Barely surviving in the Premier League, Newcastle United remain hopeful and positive about their future in England’s top flight, with Eddie Howe leading the way toward better times. The Magpies have shown marked improvements since Howe took over from Steve Bruce, but the team remain in the bottom three, following successive 1-1 draws that they should have won. So with that, we take a look at what still needs to change if Eddie Howe’s team are to survive this season. Here is our tactical analysis of Newcastle United in 2021-22.
SYSTEM OF PLAY: 4-3-3
Newcastle United have struggled to find consistency in formation this season, but it appears Eddie Howe has settled on a 4-3-3 / 4-5-1 with the latest additions. Kieran Trippier will allow the Magpies to play a more attack-minded style of play, and in Chris Wood, the team finally have a focal point up front again. It will be interesting to see what happens with Wood when Callum Wilson comes back from injury, but for now a 4-3-3 seems like the best fit for Howe’s style of play.Embed from Getty Images
Martin Dubravka appears to be the first choice in goal under Howe, although Karl Darlow boasts a better save percentage so far this season. Jaamal Lascelles and Fabian Schar may also be Howe’s first choice pair at centre-back, but Ciaran Clark may provide a more aerially dominant option ahead of Schar. Left-back could use an upgrade in the transfer market, with the most natural fit in Jamal Lewis continuing to be out of favour. Javi Manquillo and Matt Ritchie have filled the void instead, but neither has been terribly convincing. Kieran Trippier may be more convincing on the right after arriving from Atletico Madrid, and will help the Magpies in their endeavours to be more fluid in possession.Embed from Getty Images
In the attacking areas, Eddie Howe has relied on two familiar faces in Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser, both of whom established themselves at Bournemouth under Howe’s management. Allan Saint-Maximin continues to be the maverick in the team and holds down the wide left position, while Chris Wood will offer Newcastle a completely different look with his target man abilities.
The midfield has been the most settled since Howe arrived, with the defensively sound Sean Longstaff combining with the passing elegance of Jonjo Shelvey, and box to box running of Brazilian midfielder Joelinton. It still feels a bit odd to say ‘midfielder’ Joelinton, but the former Hoffenheim man’s positional change from a second striker into a number 8 has been the biggest stroke of genius Eddie Howe has put together in his time in charge. As a result, that’s exactly where we start the in-depth portion of our analysis.
JOELINTON’S NEW ROLEEmbed from Getty Images
Often seen as the emblem of a big money move that simply didn’t work, Joelinton was always an incredibly hard worker who gave it his all for Steve Bruce. Howe has harnessed the Brazilian’s tireless work rate by moving him further back, situating him on the left side of central midfield. It’s a fantastic role for the Brazilian, as it brings out the best in his physicality. Joelinton can do his excellent pressing and counter-pressing in areas where it matters more now, as Newcastle attempt to stop their opposition in a mid-block. He can also get on the ball and drive up the field, using his physicality to carry the ball away from the opposition. His dribbling success rate is up to nearly 60% this season, which is a fantastic quality for a central midfielder to have. It’s also a fantastic quality for Newcastle to have in their midfield, as it allows them to have a Declan Rice sort of figure who can get on the ball and break lines all on his own, and allow the attack-minded players who could do the same (i.e. Allan Saint-Maximin) to get on the ball in more dangerous positions higher up the field. So in both attack and defense, the number 8 role perfectly suits Joelinton’s combative nature. He’s never looked out of place there, understanding his defensive duties to a tee and then helping Newcastle break forward on the counter with his exceptional pace.
So with that in mind, let’s now take a look at what else Eddie Howe’s men look to do with the ball at their feet, and how the Brazilian fits into the overall system of play.
IN POSSESSIONEmbed from Getty Images
Under Steve Bruce, Newcastle United were a team that could rarely ever string three passes together. Eddie Howe’s biggest mission was to change that, despite not really having the best footballers at his disposal. It’s almost crazy to think that Newcastle’s possession has actually dropped down to under 40%, at 37.8% now, thanks in part to their recent fixtures against Liverpool, Manchester City, and Manchester United, where they accumulated a high of 31% against the Red Devils. But against mid-table teams like Leicester and relegation competitors like Watford, the Magpies boast more possession. This highlights Howe’s ability to get Newcastle starting to fire, with more clear principles of play in place in possession of the ball.Embed from Getty Images
So what are those principles of play? Well, Newcastle are no longer just a kick and chase team. They build out from the back, yes, actually build out from the back, in a 2-4-4 shape. Joelinton and Longstaff will look for space in between the lines of the opposition as Shelvey anchors the field. Their passing is almost always progressive and with foreword momentum in mind, but all three midfielders can switch play with long diagonals when appropriate. Those switches are particularly key given that Eddie Howe’s team stretch the field and utilize as much width as they can. The left-back will likely remain more reserved in the coming weeks, with Kieran Trippier holding a more advanced role on the right, and looking to overload the opposition’s left. Ryan Fraser and Kieran Trippier can then combine as Sean Longstaff ventures forward, and both can deliver exceptional crosses into the box for the likes of Joelinton and Wood to head home. If Allan Saint-Maximin wants to get involved, he too can compound the overload by drifting over to the right, and then using his trickery to pace his way into the box.Embed from Getty Images
On the left side, Newcastle can then have a more direct approach in using Saint-Maximin’s incessant desire to cut inside on his right foot, and Joelinton’s solid ball carrying up the field. Allan Saint-Maximin is particularly smart in 1v1 situations, often beating his man and then cutting across their path. This means the defender either has to foul the wing wizard, or can do nothing more as he glides into the box. With pace to burn, Jonjo Shelvey can also use his exceptional long passing range to find the ninja in space, and Callum Wilson is also capable of running the channels. Then you have Chris Wood to use on long passes up the field, and the former Burnley man is great with his back to goal in holding it up for others and spinning around defenders who attempt to get touch-tight. With all of this mind, you may be surprised to hear that Newcastle have scored just 7 goals in 8 games since Howe took over, with 3 of those coming in his first match in charge. So with just 4 goals from their last 7 in the Premier League, Eddie Howe will be hoping Chris Wood can change that, by simply giving the team a focal point up top.Embed from Getty Images
Wood’s presence will allow others to take on more advanced positions, as he stretches the opposition back and makes himself a nuisance. But Newcastle’s xG remains the lowest in the league at 16.7, despite making more shot-creating-actions than six other teams. This suggests something remains off with their patterns of play in the final third, and that they’re still failing to create the right chances at goal for a player like Wood to bang home. Having watched their recent encounter against Watford, this appears to be true. The Magpies were utterly dominant against the Hornets, but they couldn’t get Allan Saint-Maximin on the ball enough, and the crosses they delivered from the right often found Watford heads instead. The crossing combination of Trippier and Fraser might benefit more from Joe Willock’s re-introduction to the team, although the late midfield runner has only scored 1 goal this season.Embed from Getty Images
It was a smart move to pair one of the world’s best deliverers up with one of the league’s best scorers of headed goals, but this cannot become Newcastle’s identity or key mechanism for creating chances. Burnley have suffered from the exact same over-reliance this season, and sit a point below the Magpies in the table. One thing that they could do is position Fraser on the left and Saint-Maximin on the right. This would get one more direct player (Joelinton and Saint-Maximin) to combine on the same side with an excellent deliverer/crosser, potentially achieving some sort of equilibrium. But the problem with that is just how right-footed Saint-Maximin can be, meaning it would take him out of the kind of cutting in and letting it fly sort of goal-scoring form.
In other words, it’s a difficult conundrum to solve. But positively for Howe, he has many of the pieces in place for a comfortable relegation survival. They just need to find consistency in front of goal.
OUT OF POSSESSIONEmbed from Getty Images
Out of possession, Eddie Howe’s 4-3-3 quickly becomes a 4-5-1. What makes it more 4-5-1 than 4-1-4-1 is Jonjo Shelvey’s high position with the second line of pressure, and he is often the one to step up on the opposition’s defensive midfielder when necessary. That shape holds steady and true throughout both low and mid block phases, with the 4-3-3 only coming back to life in their high block on goal kicks.Embed from Getty Images
Their pressing numbers and metrics are all up under Howe in comparison to Bruce, with an actual high block now taking place. Joelinton remains the team’s most active presser of the ball, particularly when it comes to counter-pressing. As others recover position or…walk and catch their breath…Joelinton never stops. In Kieran Trippier, Newcastle have also added a further engine. The former Atletico man is great in 1v1 situations, a proactive ball winner, and a solid aerial competitor despite his height. Chris Wood will also add to Callum Wilson’s ability to lead the press from the front, and the Burnley man understands how to angle his approach in such a way to force his opposition out wide, where Newcastle want to attack. But remember us saying that Newcastle have scored just 7 goals in 8 matches since Howe took over? Well, they’ve conceded 19 in that time, including an embarrassing 4-0 loss to Leicester where they had more of the ball. The goals keep on coming even when they play well and dominate the match, with late strikes conceded in both of their last two matches. That’s a more pressing matter for Howe to solve than the team’s misfiring attack, and another reason why Newcastle should continue to look for January reinforcements before the window comes to a close.Embed from Getty Images
The easiest place for opposition teams to target against Newcastle are the gaps in between fullbacks and centre-backs. The Magpies lack the necessary positional sense and pace to properly cover these gaps, and the high position of two central midfielders only allows more space in this regard. Eddie Howe’s team have naturally been more open than they were under Steve Bruce, and the narrowness of the Magpie defense really isn’t all that narrow now. With Kieran Trippier holding a high position on Newcastle’s right, this could be an even greater issue in defensive transitions in the future.Embed from Getty Images
They’ve also made it more difficult for themselves in their increased insistence on playing out from the back. Jonjo Shelvey is an extraordinary long passer, but he’s been caught in two minds and caught in possession quite a few times over the past few weeks, leading directly to goals or penalty kicks given away. Again, the lack of pace presents an issue for the Magpies, as it means they can’t be quite as electrifying in defensive transitions after they give the ball away. Joelinton’s eagerness to counter-press then becomes all the more imperative, and it’s a mindset more Newcastle players need to adopt.Embed from Getty Images
Signs of improvement from a defensive perspective have been evident in the past two matches against Manchester United and Watford, but Newcastle still have more ground to cover in that regard. A back-three may be one such way that they find that compactness again, but that would make it harder for Howe to fit Saint-Maximin, Wilson, Wood and Joelinton into the same team. At the same time, perhaps Howe and his assistant Jason Tindall will look back on their past two fixtures, and wish they threw on that extra defender in place of one of their tired attackers.
A more aggressive right-sided central midfielder could also help in that regard, especially in covering for Trippier’s runs forward. But then the former Burnley man has one less head to find when he delivers crosses into the box. Again, it’s a difficult to conundrum for Howe to solve, but one that he absolutely needs to resolve. If they can’t find a way to make up for their lack of pace and positioning in between fullback and centre-back, they’re going to continue to concede late goals.
CONCLUSIONEmbed from Getty Images
Eddie Howe’s Newcastle United haven’t been fantastic, but they have shown signs of positive improvement and actual principles of play in place for a change. Newcastle were actually the only Premier League team we didn’t analyze last season for the site until our 2020-21 Premier League Tactics Ebook, as we didn’t feel they had much in the way of genuine tactical sense in their low-block 5-3-2. Under Eddie Howe, that has certainly changed, and the Magpies have done smart business in the January transfer window to try and change their fortunes around. A few more reinforcements would probably seal their survival so long as Howe can find a way to inspire greater goal creating actions. For now, Newcastle remain firmly in the bottom three, with just 12 points from their 20 matches. Given the money that’s come into the club, it would be seen as a calamity if they were to be relegated from here. But with just one win so far this season, that remains a genuine possibility.
So there it is! A tactical analysis of Eddie Howe’s Newcastle United. Be sure to check out more of our Premier League analyses, and follow on social media @mastermindsite. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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