The Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba partnership has been one of the oddest in the Premier League over the past year. Each striker has been prolific at times, but only on two occasions have they both managed to score in the same match, in Cisse's debut against Aston Villa, and in the 2-1 win against West Brom this season.
This season it has been Cisse failing to keep pace with Ba, with his displays a shadow of those he turned in last season. Pardew has gone to great lengths to accommodate both strikers in a central role to give each the best chance of finding the net, but have these formation changes harmed Newcastle as an attacking unit?
In the second half of last season Ba was moved to the left flank of Newcastle's attack to accommodate Cisse in a 4-3-3/4-5-1 system with Hatem Ben Arfa on the right flank, and Yohan Cabaye attacking from central midfield. Part of the reason for their excellent second half run was the attacking work of Ben Arfa and Cabaye, with the former particularly benefitting from such an advanced role, where he had little defensive responsibility.
This year Pardew has moved Ba into the Cisse, and dropped Ben Arfa and Cabaye into a more conventional 4-4-2, where they have had to shoulder their fair share of defensive work. What has looked clearer as the season has gone on, that it is not Cisse and Ba that Pardew should be looking to accommodate, it is Ben Arfa and Cabaye.
Ben Arfa is amongst the most outrageously gifted footballers in the league, and in allowing him to make up part of the attack, he can operate in more advanced areas without being encumbered by defensive duties. Similarly Cabaye is the key central playmaker to the side, and returning him to a three man midfield, with perhaps Anita and Tiote doing his dirty work behind him, will allow him to focus on creating the chances for Newcastle.
This system will allow only one of Cisse and Ba to play thorugh the centre, but should make Newcastle more threatening overall. So far this season Pardew's side have only found the back of the net 12 times in 11 games, a dismal return given the quality of player they have.
Cisse and Ba stole many of the headlines last season, but Newcastle need to focus on getting Ben Arfa and Cabaye into their best positions, as their talent is being underused in the current formation.
image: © mikebrown59