Many would have expected Newcastle United to improve under their new ownership, but their rise to remarkability has been quicker than anyone would have imagined. Eddie Howe has achieved complete equilibrium within his eleven in under a twelve-month period, turning the Magpies into a top five side with many of the same faces from the days of Steve Bruce. With Newcastle’s remarkable rise only likely to continue, we break down the tactics that have brought his team success in 2022-23.
SYSTEM OF PLAY: 4-3-3
Newcastle have set up in a 4-3-3 shape since the start of Howe’s reign, with only a few minor tweaks to the team that finished inside the top half at the end of last campaign.
One of those changes has been the immaculate Nick Pope, a fantastic ‘Sweeper Keeper’ who bodes well in every area of goalkeeping, despite often being thought of as a pure shot-stopping extraordinaire. Pope is incredibly quick off his line, more savvy with the ball at his feet than anyone will ever give him credit for (outside our circles of course), and a commanding presence at the back that can shout his way through any windstorm.Embed from Getty Images
Pope has a magnificent back-line in front of him led by the new and improved version of Swiss defender Fabian Schär, who has quickly become one of the league’s best defenders under Howe. Schär was always a capable and competent efender, but has taken his game (from distribution to defensive awareness) to new heights with the added solidity of those around him. One of the essential pieces to that puzzle has been the addition of Sven Botman to the eleven after a Ligue 1 title win with LOSC Lille a couple seasons back. This has meant big and burly Dan Burn has slotted over to left-back, and Matt Targett has unfortunately needed to spend time from the bench. Then you have one of the key leaders at the club despite being there for less than twelve months – England international Kieran Trippier. Trippier never stops talking across the ninety minutes, and leads by example every step of the way with his superb on the ball ability.Embed from Getty Images
In front of the back-four, Bruno Guimarães has also taken his game to new heights after being put back into the position in which he first caught the eye at Olympique Lyonnais – operating as a ‘Deep-Lying Playmaker’ in the ‘6’ position. He now has the added defensive solidity of Sean Longstaff to bring the best out of his occasional adventures up the pitch, and the box-to-box energy of either Joe Willock or Joelinton depending on the day. Joelinton might operate off the left instead with the two players constantly interchanging, before being ready to shift back inside upon the introduction of wing wizard Allan Saint-Maximin.Embed from Getty Images
Miguel Almirón has been perhaps the surprise of the season with his solid defensive output now turning into on-the-ball brilliance at every turn. Almirón’s bagged a team-leading 9 goals in his 16 appearances so far – equalling all his other seasons with the Magpies combined. Up front, Eddie Howe has the choice between England’s Callum Wilson and New Zealand’s Chris Wood – both of whom can offer something slightly different to the team. Wilson has to be first choice when called upon for his relentless running energy and quickness to attack the box, but Chris Wood is also a hard-working forward who presses well and offers up more of a ‘Target’ inside the eighteen.
In hearing this recap of the players involved, you may be pinching yourself at the fact that very few of these names are Champions League level quality. Howe hasn’t created a team with Champions League potential through personnel. Instead, he’s done so through balance. Many would have deemed Miguel Almirón and Sean Longstaff surplus to requirements at the start of the season. But not only have they improved, they have improved those around them through the brilliant balance that Howe has conconcted. So with that, let’s dissect exactly how the former Bournemouth manager has achieved equilibrium through the phases.
DEFENSIVE PRINCIPLESEmbed from Getty Images
Eddie Howe’s men set up to defend from the front in a 4-3-3 shape, that quickly reforms into a 4-5-1. They press high and intense from the front end of the pitch, with compactness between each line. Defenders remain ready to step above their line of engagement to track runners in deep, and various members of the midfield five will also step when the ball reaches their zone. Joe Willock has been the most active in stepping up when deployed in central midfield, but Bruno Guimarães also remains an intense and active presser in stepping up higher than what you would typically expect of a ‘6’.
Typically, teams operating in a 4-3-3 will set up to defend in more of a 4-1-4-1 shape, staggering their lines and using the ‘6’ to screen either a ’10’ or ‘9’ in behind. But Newcastle have remained resilient through more of a man-to-man aggressive press from the front, in which each opposition player must fear for their lives every time they have the ball. They get numbers around the ball in the wide areas and compact not only vertically but horizontally, ensuring the opposition have limited room to escape.
One of the key figureheads to leading that intensity has been Miguel Almiron, who is currently conjuring up 6.23 successful defensive actions per 90. The Paraguayan midfielder has always possessed a magnificent engine, but his work-rate and stamina have taken to new heights this season, and he’s often one of the first to push and probe, or hustle all the way back to help out his fullback.
The striker in the system also holds an important role in screening an opposition ‘6’, while managing their pressing endeavours from the front onto the opposition centre-backs. Wilson or Wood will remain relatively uninterested in pressing centre-backs who appear disinterested in progressing the ball forward, sticking to that ‘6’ more closely. But upon more hefty pressing endeavours from the entire team, that ‘9’ remains essential to leading the cause.Embed from Getty Images
They will also lead the charge on the team’s pressing trigger of passes backward to the goalkeeper, as the rest of the unit follow suit in stepping behind their striker.
At the back, Newcastle possess much in the way of physicality and aerial presence. Burn, Botman and Schär are all well over six feet tall, and each peak close to a 70% aerial win rate. Kieran Trippier doesn’t have the height but has the exceptional leap to come close to matching the likes of Schär, and excels in his own right in winning those individual battles. As a whole, the team have won 56% of their aerial duels this season, to which only Manchester City can best. On sheer physicality and determination all over the pitch, Newcastle have become a particularly tough opposition side to face for even the best of teams this season.Embed from Getty Images
The one minor hole in their defensive line would be in the slight absence of top-tier speed in defending passes through the gaps in the system. Nick Pope remains one of the Premier League’s preeminent ‘Sweeper Keepers’ and so this has helped in mitigating the concern. But gaps can open in transition for even the most organized of defensive structures, where pacey players will always have the upper-hand up against the defensive line.
That said, the moments in which sides are able to fully pounce in this manner are difficult to come by, given the full throttle force the forwards put into defending from the front.
ATTACKING PRINCIPLESEmbed from Getty Images
Eddie Howe has remained tactically flexible, versatile and intelligent with his attacking aspirations ever since taking charge, all the while playing with a fairly rigid set of characteristics.
Regardless of it’s Almiron and Allan Saint Maximin, there is a clear attempt to isolate Newcastle’s wide men in 1v1 situations, and then work variations of wide overloads to help their danger men create magic and get into the box. Saint-Maximin is a particularly deadly, skillful dribbler, and Almirón is a particularly deadly, intense dribbler. The Paraguyan loves to play give-and-go’s to release himself from the pressure, and his powerful running to burst into tiny gaps leaves flat-footed defenders completely out of sight.
Joelinton has also featured quite prominently on the left-wing, and in this role will frequently interchange with Joe Willock – the other quintessential ‘Box-to-Box Midfielder’ in the team. They can both be seen high up the pitch in the left wing to left-half-spaces, often times together, and this suits Newcastle’s desire to keep Dan Burn relatively disengaged in attacking phases. Kieran Trippier might be more adventurous down the other side as Miguel Almirón loves to cut inside on his left foot, providing the space for the British bulldog to get up the pitch should he desire. This is also aided by the balance of Sean Longstaff in midfield, a hard-working ‘Shuttler’ that allows Bruno Guimarães his own sense of security in joining attacks and getting further forward to slice nice progressive passes into the likes of Wilson or his wide men in behind. He’s also been a key switcher of play in dictating the tempo and shifting the defense, growing into that ‘DLP’ role by the game.
Beyond upping the overall intensity and tempo of their play, Howe has completely revolutionized the team out from the back. To be fair, it wasn’t difficult to improve upon the hefty long-ball style seen under Steve Bruce, but their improvements have still been impressive nevertheless.
Newcastle build out from the back in a 2+4 shape, with Bruno integral to the process as a ‘6’ and the most likely to form a diamond with Nick Pope. Longstaff remains relatively unengaged in the process from start to finish, instead being used as a proactive measure to defend against anything that might go wrong. With the additions of Botman, Burn and Trippier, Newcastle have however drastically expanded their horizons out from the back.
Dan Burn comes from a background as an excellent ball-playing defender having spent years under Graham Potter at Brighton. Fabian Schär has been perhaps the most impressive though, with his deep-completions and progressive passing now drastically up under the freedom of Howe’s system. Trippier’s ability to play passes over the top also nicely suits the likes of Chris Wood and Miguel Almiron for completely different reasons. Then in Joelinton and Joe Willock, they have two natural ball carriers who can drive at the opposition and offer a different kind of line-breaking element to the team.Embed from Getty Images
This all helps to make Newcastle an incredibly exciting outfit to watch, and a far cry from the side that had not won a single game around this time last year.
CONCLUDING THOUGHTSEmbed from Getty Images
Eddie Howe has done wonders since taking over at Newcastle United this time last year. After an impressive undefeated streak that now dates all the way back to late August, the Magpies currently sit in second place in the table, only behind Arsenal. This has been a meteoric rise for the Magpies, who persist with an eleven not drastically different from last season under Howe, and many of the faces that existed around the time of Steve Bruce. Eddie Howe’s achieved this brilliant run through an intense press and a collective, warrior mentality, in which each and every player fights tooth and nail every single match. Whether or not Eddie Howe can keep this unbeaten streak going remains to be seen, but for now, the Magpies are flying high, with European football in their sights.
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So there it is! A tactical analysis of Eddie Howe’s Newcastle United in 2022-23. Be sure to check out more of our Team Analyses, and follow on social media @mastermindsite and @desmondrhys to never miss an update. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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