A question in which tends to answer itself in recent years; what have we learnt from pre-season? The answer, going from the last few occasions is not much in all honesty. Cast your mind back to the US tour we embarked on last summer.
Apart from a brief, small spark from Dan Gosling, nothing much had sent shivers of excitement through fans ahead of what was to be one of the best seasons on Tyneside in recent years.
With the Euros and Olympics taking away from what little spotlight these pre-season fixtures and tournaments gain, many have been played to small crowds and none of which have been held at St James’ due to the Olympics tenancy of the stadium. Often an opportunity for younger fans and families to get to games with cheaper ticket prices, the attraction of these warm up games tend not to draw in huge attendances.
The dilemma of these matches lies in the risk of gaining match fitness ahead of the season, while risking injury to key players.
I remember going to the pre season friendly against Juventus a few years ago. No worries about the result, the chance to see some of the greats of the, like Pavel Nedved among others, and £5 for a ticket. What’s not to like. I also distinctly remember a young Andy Carroll flattened by the ever slick Buffon. Although Carroll was left chewing the turf of St James’, it did give him a run out with some of the starting squad and no doubt would have boosted his confidence before leading the line in the Championship and following half season in the EPL.
The defeat at the hands to the Bluebirds on the weekend will remain in the back of fans’ minds, especially those that made the long trip down to Cardiff. However, it is worth noting that four of our most skilful players weren’t taken to Wales, and that Pardew was experimenting with the line-up. Yes the back four and Krul are likely to start the majority of the games this season, with the exception of new possible arrivals, but Pards is still yet to nail down his preferred formation for the beginning of the campaign.
The club organised the friendly as a way of bringing the squad back to playing a more English style of football, in comparison to the continental game. It could be a sign for the season, not to get lost with the excitement of Europe and remember that we should keep our feet firmly on the ground.
It was a deflating loss after a decent set of warm up games and the victory in Guadiana Trophy, but we can’t forget that these players are the same that lead us to the heights of 5th in the league. Gutierrez was used as a ‘false 9’ dropping off of Shola, but failed to prevail. These games are needed to experiment with the squad, showing what may need to happen if we lose players over the course of the season.
If we went and won all of our pre-season friendlies comfortably, it could fill us with false hope. Being tested in pre-season seems to benefit our domestic progression, in a peculiar way. Because of the European tour this summer, the squad, more notably the younger players, have gained some if very little experience of playing abroad, on small pitches and unfamiliar stadiums, which should help their development and progression.
Before we cruised to the Championship title, we suffered a embarrassing 6-1 defeat to Leyton Orient, our team stripped off the weight of the ‘big names’ with things looking bleak after relegation. Last year our pre-season tour of the US was nothing to write home about, and look at what we achieved in the league. Fingers crossed the pattern will continue and we can look back and thank Cardiff in the long run. Hopefully.