If Newcastle United supporters were hoping the return of the Premier League might help dispel memories of a turbulent summer, they were sadly mistaken. In the final game of the opening round of league fixtures, the Magpies were hammered 4-0 by a rampant Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium. In truth, but for Tim Krul and some wasteful finishing from the Citizens, it would have been a much, much higher scoreline.
Pre-game preparations were not ideal for the North-East outfit, with reports surfacing prior to kick-off that a £10 million bid had been received from Arsenal for midfielder Yohan Cabaye. The bid was rejected as ‘derisory’ by Newcastle, but Cabaye was left out of the squad nonetheless. Speaking to Sky before the game, Alan Pardew was furious when asked about the offer, with the timing of the bid – just hours before a key game – clearly the main source of his frustration.
The Arsenal bid probably was a significant distraction in the build-up, and Pardew did allude to how the side had been preparing for the game with Cabaye as a key component. But did he really have to have him? And can you blame Arsenal or Cabaye for the non-existent defending, the hopeless naivety or the wide-spread indiscipline that we saw from Newcastle last night?
The Toon could have turned up at City, played out of their skin and still lost, such is the quality of Manuel Pellegrini’s side. But the traveling black and white army, whilst harboring slim hopes of picking up some points, would have been expecting defeat. They would have had a keen eye on a few other things however: signs that the team is moving in the right direction, that the players and management had learnt lessons from last season’s disastrous run-in and that everyone at the club is totally committed to the cause with a new campaign in its infancy.
But there was none of that. The same demons that had riddled the Magpies in the tail-end of last season remained prevalent. It was a performance that mirrored the 6-0 and 3-0 defeats at the hands of Liverpool and Sunderland respectively. Understandable perhaps, when you consider Newcastle were the only team not to feature a new signing in their opening day squad.
So, what in particular went wrong? Tactically, Pardew was unbelievably naive, sending his side out in a gung-ho 4-3-3 formation. The midfield was wide open and with Hatem Ben Arfa and Yoan Gouffran pushing high up the pitch, coupled with their point-blank reluctance to track back, both Newcastle full-backs were hopelessly exposed.
Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa operated in an unfamiliar role at left-back and he found himself isolated time and time again against the scintillating Jesus Navas, who was in turn complimented by the late bursts of Pablo Zabaleta. Pardew only saw fit to rectify this once City were 2-0 up, moving Jonas Gutierrez into a more orthodox left-midfield position to offer cover. But his plans were scuppered, as the Argentine limped off with a hamstring injury not long after.