Is Newcastle right to be prioritise strengthening defence over attack?

Posted on January 6th, 2012 | 25 Comments |

Demba Ba due a leave of absence from Newcastle United for ACoN.
Is another Ba the highest priority?
Newcastle United are set lose Demba Ba to the Africa Cup of Nations soon, yet it seems the club is concentrating more on strengthening the team in defence rather than attack. Is this the right decision?

Much was rumoured recently about us not being in for a striker this January after the Maiga deal fell through but, with Demba Ba due to leave for the African Cup of Nations very soon, how will we cope?

When Pardew was asked recently if we can cope without Ba and Tiote, he said:

Obviously, I am hoping so, but they are two massive players. You take a huge figure out of one of the other teams and it’s significant. If you took Rooney out of Manchester United, probably they wouldn’t look the same for seven games, so you have to accept that.

Having said that, we have got players who are champing at the bit. Hatem Ben Arfa wants a chance, Leon Best wants to show what he showed last year, Peter Lovenkrands will be eager to throw his hat in the ring, so we have still got great players in the club and we hope that we can keep the momentum and the form going.

We have just approached one game at a time, but we have got to the halfway stage in seventh place and that’s significant. It can only arm us with confidence to go forward.

So how will Pardew line things up at the front?

One possibility is to use Shola and Best, with Ben Arfa being a sort of ‘super sub’ like he’s been all season. The other option is to play either Best or Shola with Ben Arfa just behind, although for some reason Alan Pardew seems reluctant to start Ben Arfa at the moment.

We may of course still get a new striker in January and may merely be feigning a lack of interest, although some previous comments by Pardew did seem to indicate that the club has turned it’s interests towards defenders instead. Indeed, the current press rumours seem to back that up too.

If truth be told, we need depth in all areas, but I’m of the opinion that the striking deficiency is of greater urgency than the defensive one at the moment. Not just because of Ba’s absence specifically for the ACoN but also because we seem to be relying on him for such a large percentage of our goals anyway. An injury to Ba could potentially be more damaging to the team’s attacking options than the injury to Steve Taylor was to its defensive options.

I suppose there’s always the argument that someone could ‘step up’ and score the goals in Ba’s absence; that our current set-up is such that Ba is intended to have the greater opportunity to score and that Best/Ameobi/Whoever have the job of providing for him and that someone else will get Ba’s opportunities in his absence. Whoever that is will need to be skillful enough to take those opportunities of course, but are the likes of Best and Ameobi up to anything approaching Ba’s goal rate?

Ideally we’d strengthen in all areas of course but that seems improbable this January.

So what do you think? Is our need to strengthen defensively more urgent than our need to strengthen the attack?

NUFCBlog Author: Hugh de Payen I'm a baby-boomer of the punk rock persuasion, currently exiled in Somerset for crimes committed in a previous life where locals keep trying to poison me with something called 'scrumpy'. Hates sprouts, coat-hangers, Cilla Black, ornaments, Steven Seagull movies and 50 Cent (he's not worth 10). Hugh de Payen has written 634 articles on this blog.

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25 Responses

  1. Hmmm…Lovenkrands and Best may be champing at the bit, but they’re not going to do a job covering for the absence of Ba by any stretch of the imagination. Lovenkrands was poor at Rangers and hasn’t got any better since. Best is an honest working journeyman who scores from time to time but generally misses chances or wants too many touches.
    Ben Arfa has yet to show the kind of consistency that would persuade Pardew that he should be in the team from the start.
    Then there’s Strolla…..
    Think my answer is – yep, I’d love to see us sign a decent forward in the January window.

  2. With Williamson coming back and doing so well and Perch showing he can do a satisfactory job at the heart of the defence I’d go along with the theory that a striker is of more importance this window.
    Best, Ameobi and Lovenkrands are just NOT good enough to step into Ba’s boots. HBA I’m yet to be convinced about.
    A top striker to replace Ba now and then accompany him after the ANC, would help us keep up the momentum for a top 6 place this season.

  3. I think both areas need strengthening, even if it is just a striker on loan.
    2 Defenders, 1 striker….keep the momentum going. Any great Manager will swear by that philosophy!

  4. I’d still prefer a centre back as priority, or best case scenario a player who can cover the back four to a good standard. We’re still pretty light all across the back four, and an injury to colo would be absolutely crushing. Perch might just be able to cover for Williamson but he’ll still get destroyed in the air by anyone with an ounce of strength.

    For strikers, we do need one to partner Ba but I think we have enough numbers up top to get by and cover for any injuries. With Tiote out we might see a more attacking midfield as well, so they can chip in with goals, to the detriment of our defense.

  5. @5 Was just about to say an injury to Collo or Willo would be huge right now. Would prefer shaping up at the back, but if it was fair we could do both. Where did the money go..

  6. We all know the script by now. I’ll be very surprised, if we bring in anyone of quality. Regardless of whether it’s to ‘strengthen’ defence or attack.

    In my opinion, we NEED a quality striker, not only to deputise for Ba, but to provide an alternative attacking option. Our attacking options at the moment are limited at best. Ameobi and Best will go through periods where they will get some goals, but are too inconsistent and have very little variety in their play. Lovenkrands is very poor IMO, and the less said about Nile Ranger, the better.

    In defence, I think we need some cover, but, nothing that need break the bank. Williamson has done well in Taylors absence, and we have utility players in Perch, Raylor and Santon, that haven’t let the side down. I would probably be focusing on youth and the Championship.

    I’m continually puzzled by the omission of Ben Arfa in the starting 11 though. He has provided a touch of class when he has been given the opportunity, maybe Pardew doesn’t feel that he offers sufficient cover in wide positions?

    With all this being said, I still expect only the one arrival, and nothing that will set the pulse racing.

  7. In defence – what are we looking for? Short-term cover, a squad CB or a quality medium-term replacement? For the first two options a £2-4m solid player will do, but a good prospect will cost us £6m+.
    In attack – the only real option is a proven striker (we have our share of average squad players) who would cost at least £8m – and it would be best to leave it until the summer.
    So what it boils down to is how much have we in the kitty for a defender? I suppose if we were getting Pieters (or one of the others we have been after for a while) we would have signed him by now.
    I’d prefer go go for a good signing who can develop into a Collo replacement in a couple of years – so lets go back to West Ham and up our offer to £7-8m.

  8. as for Dember Ba – I think I’m prepared to don my tin hat & flack jacket and suggest that in this modern game – Ba is better than Shearer !

  9. supermac,

    maybe he needs another couple or so years at this level yet mate, but i see where y’coming from.

  10. Supermac – a contentious one that!
    Ba certainly has more pace and can hit a ball just as strongly as Shearer. He can hold up the ball equally as well as Al but has probably got better footwork.
    On the other hand our record scorer was stronger aerially and possibly physically too.
    If Ba could stay fit for season after season there certainly wouldn’t be much in it at all.
    Shearer stood the test of time however and went on scoring season after season. That’s how legends are made.
    And they don’t come along often.

  11. Supermac, on his current form I’d agree, he is the best goalscorer in the league at the moment. Worth £50m+ if we were to use Carrol and Torres as a comparison from last season. If he stays with us and continues as he is now then I’d be inclined to agree in the longer term as well. Only problem I can see is that he doesn’t get enough protection (like Wednesday, ManU) and gets the form kicked out of him!!

  12. I’m with Newkie and Maze (5 & 6) on this one. If either Centre Back goes down with another serious injury we could be in trouble. Perch, although seemingly improved, would be a dodgy replacement and we could re-enter that miserable loosing streak.

  13. Supermac @ 8

    I agree. Really good players are generally not available in the January transfer window. Unless of course the price is right or outrageously over-the-top. At the moment, we have two, arguably three top central defenders but only one top forward.

    Therefore, we probably need a quality under-study to Colo and Saylor who will mature and can fight Willo for a place in the starting line-up. Someone like the West Ham lad.

    I think getting a top class forward to play alongside Ba is a real quandary. Ba likes to and is at his best in a free role. He isn’t in the classic centre forward mold being on the defenders shoulder almost all the time or running the channels. He is exceptionally mobile and probably needs a partner whose playing style is quite different to his own. This is probably why he works so well with Best and Shola, who are in the traditional centre forward mold, and not with Ben Arfa who also likes to be mobile and if paired together would probably get in each others way.

    I think before the season started the club were looking for a top centre forward as a replacement for Carroll because they probably didn’t see Ba as a prolific goal scorer. Now that Ba has shown what he can do, the club have probably changed their requirements and are now looking for a different type of forward, one who can operate alongside Ba and enhance his ability and not hinder or detract from it. I’d be surprised if such a player was available in the January window.

  14. porciestreet @ 4

    It’s being reported that Cabaye and Raylor may be out injured for the Blackburn match.

    I wonder whether this is the opportunity for Mehdi Abeid to take Tiote’s spot and Haris Vuckic (or Gosling) to take Cabaye’s spot with Ben Arfa starting in the hole behind Best or Shola?

    Blackburn appear to have a long list of injuries and I wonder whether avoiding relegation is upper most in their minds and a higher priority than a good run in the cup.

    My team would be:
    Simpson – Willo – Colo – Santon
    Obertan – Abeid – Vuckic – Jonas
    Ben Arfa

  15. Could January be the making of HBA? He appears to be struggling to perform playing behind Ba as the lone striker, but with the superior ball holding skills of Best, he may come into a bit of form. Will the goals follow though?

  16. What do people think of a Vukic/HBA partneship up front. If I was defender I`d shit myself each time they ran at me.

  17. DEFENCE – this is always priority for NUFC now. Under Pardew it has been around defence, that is why we are where we are now.

    Best will step up to the mark – trust me. He always produces when he is the number 1 striker. When he’s not – he just works hard and supports.

    Bring in 1 defender long term, and 1 short term till end of season.

  18. No, they’re not right. One shouldn’t have to be prioritized over another.

    Yeah, maybe someone will step up. And maybe I’ll win the lottery so no need to save for retirement, right…right?

    -Best & Shola: our best hopes, on horrible form and generally streaky forwards. Plus Shola is injury prone.

    -Lovenkrands: not good enough.

    -HBA & Vuckic: not forwards.

    Seems pretty simple to me.

  19. Kamar makes a very interesting point – “Ba is exceptionally mobile and probably needs a partner whose playing style is quite different to his own. This is probably why he works so well with Best and Shola, who are in the traditional centre forward mold, and not with Ben Arfa who also likes to be mobile and if paired together would probably get in each others way”.
    Is this the way pardew sees it as well, and why he is restricting HBA’s chances?
    It was interesting to see that on MOTD the 2 Alans also highlighted how Ba & Shola played so well together (as could Best) – so it realy doesn’t matter if Shola & Best don’t score so long as they create space & service for Ba. Food for thought!

  20. Incidently, Wigan are now after Pieters – “Dutch media sources claim Latics boss Roberto Martinez in eyeing the defender. Pieters was interesting Newcastle United last summer, though that trail has since gone cold. It is understood that Martinez is now making enquiries after Pieters, whose future at PSV looks uncertain”. – ClickLancashire blog

    Well, I’d still have him! He wanted to come here, so what’s the problem? Price?

  21. Vukic is an excellent ball holder, big and strong and knows where the goal is, I reckon it would be a risk worth taking, him and HBA would pull the Blackburn defence all over the place creating space for others from midfield. Raylor on the right, Cabaye with Gosling, the latter arriving late into the box, the rest we all know.

  22. Kamar
    So it’s your belief that good players are unavailable in this window, Why ?

    Who are our top three CD’s, i believe we only have two, who’s the other one?

    Tomkins fight Williamson for a place, are you serious ?
    Ones an permanent Engerland U21, the others a second tier journeyman.

    Ba is’nt the classic Center forward ? whaaaat !
    Of course thats exactly what he is, the only difference is he does, unlike most strikers , defend as well.

    As for who he should best link up with, why not Ben Arfa?
    As opposed to either Shola or Best, who are like Ba traditional CF’s, though i have to say Shola in the secondary role has linked up well, providing some nice touches.
    As for who the club are looking at, I have advocated buying Tomkins before the recent interest and believe he will if signed be a good buy.
    My other choice would be Jr. Hoilett, a utility, winger CM, come striker who has pace to burn and knows where the net is, now theres your Ba linkup!
    But then what do i know ?

  23. Wigan eh !
    Always liked to watch them, play a nice style of football, young side, great young manager (wish he was in charge of NUFC, will end up at a big clubeventually)
    Hope they survive, guess it’s Bolton and Blackburns turn to make the drop this year, thats a prediction.
    Funny aint it, Coyle was flavor of the month last season, guess it’s all about DOSH, having it or not.

  24. What must be remembered is that at the start of this season/end of last some were talking of giving Number 9 to Best. He is a hard worker and will step up to fill a role.
    The difference is we need to look to attack from other areas, giving the likes of Ben Arfa a chance to get stuck in