Monday night sees Newcastle travel to the Britannia Stadium hoping to retain their unbeaten status in the Premier League and avenge a 4-0 defeat from the previous season.
After Steven and Ryan Taylor, Best, Obertan and Tiote were rested for the midweek Carling Cup defeat to Blackburn, I expect them to come back into the starting XI and Pardew to keep the same team for the 6th consecutive Premier League game.
Stoke may introduce Jermaine Pennant back to the fold after a period out with injury, as he was brought on as substitute against Liverpool in the Carling Cup.
Here are some areas to look out for:
Focus attacks down the right
Similar to Newcastle, Stoke have been using a fill in left back to cover Danny Higginbotham’s injury. Marc Wilson is an unnatural left back and it could be an area to exploit as the other three defenders (Wilkinson, Upson and Shawcross) are comfortable and capable in their positions.
With only a 64% success pass rate (for comparison, Ryan Taylor 77%), Wilson usually opts to play the long to Stoke’s strikers, but without much success – as seen below.
Continued pressure applied by Newcastle’s right winger, Gabriel Obertan (or Sylvain Marveaux, if selected) could possibly make Wilson panic into making more long ball passes. Compared to right back Andy Wilkinson, Wilson also allows more dribbled runs past him (9 v 4) and has failed to block a shot or any crosses this season. Wilkinson has blocked 2 shots and 3 crosses in total for Stoke this season. Ryan Taylor has blocked 3 shots and 8 crosses, showing how well he has filled in at left back, although he has allowed 9 dribbled runs past him.
With Wilson’s defensive frailties, more emphasis down the right flank could bring more success for Newcastle. If Obertan does continue to hold down his place in the team and keep Marveaux out, it is imperative that he improves on previous performances and attacks Wilson when he’s on the ball and to deliver quality crosses in dangerous areas. On the defensive side, he must pressure Wilson when he’s not on the ball – an area that Obertan needs to improve on.
Stop Stoke’s delivery from the flanks
With Etherington on the left wing and Pennant on the right, Stoke’s game plan will simply be to get the ball into the penalty box.
As you can see from the chalkboards below, Etherington and more so, Jermaine Pennant bombard the penalty area with crosses, trying to take advantage of Peter Crouch’s 6’7 frame. Their most recent home game against Fulham, Stoke attempted 20 crosses (Etherington 6, Pennant 10 were the highest), although only 3 crosses were successful. Notably, all successful crosses were from deep by Pennant and practically identical – no need to get to the byline.
A couple of weeks before against Manchester United, it was the same game plan. 26 crosses were attempted and 8 were successful, again the majority coming from Pennant’s flank.
Against Tottenham, our left sided pairing of Ryan Taylor and Jonas Gutierrez faired well against Gareth Bale and the marauding full back Kyle Walker. Gutierrez played an effective role nullifying Tottenham’s threat down the right hand side, blocking three attempted crosses and giving essential support for Taylor. Hopefully, Newcastle can have similar results at the Britannia Stadium.
On the other side, Danny Simpson, who has been criticised for backing off attackers, will have to get closer and try to prevent Etherington from providing any service to Stoke’s attackers. Gabriel Obertan will have to help Simpson out and with more success than against Wolves. Newcastle’s away fixture at Molineux saw a similar game plan as Matt Jarvis and substitute Adam Hammill bombardedNewcastle’s penalty area with crosses. Fletcher’s goal and Doyle’s wrongly disallowed goal resulted from some poor defending on the right from Simpson and Obertan, allowing both crosses to come in from their side.
Play a high defensive line
As in previous games, Stoke defenders are most likely to play the long ball to Crouch, bypassing the midfield and so an obvious method to counteract this would be to play a high defensive line.
Any long balls behind the defence, I would expect Coloccini and Steven Taylor to deal with the ball comfortably against Peter Crouch. Stoke have started to employ Walters as playing behind Crouch in a more industrious role and won’t be playing on the shoulders of our two central defenders, something that Tiote will have deal with.
By playing a high defensive line and with Tiote and, a lesser extent, Cabaye patrolling in front of our central defence, it also encourages Ryan Taylor and Danny Simpson to push forward and get tight on Etherington and Pennant, restricting their service to their front line.
The Brittania Stadium has never been an easy place to visit. Stoke have won against Liverpool and drawn with Chelsea and Manchester United this season, which emphasises how effective they can be with their tactics.
Our last fixture was calamitous with some very poor defending and suspect goalkeeping from Steven Harper. Newcastle fans will look back at last season’s team that day and see that eight players won’t feature in the starting line up this time round.
Harper; Coloccini, Campbell (Gutierrez 66), Williamson; Enrique (Ferguson23), Tiote, Simpson; Barton, Nolan; Lovenkrands (Ranger 61), Ameobi.
We look better defensively, in midfield and attacking and so I don’t think it will be another whitewash and hopefully we will put in a better performance than last time.
Prediction – a very close score draw.