Talking Tactics

How Newcastle have benefited from Howe's flexible approach

By Adrian Clarke 11 May 2024
Newcastle Talking Tactics

Adrian Clarke explains how the likes of Anderson and Hall are pushing club's hopes of top-six finish

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Adrian Clarke analyses key tactical points and players who can be influential in Matchweek 37.

Team analysis: Newcastle United

Newcastle sat in 10th place in mid-January, but a timely run of form means they are now in pole position to claim a top-six finish that would guarantee them European football next season.

Eddie Howe's squad has been beset by major injury problems throughout this campaign, so it would be a creditable achievement to finish that high.

Newcastle go into a pivotal contest at Manchester United on the back of a run which has seen the Magpies win five and draw two of their last eight matches.

Scoring four or more in half those matches, they will be confident of testing Erik ten Hag’s injury-hit defence at Old Trafford.

Changing habits

During his tenure at St James’ Park, Howe has at times been criticised for lacking tactical variety, but in recent weeks he has made some interesting tweaks.

From the start of 2022/23 until mid-April, the Magpies head coach used a 4-3-3 formation in 69 consecutive top-flight matches.

Howe made an unexpected modification by switching to a hybrid 3-4-2-1/4-3-3 against Tottenham Hotspur, winning that match 4-0 with a barnstorming display.

Out of possession, he used Jacob Murphy and Elliot Anderson as wingbacks, before pushing the latter into midfield when they had the ball inside Spurs territory.

In their last away fixture at Burnley, a resounding 4-1 victory, Newcastle lined up in a 4-4-2 with Callum Wilson partnering Alexander Isak up front.

Absentees may have forced his hand, but adding a touch of strategic variance to their approach seems to have emboldened his players.

It also gives Howe food for thought on future tactical changes.

Newcastle's back five v Spurs
back5
Hall and Anderson impact

After starting only one of Newcastle's first 29 matches, Chelsea loanee Lewis Hall has finally established himself in Howe’s XI.

Starting five of the last seven matches, the 19-year-old left-back has added assurance, dynamism, and positional flexibility to the side.

This has freed up Anderson to work in tandem with Anthony Gordon in a wider, more advanced position down the left flank.

It is a fluid positional switch that suits both individuals, and Howe’s use of them is a sign he is no longer fully wedded to a standard 4-3-3.

The passing chalkboards, below, from their 1-1 draw with Brighton & Hove Albion provide a picture of how the shape is evolving.

Eliott Anderson Twenty 3
Lewis Hall, Twenty3
Goals from midfield

Isak and Gordon have been phenomenal for Newcastle this season, contributing 21 and 20 direct goal involvements respectively.

Their speed and directness, coupled with technical quality, has elevated many Newcastle performances.

Both forwards will be important against Man Utd, but don't be surprised to see one of Howe’s central midfielders break forward too.

Sean Longstaff has scored in two successive matches, pushing himself into the box to convert cutbacks from Anderson (v Brighton) and Murphy (v Burnley).

Longstaff's goal v Burnley
Longstaff

Newcastle's principle holding midfielder, Bruno Guimaraes, has also shown plenty of ambition during this excellent end-of-season run.

Guimaraes has scored three goals in his last six outings, including key strikes on the road at Fulham and Burnley.

He will test the mettle of his direct opponents by venturing forward at the right times, so it will be vital for Man Utd's midfielders to track him.

Guimaraes's goal v Burnley
Targeting turnovers

Two of Newcastle's goals at Turf Moor were sprung from turnovers that they manufactured inside the opposition half, and this has been a theme during the Magpies impressive surge from mid-table.

Their ferocious pressing was too much for Spurs to handle at St James’ Park, and it has created plenty of opportunities in recent matches.

Most goal-ending high turnovers 2023/24
Team Goal-ending high turnovers
Man City 11
Newcastle 9
Spurs 9

Newcastle have scored nine goals from high turnovers this season, and statistically they are more ruthless than most when it comes to profiting from a transition.

Those nine strikes came from 43 shots off the back of a turnover, compared to 63 and 61 shots apiece from Man City and Spurs.

With a renewed spring in their step, expect Newcastle to apply plenty of aggressive pressure on Man Utd.

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