For the fourth straight season, Newcastle beat Chelsea in the league on Saturday. (It's actually five straight years with one win over the Blues if you count the (then) Carling Cup win in 2010.) How did the Toon upend the previously-unbeaten league leaders? Here's my take.
Built to frustrate the big boys: I said this just a few weeks ago, but matches like this are made for Alan Pardew's approach. Newcastle didn't totally cede control of the match to Chelsea, but it did largely focus on the counterattack. And with a track record like the one Pardew's Newcastle has rung up in this fixture, why change things? Expect more of the same in three of the next four matches: Saturday at Arsenal, in the Capital One Cup quarterfinal against Spurs, and in the Boxing Day trip to Old Trafford.
But sandwiched in those matches, of course, is the home derby, and this is where Pardew doesn't seem to be able to adapt his tactics. As we saw against West Ham and Burnley, he can't figure out how best to attack teams that are on par or weaker than his own. And if this club really has aspirations of something greater than a high-midtable finish (I'll let you decide whether it does or not), it has to figure out how to win more of those sorts of games.
Jack flashes some attacking ability: One key to Saturday's win was the play of Jack Colback, in particular his willingness to get involved in the play when Newcastle found itself around the Chelsea penalty area. Though my co-blogger Phil criticized his close-range miss, it was still encouraging to see him get in that position, as well as involve himself in one of the goals. If Pardew is going to stick with Colback and Cheick Tioté as his two deeper-lying midfielders, Colback will need to jump into the attack with more urgency.
Cissé/Perez...the new Cissé/Ba dilemma? Those of you who have been around for a couple years remember the persistent issue that Pardew had with accommodating both Cissé and Demba Ba. While the club mostly excelled with a fluid front three of Ba, Cissé, and Hatem Ben Arfa at the end of the 2011-12 season, Ba never enjoyed spending much of his time as a wing-forward, even though he played in a similar role while at Hoffenheim. The following season, Pardew really struggled to fit both players into the same XI, as he couldn't balance the midfield and defense with the two up front together.
The manager hasn't had to make a decision like that again...until now. Ever since Ba wrested control of that competition in late 2012, he's basically only had one striker either available or in form at a time. But that's not the case at the moment, with both Cissé and Ayoze Pérez making a strong case to lead the line. So what's Pardew to do? In my opinion, it's worth trying Pérez on the wing with Cissé in the middle for a full match to see what happens.