Since the 1-0 loss away to Stoke City at the end of September, Alan Pardew and his side have enjoyed an incredible October renaissance.
That result at the Britannia Stadium was perhaps the low-point of Pardew’s tenure at Newcastle – a time when the Londoner seemed certain to lose his job.
The performance produced by his side that day now seems a lifetime ago. New life has been breathed into the campaign and it all began with a battling 2-2 draw away against Swansea City on October 4. Following the international break, Newcastle won four consecutive English Premier League games (and beat Manchester City in the League Cup in between).
Leicester City, Tottenham, Liverpool and West Brom have all been beaten by Newcastle over the past month. Pardew’s team have conceded just one goal during that sequence, and have gone from ‘crisis club’ to potential contenders for a European place this season.
So what has changed? The return to form of a number of key players, some tactical tweaks and no short amount of luck. Ayoze Perez – who has scored in the past three league games – has been a revelation, while there is a greater organization and determination about this team.
Best Starting XI
4-3-3: Krul; Janmaat, Taylor, Coloccini, Dummett; Sissoko, Colback, Abeid; Cabella, Perez, Ameobi
Ayoze Perez. The previously unheralded Spaniard has enjoyed a fairytale start to life in English soccer. Signed with a view to being part of Newcastle’s development squad, he has taken his chance in the first team. He is now the first-choice striker ahead of Papiss Cisse and Emmanuel Riviere and has scored in three consecutive league games. His goals have saved his manager and revitalized an entire football club.
Most Improved Player
Moussa Sissoko. For too long Sissoko embodied Newcastle’s struggles, failing to recapture the form of his earliest days at the club. Over the past month however, he has gradually returned to his best and been key to the Newcastle revival. His pace and power in midfield has been key, with Pardew restoring the France international to his most effective role in central midfield.
The biggest news is the thigh injury suffered by Gabriel Obertan against Liverpool. During his three years at the club Obertan has failed to make his mark, despite being blessed with electrifying pace. He scored the winner against Leicester City that lifted so much weight off his teammates and it is a shame to see him sidelined for an extended period. Siem De Jong and Davide Santon are long-term absentees, with Rolando Aarons now joining them. Combative midfielder Cheick Tiote has been struggling for fitness throughout the month.
Positions that need to be filled in transfer window
Cover is desperately needed at center-back, following Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa’s loan move to AS Roma in the summer. Paul Dummett’s unexpected development has papered over the cracks, but an injury to Fabricio Coloccini or Steven Taylor could be disastrous. Another central midfielder wouldn’t hurt, given the club’s failure to properly replace Yohan Cabaye.
Pardew has emerged from a very dark time in his tenure and, to his credit, dug himself out of a proverbial hole. His return to the more fluid and proactive 4-3-3 formation has been a masterstroke, as has his willingness to trust younger players in the form of Perez, Sammy Ameobi, Massaido Haidara and Aarons. They have repaid his faith and the manager has returned a positive atmosphere to the dressing room, though he understandably doesn’t command the full trust of fans.
It is difficult to say how long Perez’s form up front will last, and beyond him it is difficult to see where a genuine goal-scoring threat comes from in this team. That problem is reflected in both midfield and defense where there is a worrying lack of depth. Keeping the players fit is pivotal.
Rating (out of 5 stars)
4.5. It’s been a remarkable turnaround from Pardew and his men who appeared devoid of any confidence. An impressive string of results has kept the manager in his job and the fans dreaming of a top eight finish.
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