It’s not rocket science that if you play with a settled defensive line, then you’re more likely to have a better defensive record. I didn’t realise how fragmented we were last season until I did this piece.
The 2011/12 season started off well with three clean sheets from the first four fixtures. Our defensive line of Danny Simpson, Steven Taylor, Fabricio Coloccini and Ryan Taylor, who started together for the longest amount of games (14) were statistically our best defensive line too, conceding 15 goals in that period, an average of 1.07 goals. Although strictly speaking, Coloccini was injured early in the game versus Chelsea, so it was really 12 goals in 13 games, but this analysis was more to highlight the consistency of our defensive line. Looking back, it seems quite miraculous that we managed to keep the same back four for so long. Especially, when the injury prone Steven Taylor managed to stay clear of injuries and Ryan Taylor surprisingly kept Davide Santon out of the starting line up, thanks to his goals against Sunderland and Everton. He forged a good partnership with Jonas Gutierrez, who provided good support to help Taylor out with defensive duties.
Due to a spate of injuries in December, Newcastle had to field a makeshift back four of Ryan Taylor, Simpson, Perch and Santon against Norwich City. It wasn’t any surprise that our centre back pairing of Simpson and Perch struggled against Grant Holt and Steve Morison; they scored three headed goals between them.
Coupled with our lack of creativity and finishing, our defensive problems made it a torrid season in 2012/13. Newcastle only managed to keep 6 clean sheets – a pale comparison from the previous season where they kept a total of 14. Due to injuries and suspensions, Newcastle fielded out a 19 different defensive line ups, 11 of which were only played for one match. Such injury problems meant that Newcastle had to play Vernon Anita, James Tavernier and even Jonas Gutierrez at full back. Newcastle even had problems at goalkeeping level – Tim Krul, whose form was nowhere like the previous season, had injury problems, which gave chances to Rob Elliot and Steve Harper to fill the number one jersey.
Next season, Pardew will be hoping for less injuries to his back four. Fingers crossed, our captain Coloccini will be back to his reliable, composed form and will be fully focused on Newcastle United next season. His dip in form and injuries last season related to the well-documented problems off the field. It is uncertain who will partner Coloccini in central defence. Will Steven Taylor manage to stay injury free to reestablish his partnership with Coloccini, which proved fruitful in 2011/12 or will Pardew favour Yanga-Mbiwa, who looked to be improving towards the end of his first season in the Premier League? Or will Newcastle sign another central defender? FC Twente defender Douglas looked bound for St James’ Park before new director of football pulled the plug on the signing. The ever improving Davide Santon will be expected to be first choice left back and with the departure of Danny Simpson, Mathieu Debuchy will line up at right back.
Along with this, hopefully Newcastle can sort out their problems further up the pitch, which should help them improve on last season’s shambolic performance. Surely it can’t be any worse, can it?