Friday, 2 December 2011

Newcastle analysis

One of the Premier League's most surprising success stories so far this season, Alan Pardew's Newcastle side have had a terrific start to the season. Currently placed in the top four at the time of writing, the Geordies also have the joint best defensive record with only 12 goals conceded in 13 games having played Man City, Man United, Arsenal and Tottenham

When Chris Hughton was sacked to much opposition last December, few predicted any sort of rise in form. After all Hughton had guided a recently relegated Newcastle straight back into the Premier League and had achieved some good results in the first few months of the season with an in form Andy Carroll helping to fire Newcastle up the league. When Pardew took over, much initial pressure was placed on him from all angles. With steady form culminating in a 12th placed finish, steady progression was the main objective for the club at the start of the season.

Yet the superb form from the side has lead to much deserved praise for their results. Indeed the way they managed to keep United out last weekend just highlighted their remarkable run so far this season.

It will be difficult to keep up such a run with injuries, fitness and loss of form and well as teams finding new ideas to beat them all playing a part as the season goes on but they deserve a lot of credit for their start.


Newcastle have generally been focussed on a 4-4-2 formation so far this season. Their right side is generally higher up the pitch - Danny Simpson is often positioned high up on the right while Obertan on the right wing has a fairly free role when Newcastle have possession and often makes diagonal runs inside. Their left hand side is often deeper - both Ryan Taylor and Jonas Gutierrez are right footed and so don't cause as many overlaps on that side, instead playing more static roles, often turning with the ball inside and playing it down the line for the forwards or inside to retain possession. Their midfield has mainly been made up of the energetic Tiote and Cabaye and the back four has remained the same in all 13 games so far.

Notable features

Newcastle's attacking play is very dynamic and quick. It's been quite direct and like Levante, generally vertical. This is partly because of their counter attacking style but also because their attacking shape requires quick, positive passing rather than a slower, horizontal possession game.

The two forwards who have mainly been involved for Newcastle this season, Best and Ba are quite direct players and require an attacking route based around pace and strength. They are very good at threatening behind centre backs and in the air. Both are also aware of the added movement from midfield and will drop deep and wide depending on who and where the midfielders are penetrating.

Newcastle like getting the ball forward quickly, as mentioned with their mainly vertical play. The wingers, Gutierrez and Obertan have played quite different roles on the flanks. Gutierrez mainly positions himself fairly wide and deep on the left so he is able to cut inside onto his right foot
 and play vertical passes forward. Obertan's role is quite different. He generally plays higher up than Gutierrez and can get behind a full back with his pace or move further inside in a more 'free' role than Gutierrez, as he does quite often thanks to Danny Simpson's high positioning on the right.

by Guardian Chalkboards      Krul's distribution to the strikers Best and Ba

It would however be wrong to call Newcastle a long ball team. Looking at the average amount of long balls played per game Newcastle have the fourth least amount. They commit a number of players forward in attacking positions and a lot of their chances happen because of their movement.
Cabaye makes penetrating runs into attacking central areas making a diamond shape in midfield with Tiote holding his defensive midfield position. Sometimes Cabaye overlaps Ba when the striker is taking the ball deeper with his back to goal.

In fact the attacking shape is in a way similar to the traditional English attacking shape. One full back up while one covers, one centre midfielder making runs forward while the other holds, one winger higher up than the other with one of them cutting inside to make an overload and two pacy strong strikers with one able to drop deeper and one making runs behind, between the centre back and full back.

Newcastle have managed to do this but have added a fairly quick tempo and well timed overlaps which have helped them achieve these results.


The main thing they have been identified by this season is their deep compact shape in defence. That is the way they defended mainly against Man City, getting players behind the ball and confining space in front of their penalty area. However they are not limited to that and because of the amount of players they commit forward in attack, they have to press aggressively when they lose the ball high up the pitch

Newcastle's players high up so able to press

Gutierrez is a valuable asset defensively on the left, particularly with Ryan Taylor's inexperience at left backand his speed at getting back to double up on and get tight to an opponent is very good.

Because of the 4-4-2 system, they can get outnumbered in the centre of the field. When soaking up the pressure and getting players behind the ball, this isn't a problem because the objective is to allow the opposition possession but not allow them to open them up. When pressing higher up however there has to be a different system. When the opposition centre backs and full backs have the ball, Ba and Best have generally pressed the centre backs to try and stop the ball going straight to the midfielders to push them back. However when the ball goes into midfield Ba is comfortable dropping deeper and helping stop the overload there.


Space in midfield left by Cabaye and behind Simpson

Oddly enough the problems Newcastle have are defensively. One is the space left by their attacking shape. Their diamond shape in attack leaves quite a bit of space, particularly behind Cabaye. If the ball is moved quickly in that area then that space can be exploited.

Newcastle lose the ball high up. Cabaye in an advanced position goes to press, leaving space behind

Tottenham release it quickly to Parker who has to be closed down by Tiote. In this situation all of Newcastle's midfielders and strikers, bar Tiote are ahead of the ball.

Parker moves it first time to Bale who invited the pressure from Simpson. However there is now space between Newcastle's midfield and defence.
Parker has now turned to face the defence and can run at them or play it behind for Defoe. Quick play from Tottenham in midfield meant that Newcastle are now on the back foot.

With their only loss of the season, Man City, the league leaders dominated possession in the middle and then switched the ball late to the flanks to create, particularly to the right where Micah Richards played very high up and took advantage of a few mistakes on that side to seal the three points in a 3-1 victory.


It will be interesting to see any progression in Newcastle's tactics as the season progresses. With the return of Ben Arfa, a slightly higher, more precise approach may be needed to get the best out of the Frenchman. However their league form so far has been very good so far and that is credit to Alan Pardew's tactics.


  1. Nice piece.But you forgot to comment on Simpson's crossing.Its been very effective.Cheers.

  2. This is a really good analysis.

    It'll be interesting to see how we adapt to the 42211/4231 from the loose 442 as Hatem Ben Arfa features more prominently in the second half of the season.

    The problem of space left in behind Cabaye will be solved as he drops back and left, and HBA forms the midfield triangle with Tiote and Cabaye.

    This set-up hasn't had much testing this season due to injuries, but it'll be intriguing to see if HBA does excel in the #10 role linking a lone ST with Cabaye/Tiote's break-up play.

  3. @tt9m

    I think that's going to be the major aspect. Cabaye's is going to be restricted because otherwise he'll running into Ben Arfa's space and even Ba's space and play will get too tight

  4. Fantastic newcastle analysis, i think your blog is way up their with and www.zonalmarking!! keep going men


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