Pre match narrative
Must win. Uber must win. Must, as in, “Lee Ryder must not write ever again about Alan Shearer as Newcastle manager." That kind of must.
Newcastle has defeated Leicester on each of its last four visits. In fact, the Foxes have not won at St. James' Park since April of 2000. So the story going into this match couldn't be simpler. A desperate team playing at home against a weak opponent (albeit one playing fairly well at the moment). The only acceptable result is a win.
Team we want/team we'll get
I've been pushing the "diamond" formation for a few weeks now because of what it offers up front - two possibly complementary strikers, a playmaker behind them in Rémy Cabella, and some midfield support in case Cabella loses the ball. Against Leicester, which tends to go 4-4-2, I think three central midfielders could help control the tempo and possession. However, since Alan Pardew still holds the reins, we all know what's going to happen...
How Pardew will screw this up
It’s quite stunning Pardew gets to take his place in the technical area against Leicester City. The come-from-behind draw against Swansea last time out was vital to the club for this campaign, but by no means should it have saved his job for another match. Over the international break, there was plenty of time to finally kick the manager to the curb. However, the oxford shirt-wearing overlord had thought otherwise, so the besieged Pardew, and his perennially ineffective 4-2-3-1, continue to darken our doors.
The Newcastle manager has already shown one of his hole cards to Nigel Pearson, by revealing in Thursday’s press conference that Gabriel Obertan will be starting on Saturday. More on this later.
First things first, Pardew must change the back four. Only Everton and QPR have conceded more goals then the Magpies. There are not a lot of options when it comes to defensive alterations, but the current starting quartet have made defending look like an interpretive dance. And even though Leicester isn't full of big-name players, the Foxes can score goals. Trotting out the same rear-guard would be a bad decision. In addition, starting Moussa Sissoko would be a huge mistake. Whether you prefer he plays on the right, or insist that he plays in the middle of the park, one thing is clear. Sissoko has casually strolled through the first seven games of Newcastle’s season. The second goal that was conceded at the Liberty Stadium only highlights the Frenchman’s lack of effort the season. The match Saturday is too important to risk Sissoko’s indifference. He must be stapled to the bench. Finally, do not even think of starting Adam Armstrong. Once again this is a matter of risk management. The points are too vital to thrust in a 17-year-old, no matter how much promise he has shown. There will be a time for Armstrong. It just is not on Saturday.
Gabby, just do Gabby things
With an unlikely assist against Swansea, our very own Squidward deserves a start against Leicester. Obertan has his faults, and we all know what they are. But the formation the manager insists on using needs width to help break down a defensive shape. Obertan provides that width, something we haven't seen this season from Gouffran, Sissoko, and Cabella.
With tensions again running high around St. James' Park, Leicester will do the sensible thing and play to the crowd's anxiety by sitting deep and daring Newcastle to find an opening. Each minute that passes without a breakthrough will crank up the pressure on Pardew and the players just a little bit more. But the match is too important for the Toon to lose, and the visitors' dam will eventually burst. It will not be pretty, and there will be one or two moments the crowd will be on the edge of turning. But like the stereotypical horror-movie villain, Pardew will somehow live to torment us another day. The predicted Chronicle headline after the home side’s narrow 2-1 victory will read:
Newcastle barely outfox Leicester.