. Finally we had Cheik Tiote and Gael Bigirimana playing together in one game which we drew.
Now I know we didn’t play 4-4-2, but we had Jonas and Hatem Ben Arfa available for all those games with Cisse and Ba starting seven of them (W2, D3, L2). The other times we had Ba and Shola starting twice (W1, D1) and Cisse and Marveaux getting a draw from their game.
Phase 2 – Meltdown
Phase 1 ended with a win against West Brom where Cheik Tiote got sent off and a draw against Liverpool where Fabricio Coloccini got sent off. To top it off the first game of this phase, a loss against West Ham, was Cabaye’s last game before missing 11. These 13 games saw us win only two games and draw one other. The answer why lies in our midfield.
Tim Krul and Davide Santon played all 13 games. Danny Simpson played the first ten with Mathieu Debuchy stepping on for the last two and James Perch playing in the other. In central defence we had Mike Williamson playing 12 – nine of those with Coloccini and three with Steven Taylor. The other game saw Coloccini and Perch paired together. Up front Ba played all ten before he left, partnering Cisse for nine of them and Shola once. After he left we had Cisse and Shola twice and Cisse with Obertan once.
We used nine midfield players in those 13 games. Vurnon Anita played 11, Jonas played nine as did Cheik Tiote but only six times together. James Perch managed five games while Sylvain Marveaux played in six of those games. Yohan Cabaye only managed the first and last game, Hatem Ben Arfa managed three, which meant Ferguson (three times) Gael Bigirimana (twice) and Gabriel Obertan (also twice) were also called on in midfield. Given the enforced changes that meant we only played same four in midfield three times: Anita, Tiote, Jonas and Perch.
So by the end of this we were 16th with 21 points, a goal difference of -13 and only two points above relegation. It shows how important Cabaye is to us.
Phase 3 – Survival
The January transfer window brought five new players. We had had the benefit of Debuchy for two games but the rest only turned up towards the end of the window. But they made an immediate impact. Suddenly we had stability and we won two games on the bounce for the first and only time this season. And then the loss away to Spurs was followed by another win. Also we saw the emergence of Elliott as decent back up for Krul.
In defence Steven Taylor was just about ever-present partnering Coloccini or Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa. Debuchy settled in and Simpson provided cover. The left-back slot was a bit more problematical towards the end of the season but midfield was much more settled. Yohan Cabaye played nearly every game as did Jonas Gutierrez and Moussa Sissoko. James Perch or Cheik Tiote filled the defensive midfield position and Hatem Ben Arfa, Sylvain Marveaux and Gabriel Obertan even made appearances. Papiss Cisse and Yoan Gouffran played just about every game.
This strengthening and stability helped, but the pressures of the drop didn’t. Still we played 15, won six, drew two, lost seven and ended up with us safe at last. From the tone of this article you can conclude that the lack of team stability was a major factor in our difficult season.
I also looked at who started how many games and what results we got with them. This is a bit simplistic but nevertheless an interesting indicator. After all it is a team game. Very few players actually played much of the season. Special mention must go to Jonas who only missed four games and we lost all of them. Other than Jonas only Santon (31) and Cisse (35) played over 30 games. Krul (24), Cabaye (25), Steven Taylor (24), Coloccini (22), Tiote (22) and Ba (19) also managed to get half a season in. And people claim that injuries didn’t affect anything.
We used 20 players regularly and another six who only started a few times. Yes there is an argument that Simpson, Williamson, Anita and Shola would have got more game time had our new Frenchmen not turned up but they were not significant contributors in terms of results.
In terms of contribution I bring you the effectiveness awards. In third place with 33 points from 25 starts (1.32 points per game) I give you Yohan Cabaye. Second with 16pts from 12 starts is Moussa Sissoko (1.33) but in first place with an amazing 20pts from 14 starts (1.43) I give you Yoan Gouffran. The team average across the season was only 1.08pps. Notice our top two only arrived in January.
So what does this all show? We managed to play the same team for three consecutive games once, we won two of those games and lost the other. We managed to play the same team in two consecutive games only twice in the season. The rest of the season, that’s 33 times, we failed to play an unchanged team. Stability may or may not be good for managers, but even the Tinkerman never used squad rotation like that. Given the above anyone prepared to nominate Pardew for Manager of the Year again.
No? Thought not. Doubt that many managers could get much of a tune out of that shambles though.