The underlying fact about football is that there are many ways of playing to achieve success, and nobody can really prove which is right or wrong. Look at Stoke City. They are the embodiment of footballing Marmite, you either love them or hate them and there never appears to be any middle ground when it comes to appraising their particular capabilities. If you are a bit of a football purist, you might be alarmed by the fact that this season, Stoke players have attempted 17 defence splitting through balls for their attackers to run onto, compared to the 225 tried by Arsenal. It’s hardly ever along the ground and the beautiful game for Stoke, it’s aerial, win the header, pick up the second ball and see what develops from there. It’s not my cup of tea to be honest, but I don’t criticise them because they get success with it as their solidity in the Premier League, an FA Cup Final and a place in this year’s Europa League attests.
Yesterday at the Liberty Stadium, whilst I knew that both teams would approach the game differently, one thing I didn’t expect when I turned up was a clash of two completely differing styles. In the game at St James’ Park, sorry I mean the Sports Direct Arena, back in December, I saw a very dynamic home team, at times running Swansea ragged, especially in the first half when Obertan had probably his best half in a Newcastle shirt and Jonas Gutierrez became a threat all day, using every inch of the pitch to stretch Swansea’s midfield almost to breaking point. It was only Swansea’s defensive excellence and a great display from Michel Vorm that kept a very impressive Newcastle at bay. Gutierrez himself put in a particularly notable performance I recall, and the stats confirm this showing he attempted 40 passes, completing 33 (83%), putting in 12 crosses and having a shot, for an impressive afternoon’s work. Since then, Newcastle have added the extremely impressive Papiss Cisse to their ranks, and confounded the doubting experts by not just maintaining their position, but actually mounting an extremely credible challenge for Champions League football, largely based on the positive way that they employ an attacking three of Demba Ba, Cisse and Hatem Ben Arfa supplemented by the width of Gutierrez as a constant attacking threat.
With all that in mind, as I took my seat yesterday, I was predicting a really dynamic game and expected to witness Newcastle taking the game to Swansea, utilising the controlling excellence of Gutierrez, Ben Arta and Cabaye. In fact, I thought that Ashley Williams and Steven Caulker could possibly be in for a busy afternoon having to deal with the threat posed by the marauding duo of Ba, who Williams had publicly said was one of the top centre forwards he’d competed against this year, and Cisse who has been Les Ferdinandesque in his superb start to his career in the North East.
How wrong I was.
Alan Pardew definitely had the personnel to fight fire with fire yesterday, but he chose instead to fight fire with sand by defending from the start with 11 behind the ball and offering very little in terms of attacking intent. A la Stoke, I won’t criticise him for that, it’s his right to approach any match in a tactical manner of his choosing and he will point to the victorious 0 – 2 score line as complete justification of his tactics, so for him it was a job very well done, but having watched the game first hand and now analysed the stats, I still find it almost beyond belief that Swansea came away from the game with nothing.
Next Page: In-depth stats report on the game, including Swansea’s astonishing passing stats…