Ahead of Manchester United's visit tomorrow to Sports Direct Arena for a clash with Newcastle United, we've arranged a Q&A with SB Nation's home for the upcoming opponents -- Coming Home Newcastle. One of their authors, John Murphy, has been a treat to work with for past Q&A exchanges and we're fortunate that he was kind enough again to answer questions from the community here. Without further ado, here is the Q&A exchange:
TBB: Newcastle were stellar last season for almost it's entirety and it's even more impressive that manager Alan Pardew sparked the club from mid-season stagnation by completely switching systems -- from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3. What sort of tactical changes has there been for this season? Could you describe what shape Newcastle are playing in right now and who some of the key players are and what their roles are?
CHN: Yesterday's wonderful 3-0 Europa League smashing of Bordeaux aside, Newcastle haven't been very impressive this season. We have yet to have a truly dominating performance, and have looked very tepid and sluggish as we've adjusted to the increased match load thanks to European football. Our back line has picked up a handful of injuries, and it always seems like we're grasping at straws to keep the defensive line in solid shape. The midfield has been more consistent, especially Jonas Gutierrez, who took the armband during Colocinni's injury and has been an absolute rock for us on the upper left. The strikers have looked decent, and Shola Ameobi has provided amazing support to the two Senegalese superstars Ba and Cisse. Newcastle isn't really great anywhere, and we're not exactly awful anywhere either. Our midfield was meant to be our strength, but the early absence of Tiote and loss of Ryan Taylor have made us thin there as well.
Currently, Pardew is running an unusually tepid 4-4-2, though Cabaye often floats down from the middle to the right flank and Ben Arfa is given free reign to do HBA things. This has mixed results, in that it often results in us playing with a lopsided midfield, and it seems to often times frustrate the strikers rather than liberate them, but every once in a while Ben Arfa goes on a magical run, and it suddenly seems worth it. I suppose you could call it a 4-3-1-2, though HBA's true role is still consistently "undefined." Ba seems much more comfortable closer to the center, though, as opposed to the right flank where he often appeared frustrated in the second half of last season.
TBB: The outstanding blogger Swiss Ramble in March wrote up a largely positive, upbeat look at Newcastle's finances and tossed a fair amount of praise at owner Mike Ashley. Do the fans feel upbeat, and has the tide turned on Ashley were they feel his plans have led to team to an improved place? The situation has seemingly gone from chaos to calm.
CHN: I am CHN's resident Ashley apologist, but there is no denying the relative calm and stability he has brought to the squad. He, along with Chairman Derek Llambias, have used their money exceptionally well, even if they are a bit tight with it. I am under impression that the modern Mike Ashley doesn't make decisions without seriously considering the consequences, so I was right behind him when the naming rights debacle went down last year. While it may always be St. James' Park in our hearts, the modern game calls for modern marketing strategies, and if the reported new sponsorship deal is a reality (both shirt and stadium), then it should provide a lucrative cash flow for our almost but not quite superclub.
All that being said, you can't undo history, and I often find myself the loan Ashley supporter on the CHN Boards and in discussions with fans. Many fans are still furious with his mere purchase of the club (A COCKNEY!?! they cried, in quite the xenophobic rage), and we can't forget the absolute train wreck that ensued in the early years of his leadership. But hey, we're winning now, and have had sustainable success for a while. Ideally, Newcastle's FCB will begin to stand for our "Fine, Calculating Businessman" as opposed to the fan adage: "Fat Cockney Bastard."
TBB: What are your thoughts on the incredible 8-year contract recently given to Pardew by Ashley? Pardew obviously did well last season, with Newcastle two wins away from Champions League football, but every manager is eventually bound to suffer a loss of form from the players sometime in their managerial career. Will paying Pardew such a bumper contract be problematic when the need to remove him from his post might arise in the future? To put it bluntly, what do the Magpies think about Ashley's logic behind this move?
CHN: I think stability is a good thing. While it may be blasphemous to discuss Pardew in the same breath as Wenger and SAF, I think Newcastle's idea here is to build that continued, stable presence in the managerial role. We're watching it (finally!) play out for David Moyes, it appears, at Everton this season in his 10th year with the club. Building dynasties (surprise!) takes time, but I think it's safe to say that the Toffees are a force to be reckoned with this campaign, and provided they stay smart, they could be for years to come. I get the hunch Ashley wants to build a similar base of both continued success and long-term sustainability in Alan Pardew's approach to the game. It's great for the transfer market (players are "guaranteed" that relationship with the manager), fantastic for espirit de corps (Newcastle is now Pardew's team, period), and it keeps the ship steady through hell or high water. While I don't think it's always going to be steady sailing, I'd be fine if Pardew was our manager in 25 years, especially if he had a Champions League title or two on the trophy case.
TBB: Hatem Ben Arfa's talent has always been undeniable but has he become a genuine match winner in your opinion? Are you worried that he might be tempted by a move to what he perceives as a bigger club (no disrespect intended) or one of those clubs coming in for him?
CHN: HBA has definitely always been an exciting player to watch. I think the term "breathtaking" is a bit overused, but HBA has literally made me hold my breath a few times when he goes on those incredible runs. The problem with HBA, still, is consistency. Unlike the Hazards or Kagawas of the world, HAB has a tendency to complete disappear, sometimes for matches at a time. While his running ability is amazing, he can sometimes be incredibly selfish in the box, absolutely sailing balls that could have easily been parried to one of the strikers. He also is our resident hot head, and can screw up the tempo of a match with an ill advised tantrum.
I'm not particularly worried about him leaving, simply because I don't think major interest is going to be there. If he goes anywhere, I envision it will be out of England (most likely back to France). I don't think the Chelseas or Man Us or Arsenals are really chomping at the bit to get an inconsistent, somewhat selfish winger with a temper. We sure do I like having him at Newcastle though.
TBB: Has Demba Ba's contract situation collapsed to a degree that's he's a goner in January with that £7M/£7.5M release clause? If he does go, is there speculation on a replacement signing to provide cover/support for Papiss Cisse? Beyond Ba, what's the buzz on who the team is targeting for potential buys in January, and are there any potential departures? Also, any word on the type of transfer budget Pardew & Co. will have to work with?
CHN: I'm a bit worried about Ba leaving. Like I said earlier, Ameobi has been brilliant in the games he has played in, but behind that three-man rotation, we don't have many options in the front (Nile Ranger's handgun makes a solid #10, though). I would hope that Ba's recent run of form, coupled with the fan bases' adoration of the man, would be enough to keep him around for a bit, though I would understand if he decided to exact the clause. I think the thing that was really frustrating for Demba was the fact that he felt isolated and ignored on the right flank. Since HBA has moved into "wherever you'd like" land, Cisse and Ba have moved back to the middle, and it's clearly been a good call for Ba.
When it comes to January, we definitely are trying to bring in insurance for the back line. The biggest name that has been linked to us is Yohan Cabye's good friend Mathieu Debeucy, a powerful right back from the French National side. We'd love to have him in to shore up our defense, and to continue the French Revolution at Nouveau Chateaux. We'd, of course, love to bring in some CB and striker support, but who wouldn't? If we can finalize the dang Debuchy deal, I'll consider it a successful window.
TBB: Speaking of Cisse, is he suffering from second season syndrome? Could you elaborate on why his goal-scoring has dried up?
CHN: I certainly don't think he is in a slump, and he hit a cracker against Bordeaux on Thursday night. Honestly, I just think since moving back to a 2 man front, where Cisse is no longer all alone in front of the goalmouth. I definitely think that having Ba next to him has made him take on more of a "pulling" role, where he brings defenders with him and Ba/Ameobi crack home the goal. I don't think Newcastle fans have anything to worry about. Nobody can expect Cisse to continue scoring at a "goal a game" clip, but we definitely can mark him down for about 18+ on the season.
TBB: Did you want Andy Carroll back after coming so close to getting him back on loan in the summer? Are Newcastle supporters now completely happy to have dumped him onto the Scouse in a total fleecing?
CHN: It would have been some beautiful poetic justice to have our disgraced former #9 sitting on the bench behind Cisse. I'm always all for having more striker options, and Newcastle ins't exactly a tall team, so I would have him in for set pieces. As for the happiness issue, Pardew turned one bad-boy, homegrown, promising striker into Yohan Cabye, Papiss Cisse, and Davide Santon... yup, we can live with that any day of the week.
TBB: Could you elaborate on the loss of form for Yohan Cabaye? Also, how has Chiek Tiote recovered from his recent injury? Since these two completely overran United in midfield last season, Manchester United fans would love for you to say that the form of the two is rubbish right now. How has Vurnon Anita settled into the club?
CHN: I think that Cabye has played well enough considering his midfield mate was out for a few games. The Jonas-Tiote-Cabaye triumvirate in the middle is one of the most effective in the Premier League, I think, and I'm happy to say that it looks like we'll finally be back at full strength by Sunday's match. Given Man U's midfield woes right now, Newcastle fans are definitely banking on our boys to have big game. Our back line is weak, but if we can control the midfield (overrun, as it were), and get good service into Ba/Cisse, I think we definitely stand a chance.
I'm sorry, but since coming to club, Vernon Anita has been absolute rubbish *spit*.
TBB: And finally, can you offer up a prediction for the match and a projected starting XI?
CHN: Since we're at home, coming off a huge win against Bordeaux, and our midfield is looking strong (finally!), I'm going to get crazy and say another 3-1 result for Newcastle. But what would I know? I'm a homer.
Projected XI: Santon, Taylor, Colocinni, Simpson | Jonas, Tiote, Cabaye, Ben Arfa | Cisse, Ba