Tactically speaking - Newcastle United

In-depth analysis of how Newcastle United might attack tonight’s Barclays Premier League fixture – with WhoScored.com
Four Barclays Premier League matches into Steve McClaren’s reign at Newcastle United and the Magpies’ troubles of a season ago refuse to go away.

On paper, Newcastle have a strong and versatile squad at their disposal, with strength and depth in all positions, but so far McClaren’s team have not quite put it all together.

Under the former England manager, it appears that Newcastle will play a counter-attacking game based on direct attacking play through the wide areas. The challenge now is to turn that style into positive results on a consistent basis.

Almost one in five of the passes played by Newcastle players have been classified as ‘long balls’, while tonight’s visitors have found themselves in the attacking third of the pitch for just 19 per cent of their opening four games.

In those four matches, Newcastle have enjoyed just 40 per cent of possession on average, creating just 5.3 shots per game, with just 1.5 of those attempts finding the target. With those statistics, it is not surprising therefore that McClaren’s side have scored just twice and went into the weekend sitting 19th in the table.

By comparison, while West Ham have actually launched more long balls by percentage, they have remained in the attacking third for 26 per cent of their matches and enjoyed 48 per cent of possession overall, suggesting the Hammers achieve better ball retention and pose a greater attacking threat.

Newcastle’s troubles appear to start at the back, as they did last season when they conceded 63 goals – the second-highest in the Premier League ahead of only bottom club Queens Park Rangers.

A failure to defend effectively from both set pieces and open play have left Newcastle chasing games far too often in recent months – a trend the tactically astute McClaren will be urgently seeking to reverse.

A resilient clean sheet at Manchester United and a spirited display at home to Arsenal last time out, when Newcastle lost by just a single goal despite Aleksandar Mitrovic’s first-half red card, suggest the new manager is turning things around.
One player who looks to be key to Newcastle’s improved defensive showing is young DR Congo centre-back Chancel Mbemba, who played alongside Cheikhou Kouyate and Mitrovic at Belgian club Anderlecht and has looked committed and composed for a 21-year-old making his way in the Premier League.

Formation-wise, McClaren has favoured a 4-2-3-1 shape in each of the his opening four league matches in charge, with attacking full-backs in Daryl Janmaat and Massadio Haidara and two deep-lying, keep-it-simple midfielders in Jack Colback and Vurnon Anita.

Unlike some teams who struggle for width in a 4-2-3-1, however, Newcastle split their two wide attacking midfielders very wide indeed, with Moussa Sissoko and Gabriel Obertan or new boy Florian Thauvin playing as orthodox wingers and combining regularly with Janmaat and Haidara.

In central areas, Dutchman Georginio Wijnaldum will be an important player. While his national team are in the doldrums, the goal-getting attacking midfielder has the talent and ability to lift Newcastle from theirs.

Individually, there is no doubt that Newcastle have good players – McClaren’s challenge is to turn them into a good team.

Possible team: (4-2-3-1) Krul, Janmaat, Mbemba, Coloccini, Haidara, Anita, Colback, Sissoko, Wijnaldum, Obertan, Cisse