Preview: Liverpool v Newcastle, Sunday 4th November 16.00

Posted by Degs on October 30, 2012, 10:22:22 PM

Moneyball, Sabremetrics, Soccernomics.  There are a multitude of transfer strategies for the esoteric football professional to indulge in.  Our own Brendan Rodgers was pictured with Moneyball taking pride of place as the only book on his Swansea desk, next to his shiny Apple Mac. While I have taken Brendan Rodgers to my heart I often wonder, if like me, this is partly because he is a footballing hipster – you can imagine him shaking his head watching Real Madrid and telling the poor soul next to him that they’d get more out of Ozil if they played him like Bremen did in the 09-10 season.
When Damien Comolli was installed as the “Euopean Billy Bean”, he arrived with his big book of statistics in tow and copy of Football Manager on pre-order, ready to unearth unknown gems like Stewart Downing and to pay handsomely for them. Meanwhile another transfer strategy was brewing in the North-East, it had no fancy name, it had no books on the subject, this was a simple solution that could simply be named “Common Sense”. 

While the transfer bubble for English players continued to grow Newcastle profited handsomely by selling Andy Carroll for £35 million and continuing their policy of spending on cheaper European talent than in the over-saturated British market.  The success of Newcastle’s transfers has been credited to chief scout Graham Carr, recently rewarded with a new 8 year contract, but it is the European-myopia of almost every other English club that has allowed Newcastle to plunder the continent.

Yohan Cabaye was not spotted through a long-lens camera by Graham Carr sneaking a look in an obscure French 3rd division youth academy.  Cabaye had just won the French double, played 48 games (including 6 in Europe), and received 4 caps from France.  When he became available for £4.3 million it should have sparked a contract tug of war around Europe’s top leagues, instead Newcastle were able to wrap up a deal before the transfer window had opened and add to their ever expanding continental contingent. The same strategy remains today, Hatem Ben Arfa on loan (later permanent) had played for Lyon and Marseille and was again capped by France (7 times), Davide Santon was a highly rated full back at Inter available for £5 million and having been capped at every level by Italy, Papiss Cisse had scored 39 goals in 67 for German side Freiburg, Demba Ba was a free agent and had scored 7 goals in 12 Premier League matches, while Chieck Tiote had won league titles at both his former clubs in Belgium and Holland (£3.5 million).

The fees for every player mentioned in the above accumulate to around £30 million, or 87% of Andy Carroll (is his pony tail the extra 13%?).  Even up to the last transfer window it was only Newcastle who were being linked with the world-class Mathieu Debuchy, the fee was rumoured to be £6 million, however Arsenal’s Bacary Sagna was injured and Debuchy shone at the European Championships – putting him out of Newcastle’s reach.

While it may be a risk to spend £30 million in talent unproven in the English league the spread betting approach of leveraging it on a number of high quality cheap players guaranteed that Newcastle would eventually get their money’s worth out of one of the players and negate the cost of players who did not settle, the great thing for Newcastle was this happened with almost every player.

Sunday provides a great test for Brendan Rodgers’ footballing oeuvre.  Newcastle will arrive and play with a 4-4-2. When they travelled to Goodison Park earlier this season the 4-4-2, now synonymous with Pardew, was ousted and the extra midfielder was brought in – after only 45 minutes this experiment was quickly abandoned and the substitute Demba Ba would go on to score 2 second half goals. Since that game Newcastle have started every league match with 2 strikers.

As dangerous as Newcastle are up front Brendan Rodgers will be expecting to win this match in midfield.  Although on paper it may seem like Liverpool, with a midfield 3, will be outnumbered by the 4 man midfield of Newcastle the match will quickly evolve into a midfield battle of Allen, Gerrard, and one of Sahin/Shelvey against Cabaye and James Perch.  The wingers on either side are evenly matched Gutierrez/Ben Arfa and Suso/Sterling both offer blends of technique and industry while both sets of defences teeter from the ridiculous to the sublime.

Liverpool’s plan will be to dominate in midfield, a football asphyxia. Newcastle’s plan will be ruthless in its efficiency, to make chances through industry and allow the clinical forwards to take every chance.  As Joe Allen continues to deputise for the injured Lucas there remains the possibility of being caught on the counter-attack, with pace in abundance and an almost Alonso like distributer in Cabaye the game is set up for both sides to score.
Sunday sees 2 of English football’s traditional sides looking to cement an identity by going against the grain, for Newcastle this has been done through the transfer market, for Liverpool it has come on the tactics board.  Sunday should provide the sort of thrilling spectacle that comes from 2 flawed squads sprinkled with the odd touch of world-class player.

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