Feature

How Newcastle's tactical victories produced their decisive goal

By Alex Keble 3 Dec 2023
Anthony Gordon and Kieran Trippier

Alex Keble explains how the Magpies outplayed Man Utd to go fifth in the table

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Match report: Newcastle 1 Man Utd 0 External Link

The only good news for Manchester United supporters was that their team managed to keep the score down to a single goal.

Can you be thrashed 1-0? If so, this was it. Newcastle United held 58 per cent possession and had 22 shots to Man Utd’s eight in a match that was one-sided from start to finish – and a match that may put Erik ten Hag back under pressure.

Newcastle were superb, their tactical victory so complete we saw a Man Utd team overwhelmed and dizzied by the dexterity of their opponent; frozen by the speed and fluidity of Eddie Howe’s side.

Here’s how they did it.

All five tactical themes present in winner

Newcastle dominated Man Utd for five specific tactical reasons and – unusually for such an unpredictable sport – all five of the evening’s themes played a part in the decisive goal.

It’s worth going through them in turn.

The hosts looked like they wanted it more and were the fitter team, but in reality neither is true. Rather, that it was it looks like when one team dominate the tactical battle. One side look static and caught in the headlights, the other fluent and first to every ball.

Nevertheless, Newcastle being first to every 50-50 was an important component of the match. The hosts always nipped in before the visitors, stamping out counter-attacks before they began and keeping the pressure on.

Newcastle won 19 tackles to Man Utd’s 14 and won 19 of the 29 aerial duels, or 65.5 per cent. This control of the transitions restricted the visitors to a single shot on target and striker Anthony Martial to only 17 touches.

Beyond that, the Magpies simply overwhelmed Man Utd down the flanks, where Ten Hag’s decision to mark man-to-man in open play meant both full-backs were constantly dragged into the centre of the pitch by Miguel Almiron and Anthony Gordon.

Keble-tactics-graphics-holder-Gordon-v-Man-Utd

The Newcastle wingers drifted infield menacingly, pulling Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Diogo Dalot inside and therefore opening space for Kieran Trippier and Tino Livramento to overlap, an issue made worse by Wan-Bissaka’s poor performance as he struggled to cope with Gordon.

But Howe’s team wouldn’t have flourished from that interplay to such an extent if it wasn’t for Marcus Rashford and Alejandro Garnacho consistently failing to track back and follow those Newcastle full-backs.

First to the ball, penning Man Utd in, and pummelling them down the flanks. That would have been enough to get Ten Hag worried, but that wasn’t all.

Centrally, Newcastle’s midfielders were completely unmarked as they made typically Howe runs beyond their opposite numbers, while Alexander Isak was superb at dropping off the front line to link the play.

With Isak dropping, Joelinton and Bruno Guimaraes moving forward, and the Man Utd midfield static and unable to get close to either player, Newcastle seemed to have a numerical advantage in the middle – as well as out wide.

So, to the winning goal.

Trippier nicks ahead of Garnacho to win a 50-50. Isak drops off the front to collect. Guimaraes runs beyond the United midfield to take possession in space. Almiron’s infield run pulls Dalot away. Garnacho fails to track the overlapping run from Trippier, who delivers the low cross, and Gordon scores at the back post by losing Wan-Bissaka.

That’s all five tactical problems for Man Utd and tactical successes for Newcastle rearing their head for the winning goal.

To get a sense of how much Man Utd were pulled around, and how confused they looked compared to a perfectly-synchronised Newcastle, just take a look at their “tactical formations”.

Newcastle’s is neat and symmetrical.

Keble-tactics-graphics-holder--NEW-tactical-formation-v-MUN

Man Utd’s is frankly a bit of a mess.

Keble-tactics-graphics-holder--MUN-tactical-formation-v-NEW
Man Utd plunged back into trouble

Heading into the weekend, Man Utd had been the Premier League’s form team, and yet it was almost universally agreed that their results simply hadn’t reflected some wayward performances.

Over the last few days, they have done. The 3-3 draw with Galatasaray was unconvincing to say the least, and now Ten Hag’s side have been roundly beaten (in performance, if not scoreline) by a top-four rival.

Indeed, Man Utd could end the weekend seven points short of the fourth UEFA Champions League spot and as low as eighth in the table, putting Ten Hag back under pressure.

Man Utd now face a crucial December sequence that includes Premier League matches against Chelsea (H), Liverpool (H) and Aston Villa (H), as well as that decisive UEFA Champions League match against Bayern Munich at Old Trafford.

By the end of December, we will know for sure whether Man Utd stand a realistic chance of qualifying again for the Champions League and, therefore, whether or not Ten Hag’s future is secure.

Newcastle defying injury crisis

Howe will be delighted with the performance and result, not least because of his extensive injury list and the exhausting midweek match at Paris Saint-Germain.

Somehow, Newcastle raised themselves again, playing with that patented explosiveness to record back-to-back league wins against the traditional “big six”.

They end the day in fifth place, moving above Tottenham Hotspur and just three points behind Manchester City in second.

Top seven

Position Pos Club Played Pl GD Points Pts
1 Liverpool LIV 26 +38 60
2 Man City MCI 26 +33 59
3 Arsenal ARS 26 +39 58
4 Aston Villa AVL 26 +21 52
5 Spurs TOT 25 +14 47
6 Man Utd MUN 26 0 44
7 Brighton BHA 26 +8 39
Full table

When you consider Newcastle lost three of their first four Premier League matches of the season, that is a hugely impressive position to be in while juggling European football.

And there is little reason to believe their run will end any time soon - not with European football almost over until at least February and with their injury list surely as bad as it can get.

Or perhaps not. Nick Pope went off with a dislocated shoulder in the second half. Newcastle just cannot catch a break.

Yet they keep on going, the energy and the tactical nous as impressive as it always has been under Howe.  On the evidence of tonight’s win, they will no doubt challenge seriously for a Champions League spot – no matter how long their injury list becomes.

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