Looking to put the crushing disappointment of the game at Old Trafford behind them, Newcastle faced a Brighton side with only two wins to their name this season, neither of those coming away from home. Hughton is well known to Newcastle supporters as a defensively solid coach, meaning a high scoring affair was unlikely.
Newcastle United’s Starting Approach
As in their previous match, Newcastle lined up in an ever so familiar 4-4-2 fashion. With Muto and Ayoze as the duo up top. The one change to the line-up from the Man United game was Paul Dummett coming into the left back position instead of Manquillo.
Newcastle’s game plan in possession was playing short to mid-range passes. With the wingers tucking in spaces between Brighton’s centre backs and full backs, giving Yedlin and Dummett space to run into on the wings.
When possession was lost Newcastle pressed aggressively whilst dropping into the familiar shape of a compact low-block 4-4-2 defensive shape.
Brighton’s Starting Approach
Brighton lined up defensively in a 4-4-2 shape switching to a 4-2-3-1 in attack. Their approach was best described as reminiscent of Newcastle’s defensive performances from last season.
Staying compact with a low block back four and passive on the pressing, they invited Newcastle onto them and trusted their narrow shape and defensive commitment to combat Newcastle’s attack.
In attack, with Newcastle’s aggressive pressing, Brighton were forced into mistakes or ended up conceding possession through hit-and-hope long balls. Brighton forced set-pieces to move players up the pitch.
Newcastle started the half seeing lots of the ball, which proved to carry through to the rest of the game. Brighton were very shy of pressing and seemed content to get blocks and interceptions in by way of stopping Newcastle attacks.
Newcastle, similar to the Old Trafford start, showed energy and committed numbers forward. Muto and Ayoze showed mobility to make runs in behind but they were also comfortable with their backs to goal, often receiving low passes then looking to lay it off to the wingers.
The early intensity was what created the first real chance as Shelvey tackled the ball from Bong, Ayoze missed a gilt-edged chance from the loose ball, with Ryan making an excellent stop to deny the Spaniard.
The Brighton goal came against the run of play and from a wrongly awarded corner, the last touch of the ball coming from Solly March before it went out of play. At 0-1 Newcastle had out-tackled their opposition by 9 to 1, made more passes and generally looked the better side, and yet it was the away side that had done the one thing that matters most.
Rather than deflate Newcastle, they responded well to going behind. Newcastle took total control of the game as Brighton’s passive approach allowed them to keep the ball and pass it around. Brighton began to overload their box with numbers and a large majority of the crosses and through balls Newcastle attempted were blocked or intercepted. 2 crosses did find a man in black and white in Ritchie, who attempted 2 headers but did not connect convincingly with either one.
Ayoze and Muto unsurprisingly struggled to win anything aerially. The disappointment being the absence of the approach that suited them at Old trafford with low through balls they could run onto being abandoned in favour of a crossing approach. Credit must be given to Brighton as their deep, narrow shape meant through balls weren’t really an option. The question then becomes why didn’t Joselu start or come on sooner, given his superior aerial prowess of the 3 forwards in the match day squad.
The best chance to equalise fell to Muto after a Shelvey shot was saved by Ryan, the rebound rising too high as Muto struggled to connect well with his header as the ball sailed over the bar.
No changes from either side at half time and no change to the tempo of the match either. Newcastle, still keeping the ball, and Brighton happy to let them have it. The first 20 minutes of the 2nd half saw Newcastle fashion a few chances, notably for Shelvey and Ritchie but they tended to come from loose balls rather than cohesive build up. Newcastle were attempting many crosses, both low and high, that Dunk and Duffy dealt with easily.
It was telling that on 63 minutes Federico Fernandez dribbled from centre back and stayed up to get a header on the resulting cross. It took a centre back reprising the role of midfielder and striker to make the crossing strategy look like an avenue to goal.
Joselu came on for Muto after 73 minutes as Ritchie and Kenedy switched flanks with Newcastle trying to shake things up. It didn’t have much of an effect despite Kenedy seeing a lot more of the ball and cutting into central areas, Brighton’s defensive duo meeting everything coming at them.
Brighton’s willingness to challenge Newcastle players in their defensive third also increased in the 2nd half, with 15 of their 19 total tackles coming in the 2nd period. This was a template away performance from them, having got the lead they set out to protect it and managed that well.
For all Newcastle’s possession it was Brighton who came close to doubling their lead. Newcastle had men forward and one clearance over the top set Bissouma against Fernandez who he beat, his shot going wide after Dummett applied pressure with one of his trademark slides.
By full time you could reflect on all the possession we dominated, the chances we wasted and the lack of quality going forward. Brighton’s Passes Per Defensive Action stat was 11.14 while Newcastle’s was 4.43. This meant that Brighton allowed Newcastle to play in their final third before intervening defensively. By contrast, Newcastle defended well rarely giving Brighton time and space to build anything.
The frustration with that is it has normally been the other way around given Newcastle’s tough start. So in strategising for a counter-attack approach in those games, and a possession heavy approach today, Newcastle have failed to find a way to win through polar opposite styles.
By The Numbers
How the Goals Happened
29’ Kayal (NEW 0-1 BRI)
From the wrongly given corner Duffy towered over Fernandez to knock the ball back into the danger area. The ball fell to Izquierdo who’s shot was heading towards Dubravka until Dummett deflected it onto Kayal who didn’t know much about it as it hit him and deflected into the corner.
Most fans will remember Kenedy’s performance for that ridiculous Rabona attempt, but he was at the heart of most of Newcastle’s threatening play. He had a game high 8 shots, game high 3 dribbles, 75 touches and completed 2 out of 3 crosses. When switching position to the right he remained a threat and worked hard when he had to defend.
His impact on the team hasn’t quite been as good as last season, but it’s easy to forget he was part of a team that has a solid 2nd half of the season, and is now struggling as part of a team yet to win a game this campaign.
Shelvey had the most touches, made the most passes, attempted the most tackles and had the 2nd highest number of shots in the game. It’s simple, with Newcastle’s current midfield options, Shelvey will always be the heartbeat of the side and is responsible for creating for those ahead of him on the pitch.
His main strength has been spotting runners from deep and picking them out with a long pass. In today’s match he saw the ball aplenty in advanced areas. With Brighton closing space his passing was not as effective which explains the number of shots he elected to take. Having a number 10 to combine with would have been the solution to this but sadly Ayoze had a pretty poor game.
Dunk & Duffy
The centre-back pairing were superb. Brighton’s low-block set up with numbers deep to defend suited them. They dealt with any interplay Newcastle attempted centrally and also proved far superior in the air when the crosses came in. 34 clearances and 5 blocked shots between them as they met what Newcastle threw at them well.
The Australian stopper was equal to the 6 shots he had to deal with, the saves from Ayoze in the first half and the Shelvey deflected free-kick being particularly impressive. He commanded his area well with Newcastle’s set pieces easily dealt with.
A performance that reads 27 shots, 553 passes, 68 % possession, more dribbles, a better pass accuracy and total domination from start to finish should leave a 50,000 + crowd leaving happy. As a 90 minute watch, it did anything but that. We’d waited patiently for a game that you could say Newcastle had the measure of their opposition on the pitch, but for all the stats indicated they did so, you felt it was Brighton’s game plan that was being executed to perfection. Onto Southampton at St Mary’s next, hopefully it’s tenth time’s a charm.