Since we were given a few extra-days by the London tube drivers for match preparation against Newcastle, we could watch and enjoy the Boxing Day matches without being nervous as usual.
Our next opponents were visiting the leaders FAnchester United at Old Trafford. And boy it was some visit! A 7-goal-thriller ended with FAnchester United taking all three points but Newcastle did show that they are worth more than their current position suggests. Despite being without the heart of their midfield – Cabaye is still injured and it seems that he won’t return before the end of January while Cheik Tiote was suspended – and several more important players (both Ryan and Steven Taylor have been injured for a while and Ben Arfa won’t return before 2013), they produced a brave performance at Old Trafford and most certainly gave a good scare to the league leaders. They took the lead three times but every time the hosts managed to pull back and eventually lost the match due to a Javier Hernandez goal in the 90th minute.
When it comes to the attacking part of the game, their performance was really good though they were playing against an often frail defence. Newcastle had scored three goals and could have had scored at least a couple more but Marveaux and Sammy Ameobi were denied by the crossbar and woodwork respectively. Papiss Cisse was doing a ‘Lukas Podolski’ during most of the match – he worked hard and managed to get on the score-sheet. Our possible signing Demba Ba didn’t have the best of shooting nights but he was a constant threat to United.
After Pardew introduced Obertan, he made a couple of decent runs on the left flank – eventually assisting Cisse for the third goal – and one attempt when he had cut inside from the right. However, while Newcastle had a lot of chances via counter-attacks, their defense and midfield lacked depth and quality to deal with the United midfielders.
United had a lot of space in the middle of the park which was very comfortable for Michael Carrick while Giggs and Valencia exploited Newcastle’s defensive flanks. Their defenders suffered from poor positioning during decisive moments – Evans scored the first goal after the Newcastle defenders failed to clear properly in the box, Evra scored the second with left footed strike from 20 yards after United had a corner, our former captain scored after Krul saved his first effort and Hernandez was given an unbelievable amount of space for the fourth goal. That goal had to happen – Pardew took off both Cisse and Ba and replaced them with the Ameobis while United had at least three opportunities to score before Hernandez grabbed a winning goal.
It will be a bit different when we face Newcastle. There are two possibilities regarding their psychological condition – they will either be encouraged with their attacking performance against the leaders or devastated by defeat in the match in which they were leading three times. Their middle will be stronger and more aggressive due to the return of Cheik Tiote. He is a type of player we are after though it is questionable whether he is the player we need.
His aggressive style includes making a lot of fouls and getting yellow cards in the process. Unfortunately, his only goal in a Newcastle shirt was the one that probably destroyed our 2010-11 season – he scored an equalizer to complete the 4-goal-come-back that the Magpies pulled off against us in February 2011. Tiote’s aggression has created a successful combination with Cabaye’s creativity but since the Frenchman was injured, Newcastle have been underperforming.
Our midfield will have to prepare for another attempt of bullying. Wilshere and Cazorla have struggled to make an impact against Wigan due to the physical football performed by McCarthy, Figueroa et al.
Mark Williamson will be out for clash against us due to yellow cards and it is still unknown how serious Anita’s ankle injury is but it is likely that he won’t be ready to face us on Saturday.
There are good news for us – it seems both Giroud and Rosicky will be available for the match. The Frenchman will give us further attacking options given that pacey attackers Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Podolski lack aerial abilities. We won’t be able to rely on Diaby but it seems our opponents won’t be able to rely on Santos as well since both of these players are expected to be back to training next week.
Our defenders must take both the Senegalese strikers with highest caution. Sagna and Gibbs will have to close all gates on the flanks while our midfielders should use the absence of Cabaye to dominate the midfield. Walcott, Chamberlain, Podolski and Giroud – no matter who gets a chance to start – should be encouraged both to shot from the distance and to use possible Krul’s deflections for tap-ins.
This match could be the last one for Demba Ba in a Newcastle shirt and he could be especially motivated against us due to reports that link him with a certain move to the Emirates in January.
There is one more thing: referees. I have seen two Newcastle matches this season and on both occasions they had the referees’ decisions on their side. First, against Everton away where the Toffies had every right to complain after the match. Second, against United they got their second goal from an offside position – Evans scored an own goal while he was trying to clear the ball ahead of Cisse who was offside – but just like when we conceded an opener against Liverpool last season, it seems that referees in England don’t know what phrase “influence on the game” means.
This is the last match of 2012, a year that leaves us with mixed feelings and an eight-year-old girl named Hope that next year will be the one we will take some silverware.