Can Newcastle cause an almighty upset at the home of the Champions, Manchester City? In this tactical analysis I will look at the areas to look out for in this Saturday evening’s Premier League fixture.
Last weekend against Wolves, Manchester City didn’t live up to their usual lofty heights as the two sides played out a 1-1 draw. Following the fallout of the score draw, many posited whether Nuno Espírito Santo’s men had drawn up the blueprint on how to stop Pep’s men.
However, one man who I’m quite certain won’t be following this blueprint to a tee is Rafa Benítez when he brings his Newcastle to The Etihad Stadium on Saturday evening.
It is not since the days of Alan Shearer and Nobby Solano that Newcastle have managed to beat Manchester City away from home in the league. A 75th-minute winner from Shearer at Maine Road in September 2000 was enough for all 3 points for Sir Bobby Robson’s Geordie’s that day, but since then The Etihad Stadium has been an unhappy hunting ground for Newcastle United. In Newcastle’s last 3 visits to The Etihad they have conceded a mighty 14 goals, scoring only twice.
Newcastle fans can travel down the M62 with a glimmer of hope, however. City struggled to a 1-0 away win at St James’ Park last season and although Benítez’s system that day was widely criticised, Newcastle were a Nicolás Otamendi goal-line clearance away from securing a valuable point against the runaway leaders at the time. On top of this, last time out against Chelsea, Newcastle were again close to gaining a credible point, if not for a contentious penalty and a DeAndre Yedlin own goal.
In this article, I will be having a look at Newcastle’s game against Chelsea and pointing out any areas in which Newcastle can possibly cause City problems. I will also give my thoughts as to how City can break down a stubborn Newcastle rearguard and cause some problems of their own.
Defensive Set Up
They tended to let Chelsea have the ball short from goal kicks, giving the two centre-backs of Chelsea plenty of space and time to progress the ball into the Newcastle half where they would fall back into their 5-4-1 formation. Newcastle would allow the Chelsea midfield to rotate the ball around in front of them, only engaging with the man on the ball when he attempted to dribble or when Chelsea moved the ball to their wide players. Yedlin and Dummett would press the players occupying the wide positions, with Rondón pressing Jorginho as best as he could.
The three central defenders were tasked with defending the space between the midfield 4 and defensive 5 and would aggressively press the space when the ball was moved into it, committing fouls or dispossessing the Chelsea player. Due to Newcastle’s numerical advantage with a 3v1 in defence, they could be aggressive in this area without risking too much. This may factor into Pep’s decision to start either one of Sergio Agüero or Gabriel Jesus or whether he opts for both alongside each other.
Narrow Defensive Line
Newcastle defended very narrowly. Often, Paul Dummett would be dragged towards the centre of the field by Pedro, leaving acres of space for the overlapping Azpilicueta to advance into. However, Chelsea didn’t exploit this space all that well on the right-hand side. Azpilicueta is an accomplished crosser of the ball from deep but not entirely adept at attacking the byline.
City could look at exploiting this space in a few ways. They could set up with Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva or Riyad Mahrez playing from the right-hand side, drifting in and dragging with him the Newcastle left-back leaving room for Kyle Walker to overlap and hit the byline. Or Pep could instruct Sterling/Bernardo/Mahrez (whomever it may be) to hold their width and attempt to drag the Newcastle left-back away from his defensive partner, creating an opening in the half-space between full-back and the left-sided central defender. Chelsea began to do this with the introduction of Willian and it created a lot of space between Dummett and Clark.
This position and space is perfect for Benjamin Mendy. As seen in our analysis of Mendy’s role and performance against Huddersfield, when Mendy got himself into these positions he was able to whip dangerous ball after a dangerous ball into the area. He created havoc in the Huddersfield area with his deliveries and if he is allowed this much space again, Newcastle will surely be in for a long night.
A brief glance at the stats from Newcastle’s encounter with Chelsea, and one would assume that Newcastle didn’t threaten Chelsea all that much. Chelsea had 15 shots to Newcastle’s 6, with Newcastle only generating a 0.63 xG. However, Newcastle did manage to manoeuvre themselves into some decent attacking areas whether that be from direct balls upfield to Rondón or free-kicks in dangerous areas. Below is one example of a decent opportunity that Newcastle created early in the first half.
When Newcastle had the ball in relatively safe possession, both Murphy and Ritchie would push up the field and play very close to the central striker Rondón, in turn Dummett and Yedlin would also advance creating a 3-4-3. The defenders would bypass the midfield with a long ball towards Rondón and look for knock-downs and play from there. Below we can see Rondón knocking the ball down to Richie who feeds Josh Murphy who dribbled to the edge of the box and hit a shot which Kept saved low to his right, a decent opportunity. If Murphy had been able to get his head up he would have noticed the overlapping run of Dummett and Newcastle would have had a 2v1 up against Azpilicueta.
If City decide to go with a back 4 with Mendy and Walker as the full-backs this shouldn’t really be much of a worry as they both have the pace and awareness to cover the space. However, if Pep decides to go with the same system as he did when City beat Huddersfield in their last home game, with John Stones playing almost as a ‘false full-back’, City may encounter some trouble down their right-hand side.
In the 1st Half alone Newcastle had three set pieces from dangerous areas. Although the set-pieces didn’t cause Chelsea any immediate problems, it is worth noting. I fully expect Rafa Benítez will be reinforcing to his players the idea that this is an area in which City can be hurt, particularly given the goals that City conceded against Huddersfield and Wolves so far this season.
Newcastle readily loaded the box with attackers. At times having 6 men who were all willing and able to attack the ball and disrupt the opposition defence. Newcastle are a very tall team. In so much as the six outfield players that went forward for free-kicks and corners are all at least 6 foot tall and physical. Newcastle will know that they won’t create many chances from open play and a set-piece may prove to be their greatest opportunity to cause an upset.
Barring a great surprise from Rafa Benítez, Pep and his team will have a clear idea of how Newcastle will set up against them. The Geordies will look to frustrate City for as long as possible and then look to knick a goal from a set-piece opportunity or through the physical presence of Rondón and whether he is able to bring the gifted Josh Murphy and his fellow teammates into the game. It won’t be an easy game for the blues and City will have to be right at it from the go if they are to replicate the results of previous seasons. I am confident however, that City will come away with the three points on Saturday evening and if it is to be another feast of Guardiola’s fantastic football an early goal will be crucial.