Before Kick-Off

A familiar fixture in a familiar tournament, Newcastle United changed venues to play Nottingham Forest at the City Ground in the 2nd round of the Carabao Cup, hoping to avenge a 2-3 defeat at the hands of Forest when the sides met at St James’ Park last season. Forest had to beat Bury 10-9 in a penalty shoot-out in the previous round after a 1-1 draw in 90 minutes. Their league form has been good or bad depending on which fan you’d ask. Undefeated but only having won 1 of their 5 games so far.

Forest boss Karanka is known for a pragmatic defensive style which didn’t win many plaudits during the 16/17 season in which his Middlesbrough side were known to be low-scoring and heavily defensive. Newcastle had set up a defensive game plan themselves in their previous fixture, losing out 1-2 to Chelsea, but against a Championship side, a more expansive game plan was expected, despite incoming rotations.

 

Starting XIs

When Newcastle Had the Ball

Newcastle lined up in a 4-4-2 which often appeared as a 4-4-1-1 with Joselu dropping deep to challenge for aerials and flick it on to a further advanced Muto. Muto had license to roam centrally and on the left side to aid Kenedy in attack. Newcastle’s preferred method of attack was long diagonals to the full backs and wingers. Schar was heavily involved in this approach, incorporating diagonals as part of 18 long passes and completing 11. Ki and Longstaff struggled centrally. Although Ki completed 93% of his passes he only attempted one through ball which did not reach its target. Longstaff, making his debut, completed 79 % of his passes with no through balls attempted.

After working it out wide the responsibility fell to Kenedy and Atsu to create. They managed just 1 cross each and despite seeing the ball often were dispossessed 9 times between them.

Forest’s high energy approach to defending paid dividends. They pressed via the 3 attackers behind ex-Newcastle favourite Daryl Murphy and defended in numbers when Newcastle advanced into their final third. Gil Dias, the right winger, managed a game-high 6 tackles. Byram and his replacement Darikwa managed 4 tackles, which suggests Newcastle failed to build through Clark and Kenedy on the left. That is understandable for Clark who is more accustomed a centre back role but Kenedy carried on where he left off at Cardiff with another poor display.

 

When Nottingham Forest Had the Ball

Forest lined up in a 4-2-3-1 which Newcastle fans have been accustomed to seeing from their own side. They played a mix of short transitions via the excellent Lolley and at times used Daryl Murphy as the focal point to hold the ball up. Lolley attempted 10 dribbles, completing 9 of them as Newcastle displayed a tackling inefficiency, with no one in the Newcastle side managing more than 2 tackles.

Forest were getting a lot of joy out wide, often interchanging passes to bypass Sterry and Schar on one side, and Kenedy and Clark on the other to deliver crosses. Byram completed 3 crosses in just 38 minutes before going off with injury, with the Newcastle backline not as assured in their positioning in comparison to last season.

Newcastle’s midfield pair struggled to press Forest when the Reds were in possession. Longstaff was working hard and looking to play quick passes a la Shelvey but often times looked lost when the onus was on him to defend, Lolley dribbling past him and Ki on several occasions. To illustrate this, Longstaff attempted 3 tackles but did not win any of them. Newcastle were not adept at closing down the opposition out wide, with Schar and Sterry often beaten by pace or movement. Forest completed 4 dribbles down the Newcastle right hand side.

By the Numbers

StatsNottingham ForestNewcastle United
Shots1110
Shots on Target71
Pass Accuracy78%82%
Possession46%54%
Tackles239
Corners53

Note: Stats are sourced from understat and whoscored.

How the Goals Happened

2′ Daryl Murphy Header (NOT 1-0 NEW)

Darlow’s sliced clearance went out for a throw-in by Newcastle’s left hand side. In theory, the defensive set up was good. Muto and Kenedy were pressuring Byram. This meant that Clark positioned himself nearer his more comfortable central area and Fernandez and Schar were occupying the spaces in the box that Daryl Murphy would attack alone. The defending from Kenedy was very weak as Byram ghosted past him to deliver an excellent cross. Murphy got the wrong side of Schar to plant a header home with the Swiss centre back failing to assess the danger in time.

90+1’ Rondon Shot (NOT 1-1 NEW)

Newcastle’s goal was also their only effort on target. It was a well-worked move that involved all 3 of Rafa Benitez’s substitutes. Sterry pressed Robinson into putting the ball out, from the throw in it was worked short to Longstaff who had the vision to pick out Rondon with a long pass. Rondon helped the ball up well to find Murphy in the middle.

At this point, it was a 3 v 6 situation in Forest’s favour. Murphy found the gap to pass it to Ayoze’s who’s clever run off the shoulder of Hefele allowed him space to find Rondon with a cute reverse pass. Rondon had carried on his run from the middle to get the right side of the Forest full back and finished his chance superbly. A very high-quality goal but an all too rare moment of quality in the match for Newcastle.

 

90+3’ Cash Shot (NOT 2-1 NEW)

A clearance out to Newcastle’s right side was aimed towards Gil Dias who was in acres of space with Sterry out of position having tucked inside to press a Forest player. Schar still looked to have time to cover for Sterry but his slow effort in closing down Dias was critical, the winger sent a dangerous low cross which Darlow parried only for Cash to steer the loose ball home. Cash was an untracked runner who arrived late in the box to finish in the manner of Lampard in his prime. Another goal that shows Newcastle’s defensive frailties on the right side.

90+6’ Gil Dias Chip (NOT 3-1 NEW)

All manner of defensive discipline and focus was lost at this point. Daryl Murphy showed strength to dispossess Clark despite the defender having yards on him and getting to the ball first. Newcastle did manage to win it back after Kenedy dispossessed Cash but the Brazilian attempted to dribble past Dias despite being in a central defensive area only to lose the ball. Darlow was not on his line and Dias’ finish was excellent to chip him and seal Newcastle’s fate.

Key Tactical Points

  • Newcastle’s struggles out wide

The back 5 formation used against Chelsea was there to combat an incredibly technical Chelsea attack, and it worked to a certain degree. Against the Reds, Rafa opted for a traditional back 4 with supporting wingers. The idea would have been for Newcastle to dominate. However, they showed an inferiority to Forest out wide in both attacking and defensive situations.

Atsu struggled to keep hold of the ball with him and Sterry showing little to no chemistry together. In defense, their side was incredibly vulnerable with Joe Lolley and Carvalho able to link together and bypass them with the help of Daryl Murphy’s movement. On the left, it wasn’t much better. Although Kenedy was more willing than Atsu in terms of helping out Clark, the defending left a lot to be desired and the opening goal was evidence of that. Forest’s runners always seemed faster and more agile in their combinations to threaten the Newcastle goal.

The Newcastle side in the 2nd half of last season with a back 4 of Yedlin, Lascelles, Lejeune and Dummett and support from Ritchie and Kenedy showed a lot more assuredness and width control. Newcastle are under pressure to find solutions quickly with Lejeune missing most, if not all, of the campaign.

 

  • The midfield press

Ki looks composed and calm when in possession. Longstaff is still young and learning his trade at this level. They were bossed for the most part in the middle and offered a very ineffective press, with Joselu and Muto dropping deep to help out, while Sterry and Kenedy tucked inside. Diame hasn’t had a brilliant start to the season but his absence was noted, with no one able to cover as much ground or make the tackles and interceptions we’ve become used to seeing from the Senegalese. Of course, Shelvey and Diame are the undisputed starters, but with Ki’s passing range could there be room for a midfield 3 in the future?

Man of the Match

Newcastle MotM: Joselu

With only 1 official shot on target, this wasn’t a match that Newcastle’s creators or forwards shined in. Off the stats, however, Joselu put in a pretty credible shift. He was dropping deep to help midfielders and linking to Muto by battling for aerials, winning 5 of them. He also made 1 key pass, something neither of the midfield 2 managed and showed excellent movement to plant a header on target, despite the move being called offside. Joselu’s improvement from last season is pleasing, even if the team haven’t clicked as a unit yet.

Nottingham Forest MotM: Hefele

Forest, on the whole, played very well and their technical players in Lolley and Gil Dias did shine. However, this award goes to Hefele for playing an excellent defensive game. He was winding up the Newcastle forwards all evening with pushes and shoves. His positioning was excellent to snuff out Newcastle, leading the backline on the edge of the 18 to restrict Newcastle from opening Forest up. His 1 fault came in Newcastle’s goal as the movement of Ayoze had him beat. He offered an outlet to relieve pressure for Forest, playing 6 long balls with 4 of them accurate. A leading performance from the strong centre back.

In Conclusion

Every year Newcastle fans allow themselves to get excited at the opportunity of a cup run, and every year those hopes are extinguished pretty quickly, this occasion no different. Consecutive second round exits at the hands of the same opposition is tough to take.  

Rafa did make changes but the line up was a mix of experience, exciting youth and new signings with World Cup appearances on their CV’s. Despite having more possession it was not a pleasing performances. Managing just 1 shot on target against a Championship side (admittedly a very good one on the night) is cause for concern.

The defeat does rankle given at 2-1 Newcastle had a stone wall penalty denied when Steele crashed into Ayoze. At the same time, on the basis of the performance, Newcastle did not deserve to advance to the next round. Forest were quicker, sharper and demonstrated better control of their attacking moves.

Newcastle’s defensive struggles are very worrying given it was the one area last season you could point to as their strength, with a wish for a more potent attack being priority. Oh well, congratulations to Forest but if you don’t mind lads I’d prefer Cheltenham at home in the second round next season.

HTL.