x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Failure of too many players proving costly for Alan Pardew's Newcastle

The French Revolution has gone cold leaving the Premier League club close to relegation.

Alan Pardew is the League Managers' Association's reigning manager of the year, but that is not likely to last. Scott Heppell / AP Photo
Alan Pardew is the League Managers' Association's reigning manager of the year, but that is not likely to last. Scott Heppell / AP Photo

Normally, of course, people do not punch horses. When a football fan does, a logical assumption is that it would be the most embarrassing moment of his club's season.

Not at Newcastle United, however. There is stiff competition for that unwanted honour.

Perhaps it was the 3-0 loss to Sunderland, their heaviest top-flight derby defeat since 1966. Maybe it was Saturday's 6-0 thrashing by Liverpool, statistically their worst result at home for 87 years. Worse still, it may prove to be a second relegation in the space of five years.

It remains unlikely, not least because Newcastle have a four-point advantage over Wigan Athletic, who are third bottom, and a game against already-demoted Queens Park Rangers to come. And yet, while others are accelerating towards safety, United seem to be flailing in quicksand, both going nowhere and sinking at the same time.

For some, remembering the dark days of 2009, history is repeating itself. And yet what makes their current plight all the more surprising is how marked the differences are. That was a side which, if not constructed quite as cluelessly as the current QPR team, had a surfeit of ageing, overpaid players whose motivation could be questioned.

Newcastle seemed to have learnt lessons, looking for younger, hungrier footballers and finding value in the transfer market.

Rewind four years and they had four managers in a season. Now they have one, granting Alan Pardew, along with his backroom staff, an eight-year contract. And yet, should they go from challenging for a place in the Champions League to the Championship in a year, that will featured prominently in the case for the prosecution.

Short-termism can be both institutionalised and damaging in football and yet attempts to guarantee stability can be frowned upon. Newcastle, a club that long veered between the extremes of emotion, looked to remain on an even keel.

Once the likeliest to sack a manager in the first few weeks of the season, they seemed to be suggesting Pardew was their equivalent of Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger or David Moyes, men who produce results season after season.

He is the League Managers' Association's reigning manager of the year, though that title will soon be surrendered. Recognition a year ago seemed to cement Pardew's rehabilitation. He is less flash and brash than he was in his younger days and less likely to get carried away. Yet a worrying trend has recurred.

He suffers his own version of second-season syndrome, following an excellent year with an abject one. Seven months after West Ham United finished ninth and reached the FA Cup final in 2006, he was sacked with them deep in relegation trouble. A year after Newcastle came fifth, the model of overachievement followed by underachievement has been replicated.

The problem is that his personal performance has been mirrored by too many of his players.

Cheik Tiote, in particular, has deteriorated, an enforcer who only uses his muscle to concede free kicks. Newcastle's is a squad well stocked with defensive midfielders yet the back four were left unprotected against Liverpool. Despite a common language - there were nine French speakers on the pitch in the second half - there was a distinct lack of communication, especially at the back.

The impetus provided by the five January signings has been lost. The surge to ensure survival, aided by Papiss Cisse's flurry of last-minute goals, has become a fraught grind. The broader issues of Newcastle's decline are related, a lengthy injury list and the debilitating effects of the Europa League.

Stirring as their attempts to beat Benfica in the quarter-final were, they would have been better off had they never qualified for the continental competition. Less than seven weeks after eliminating the world's richest club, Anzhi Makhachkala, they are in danger of leaving its most lucrative league.

Ten days ago, after earning a draw at West Bromwich Albion that could prove priceless in the final reckoning, Pardew suggested he has a side that could finish in the top 10 next season. And so he does, with the class of Yohan Cabaye, the skill of Hatem Ben Arfa, the power of Moussa Sissoko and the promise of Davide Santon.

But the Italian, Tim Krul and Fabricio Coloccini are injured. Ben Arfa is not fully fit. Debuchy compounded a poor performance against Liverpool by getting sent off and is now suspended for Saturday's trip to West Ham.

Only Cisse has been finding the net - indeed no one else has more than one goal in the last dozen games - and their top scorer remains Demba Ba, who joined Chelsea on January 4.

Four years ago, their results got worse when it mattered most. Newcastle won only one of their last 13 games as they were demoted. Now, with a solitary victory in eight attempts, there are worrying parallels.

They should still stay up. But whereas 12 months ago, they were the club everyone wanted to emulate, the side who had punched way above their weight because of brilliant scouting across the channel, they could end this season with a unique distinction.

With their phalanx of players from Ligue 1, Newcastle might become the first French team to be relegated from the English top flight.

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