However, given Newcastle's recent problems offering Ba support high up the field, it's easy to understand Pardew's thinking. I mentioned several times over the last week how direct Newcastle have become in the absence of Yohan Cabaye- Newcastle's most creative center midfielder and one capable of linking defense to offense through the center of the park. Hatem Ben Arfa did an excellent job in the second half of the game with Fulham tucking inside from his position on the right wing to provide that link but with Ben Arfa also out with an injury it was always likely Newcastle would have to play their fair share of long balls forward out of the back. Had Ba been the loan center forward in a 4-3-3/4-5-1 he'd have been isolated after receiving those long balls and would have had the difficult task of holding the ball up until his midfielders could join the attack. By pairing Cisse alongside him as a front two, Ba either had a passing option or could flick long balls on to Cisse running in behind.
Defensively, Pardew's 4-4-2 meant at least one of Manchester City's holding midfielders was left free to receive passes in deeper midfield areas. Had he gone with a 4-3-3 the midfields would have matched up evenly: Gutierrez would have likely picked up Toure, Anita would have picked up Garcia and Tiote would have tracked Aguero in the space just in front of the back four. Instead Pardew paired the defensive-minded James Perch alongside Tiote and both sat in deep to protect the back four and prevent City's four creative attacking players from receiving the ball in pockets of space between the seams. This meant Garcia and Toure were free to receive the ball deep in midfield but this wasn't a huge concern to Newcastle- their plan was to form two compact banks of four between the ball and their goal and force City to try to patiently break them down.
Again, Pardew's reasoning for playing two deep center midfielders and leaving Garcia and Toure free near midfield was sound. He was trying to keep the defense compact and deny City space between the seams where Aguero, Silva and Nasri thrive. Secondly, had he gone with a 4-3-3, Gutierrez would have been responsible for joining the attack from his shuttling left center midfield position and then running back defensively to track Toure. Anytime Toure was able to break past him with one of his trademark powerful runs from midfield, Newcastle wouldn't have had the spare holding midfielder to pick him up. The hope was the holding midfield pairing of Perch and Tiote would keep the defense more compact and deny Toure the space to dribble forward from midfield. In effect, Pardew was betting Toure was more likely to be dangerous dribbling in behind the Newcastle midfielders than he was receiving passes in space deep in midfield and looking for a penetrating pass in behind the defense.
However, on 10 minutes Toure would prove otherwise. He received the ball near midfield and, with no one closing him down, had time to pick his head up and play a perfectly weighted, curling through ball to Nasri in behind the Newcastle defense (certainly one of the passes of the season thus far). Nasri did brilliantly himself to unselfishly lay the ball off for Aguero to tuck away into an empty net. Following the goal, Manchester City began to stamp their authority on the game with Toure, Tevez, Aguero, Silva and Nasri combining some tidy passes around the penalty area to create a few good goal scoring chances. The amount of space Newcastle's 4-4-2 was affording Toure was becoming an increasing problem. Their back four was getting deeper and deeper as the half progressed. With Perch and Tiote continuing to help the back four pick up the runs of Nasri, Silva, Tevez and Aguero, Toure was allowed to receive the ball in more advanced positions. Shortly after City's opener Toure received a pass 25 yards from goal and was again able to slip it behind the defense to Nasri. Nasri's pass across the face of goal just eluded Tevez at the back post but it was becoming clear Toure was more then capable of ripping Newcastle apart with his passing. At that point it appeared that if Pardew didn't make the change to a three man central midfield and find someone to stick tight to Toure, City would put 4 or 5 in. Garcia headed in their second on 38 minutes and the Manchester side went into the dressing room up 2-0.
Newcastle's approach throughout the game was fairly consistent. They played plenty of direct balls into Cisse and Ba, looking to use the height and power of the two Senegalese forwards to overwhelm Nastisic and Kolo Toure. They looked to get the ball wide to either the outside midfielders or outside backs and hit early crosses into the box. They played an incredible 41 crosses, 30 more than City. After being dominated in the first half the Magpies were much more threatening in the second. Their approach was unsophisticated- they continued playing long balls and crosses into their forwards and looked to win corners and set pieces where they could allow their two center backs to get forward into the box. However, they also did a much better job putting pressure on City higher up the field and winning the ball back quickly. After Ba's header made it 2-1 they looked capable of adding an equalizer. That hope quickly diminished however when Toure added a third for City.
In the end Newcastle could be proud of the spirit they showed in the second half but the better team won this game. Pardew's decision to play a 4-4-2 made life uncomfortable for City's center backs at one end of the pitch but also gave Yaya Toure far too much time and space at the other. In the end he was the game's key player.