Football

Newcastle showing dramatic improvement

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Few in the Premier League have seen their popularity swing as drastically from one extreme to the other as Newcastle manager Alan Pardew.

The appointment of Pardew as manager in December 2010 was one of the most unpopular in recent times, which says a lot given he became their eighth boss in six years. However, the former Crystal Palace player won over the entire Geordie nation the following year as he took the Magpies to a shock fifth-placed finish - their highest since the great Sir Bobby Robson. 

But last year, Pardew's popularity once again took a dramatic turn as Newcastle plummeted down the league and so nearly endured  a second embarrassing relegation in four years. The same fans who had gleefully chanted "Pardew is our king" just months earlier were now calling for his head. Labelled as tactically inept and maligned for his 'hoof-ball' tactics, Pardew's tenure on Tyneside was hanging by a thread. 

Pardew's third full year in charge of the Magpies has started neither as well as the 2011/12 campaign, nor as badly as the 2012/13 campaign, but somewhere in the middle. However Newcastle's early mid-table predicament, shared by the mighty Manchester United, should not fool anyone - they have undergone some significant changes that should only see them climb the Barclays Premier League.

As mentioned earlier, perhaps the biggest criticism that Pardew had to contend with was that of his apparent over-reliance on the 'long ball'. So too was it a just criticism; only serial offenders Stoke City and relegated Reading played more last year.  Their boring style of play and obvious lack of creativity was often lamented, with Pardew seen as the root cause.

Yet Pardew was bullish about the subject in pre-season, promising a more attacking and entertaining brand of football and he hasn't disappointed. So far, only Arsenal average less long balls per game than the Magpies and what's more, no team plays more passes before scoring than Newcastle United.

Add to that that only Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur manage more shots per game than the Tynesiders, then evidence would suggest that they will far exceed last year's meager tally of 45 goals and play some nice football while doing it. 

Pardew's decision to employ Hatem Ben Arfa as a false-nine against Liverpool came as a great shock to many, not least to those who championed Pardew's lack of tactical creativity as cause for his dismissal.

The formation used against Liverpool was one of many formations that Pardew has used this season and he hasn't been afraid to drop the big names either, with regulars Papiss Cissé, Cheick Tioté and Ben Arfa all feeling his wrath at some point. It is a far cry from the refusal to budge from the ineffectual 4-5-1 or the refusal to drop under-performing stars which drove fans insane last year. 

Things certainly look a lot brighter for the Toon than they did six months ago. Not only are they playing with a confidence and style unfathomable at that time, they also possess a revitalised manager looking full of new ideas.

But what has been perhaps the most noticeable and important change is the increased togetherness in the squad and the Liverpool game was a perfect example. The last time Liverpool came up to Tyneside, they struck early on and a complete Geordie collapse ensued, culminating in a 6-0 drubbing. But this time it was different.

The Magpies were much the better side at 11v11 and were deservedly ahead, but critically they stayed together when things went against them and did not allow Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa's dismissal to throw them. Instead, they rallied and took a richly deserved point that, on another day, could have been three. 

With the 'big teams' falling at the hands of their lessers now more than ever, Newcastle fans could well need to find their passports once more come the end of the season. 

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Topics:
Football
Premier League
Newcastle United

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This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeSport Writing Academy and does not represent the views of GiveMeSport.com or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. GiveMeSport.com and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.

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