Nothing irritates fans of a club more than watching the national press "analyze" your team by citing a string of assumptions, generalizations, and mistakes. Of course, there are only so many hours in a day to watch soccer, even if you are getting paid to do just that. (That being said, I would put my co-blogger Bob up against any English journalist in that category, and he has a day job.) Yesterday, the crew over at the Guardian's Football Weekly podcast threw out a few common fallacies about Newcastle United, and I thought it only fair to offer some corrections. Feel free to share these with the well-meaning but misinformed Premier League observer in your life.
Sean Ingle: "They are sort of slightly flat track bullies."
Ingle came with stats in hand, showing Newcastle seventh in points per game against teams currently in the top half of the league. Things can change quickly on that front, with matches against Chelsea, Manchester City, and Everton still on the slate. As host James Richardson pointed out, it is difficult to say that Newcastle simply beats up on bad teams. After all, Alan Pardew's bunch have taken four points off Manchester United this year. There are a couple of fluke games in the mix as well. Is that 3-0 loss to Chelsea, where Peter Lovenkrands started, and Steven Taylor and Fabricio Coloccini failed to finish because of injury, really useful in evaluating the current state of the club?
James Richardson: "It is a great team. Shame it's all going to be sold off unless they make the top four."
This was likely supposed to be tongue in cheek, but the Football Weekly panel seemed to take it as gospel. Despite his other mistakes as owner, there is not much evidence that Mike Ashley ever felt compelled to sell players. He certainly has not made Newcastle a selling club since its return to the Premier League last season.
Which of the players sold since summer 2010 were mistakes from a football point of view? Andy Carroll, who had a half-season of success in the league, and who Liverpool would happily offload to the first team offering a third of what they paid for him? Jose Enrique, who had one year left on his contract and failed to see the long-term project starting to be built? Serial headache Joey Barton? Kevin Nolan, currently polarizing West Ham fans, who would look absurd in the current Newcastle squad?
Even without a windfall of Champions League cash, it is difficult to imagine any key players being sold without a Carroll-like offer being involved. Well, there might be one exception...
Philippe Auclair: "Cisse needs Ba. Ba does an awful lot of work for Cisse to have the freedom."
Newcastle's front three have been an absolute nightmare for recent opponents. Demba Ba has been key to making the formation work, despite poor performances against Swansea and Bolton. But without watching Newcastle extensively, it is easy to misjudge what kind of player Papiss Cisse is. He has scored in bunches while leading the line, so he's often characterized as a poacher.
But he has not just played off the shoulder of a center back. In fact, he and Ba have switched roles for substantial parts of each game, and Cisse played a beautiful pass from the left wing to help create Newcastle's third goal on Saturday. If Ba did decide to leave Tyneside in the summer, it would be a shame. He is a good player, and has worked extremely hard as a left-sided forward. But Cisse is far from one-dimensional, and Ba isn't irreplaceable on the wing, as my colleague Tom pointed out in our first podcast last weekend.
Auclair again: "Pardew's got to rely on a team that has almost been the same team, we know that, since the beginning of the season."
Auclair mentioned that the defense has had injury problems, so I can give him a pass on that. But the attacking side of the team has been far from constant. Cisse, after all, made his first appearance for Newcastle in February. Ba failed to score in any of Newcastle's first five matches, and started only one of them. To the irritation of many supporters, Gabriel Obertan (and briefly Ryan Taylor) were keeping Hatem Ben Arfa out of the starting eleven until March. Cheick Tiote and Yohan Cabaye were out simultaneously for a brief spell, and Tiote has had nagging injuries all year.
The front six against Stoke included the first-choice player in each of the six midfield and forward positions. The Swansea game was the only other one in the current winning streak where that was also the case. So Pardew has not even had "the same team" during the recent charge into fourth place, much less since the beginning of the season.
With a European appearance now guaranteed, no doubt Football Weekly will be scrutinizing Newcastle more closely in the coming weeks and months. The staff generally does a good job, and meant to praise the club in this segment, but made a couple of mistakes. (And if anyone from the Guardian wants some Americans to talk Newcastle one week, you know where to find us.)