Before Kick-Off

The Sky Sports marketing machine, alongside inventing football in 1992, takes pride in its Monday Night Football programme to showcase their tactical expertise. Naturally, Burnley vs Newcastle United is a fixture to bring the best out of this, with it being selected for the Monday night slot the second season running.

The teams came into this game with identical records for the season, save for Newcastle’s vastly superior goal difference as the Clarets have struggled to repeat their successes of the last campaign, most notably in defence


Starting XIs

Burnley Starting Approach

4-4-2 with 2 big lads up front, Burnley’s approach is not subtle, but it’s proven to be very effective against opposition that aren’t up to it physically. Burnley naturally looked for long diagonals to Vokes or Wood and create chances from the knockdowns. Their short passing was crisp too, but it was met with restricted spaces given Newcastle’s approach, and most of their success derived from direct play.

In defence they allowed the fullbacks to push up to the halfway line when in possession, but out of it, they were fearful of Newcastle’s extra width as Lennon and Brady dropped to fullback to double up. In fact, in Newcastle’s attack that lead to the 2nd from the corner, 8 Burnley players were defending in their own box. With this set up, the Magpies were able to pin them in on occasion.

Newcastle Starting Approach

5 at the back, with Ciaran Clark deputising for Dummett but relieved of left back duties as Ritchie took up the LWB role and Yedlin complimenting on the opposite flank. The midfield duo were supported by Kenedy and Ayoze with Rondon playing the lone striker role. The shape out of possession was a flat 5-4-1 to add supporting numbers against the 2 Burnley forwards. In possession, however, Newcastle were a lot more dynamic and the formation actually resembled a 3-6-1 at times with Ayoze and Kenedy tucking into their respective half spaces as outlets for Ki and Diame to exchange passes with.

Defensively, we set 3 centre backs on the front 2 but relied on Diame and Ki to mop up near the box in case of knockdowns. Schär presented an outlet to bypass the Burnley midfield with his long ball ability, often catching Lennon out of position when switching the play to Ritchie.  Having the wingbacks also suffocated Burnley’s width, limiting their crossing opportunities out wide as they resorted to diagonals from deep.

First Half

It was a well-drilled looking Newcastle United from the off, with the benefit of an international break to work on the formation looking like time well spent. Within the first 3 minutes, the Schär long ball had found Ritchie free on the left with a pearler of a ball.

The goal arrived soon after, Ben Mee diverting into his own net from a Fernandez effort as a short corner routine was initially cleared. Burnley’s response was decent, dominating the possession stats and dispossessing Newcastle 4 times between the 1st and 2nd goals. Their only effort of note before the 2nd was a Wood long shot that was right at Dubravka who was unable to catch it.

The 2nd goal came from a corner but the play before it demonstrated the best of Newcastle’s approach on the day. Diame was alert to take the ball off Vokes who’s touch was heavy as he received a pass. Ki then moved the ball forward to Kenedy who alongside Ayoze had taken central positions. His combination play with the Spaniard was part of a move that resulted in the corner after Rondon’s shot was blocked.  

This isn’t the first time Rafa has instructed players like Kenedy to drift into central areas, and it has been effective (think back to the Kenedy goal at Old Trafford, again involving Ayoze and the Brazilian). The still shows the combination play between Kenedy and Ayoze in the lead up to the corner for the 2nd goal with this tactic.

The game then settled into a rhythm as the two sides cancelled each other out. In between the 2nd goal and Burnley’s first, it was just 53% possession in Burnley’s favour. Newcastle stood off as Burnley approached, getting tackles and headed clearances in the final third. As soon as possession was regained, the outball to Ritchie was played,  Schär again finding him with a great diagonal, Lennon again caught out as Ritchie ran in behind him.

The Burnley goal just before half time was an example of their approach finally paying dividends. The diagonal to the big man by Mee was met with a superb header from Vokes. You can pick apart errors in almost any goal, and this one is no different. Mee was unchallenged as he made the pass, Clark was dominated in the air and Dubravka was positioned off his line.

Burnley would try that approach one more time but Dubravka made an excellent stop from Wood’s effort after a Vokes knockdown.


Second Half

No changes from either side and 5 minutes into the restart it should have been 3-1 to Newcastle as Ritchie put his hat into the mix for the miss of the season.

Yedlin did brilliantly to dispossess Brady just outside the box, followed the ball and beat Taylor to it inside the 6 yard box, Yedlin was fouled by Taylor but everyone’s attention was on Ritchie as the ball fell to him 3 yards out with an open goal, only for the winger to blaze it wide much to the dismay of the Newcastle fans, and the relief of the Turf Moor corner flags.

The half was playing out evenly but Newcastle did not suffer in defence despite the home side chasing the game. Ki and Ayoze were vital in this, recycling possession well and creative going forward.


The fitness levels of Newcastle were looking good, and Burnley’s crossing was stifled effectively. This still is of a cross blocked by Kenedy. Diame and Ki are unchallenged and in position to receive a loose ball, as Newcastle were well prepared in outnumbering the Burnley  strikers in the box should the cross have come in. 


There would still be moments Burnley’s front 2 got the better of the defence with their physicality. Vokes and Wood outmuscling the centre backs from an aerial in the 67th minute, the ball dropped to Wood who shot straight at Dubravka.

Joselu’s introduction for Rondon at the 70th minute was timely as the lone striker role in this formation is taxing and the Venezuelan was visibly tiring with all the Burnley defenders focusing on him.

Around the 74th minute,  another cross from Burnley was flicked towards Wood who was unmarked as he blazed over the bar. The Newcastle back 3 were excellent on the night and more than matched the front 2 in the air, but Burnley still found space in the box on occasion, Woods’ finishing, in particular, letting them down.

The game should have been sealed 79 minutes in as Joselu hit the base of the post. It was a lovely move involving Ki, Yedlin, and Ayoze. The latter showed brilliant vision, taking out 3 Burnley defenders with the through ball and Joselu was unlucky to see a well-struck effort hit the woodwork.

82 minutes in and Dyche substituted Hendrick and Barnes in as a last throw of the dice, putting 3 strikers on. The last stretch of the game was a spell of long balls and aerial duels, Newcastle winning 7 of the 12 faced in the last 15 minutes of the game. Hayden came on late for Kenedy in a now familiar substitution to shore things up from Benitez.

No Newcastle United 1 goal lead is without a heart attack moment, and one would come at the very end as Ritchie fouled Lennon just outside the box. Thankfully, Vokes would blaze a free header over the bar as Newcastle sealed the points.

Key Tactical Point


  • A non-defensive iteration of 5 at the back

We’ve seen Rafa Benitez try out 5 at the back formations for tough games against top 6 opposition where the game plan was to stifle chances, park the double decker bus and hope for a point. Only sparingly would the approach lead to an attack, usually as a result of going 1-0 down and only near the end of the game.

The approach in this game, while solidifying the backline, also allowed for many creative moments in attack. Newcastle had more attempts on goal than Burnley despite the home side dominating possession. More than the numbers though was the cohesion in attack as Kenedy, Ayoze, Ritchie, and Ki made their presence felt in the final third.  It was the starting striker in Rondon who seemed to be benefiting the least here, only Yedlin from the starting 22 players with fewer touches than the number 9.

What this formation allowed was utilisation of width, Ritchie the beneficiary as the Toon launched 44% of their attacks down his side as the winger put up 4 key passes, 1 assist, and 1 horror miss. It was also pleasing that of the 17 attempts, 13 were from open play. Funnily enough, Newcastle ended up scoring both goals from 2 of the 3 set piece opportunities they had.

Ki seems to be making this work, as he again topped the xGBuildup stat from those in black and white, and also playing 2 key passes.  Getting so many bodies across the midfield allowed Newcastle control in large spells, amassing a total of 473 passes, significantly outnumbering the tally in the home game against Bournemouth of 348.

Tactical Quirk


  • Joe Hart the marauder

It’s not uncommon for goalkeepers to add bodies in the box when a side is chasing the game. Stuart Pearce even went as far as fielding David James outfield for Man City, with hilarious results.

Achraf Lazaar’s Benevento instructed their keeper Brignoli to go up for a set piece to incredible results. Most recently, the World Cup found a home for one of these moments as Neuer tried his hand at an outfield role to rescue his side, to disastrous results.


Burnley’s Joe Hart spent the last 3 minutes deployed in a number of positions, making one uncontested dribble deep into Newcastle’s half, playing an accurate long ball to Vokes. He stayed up for the resulting corner, then later delivered a Shelvey-esque ball from the centre circle.

He then went up for another set piece and, despite Newcastle clearing, they weren’t able to work an angle for the open net, Ayoze’s effort from distance blocked before it could excite the crowd.

Playing a 1-2 with a Burnley shirt in midfield, he then played the long ball that lead to the last chance of the match after Ritchie’s foul. For some reason that was the moment he decided to be a keeper again as he didn’t take up position in the box for the freekick.

An interesting tactical ploy from Dyche then. Ask any kid who plays football manager and he’ll tell you Hart was playing as a regista-enganche mid box to box volante. I don’t know if they’d be right, but it was certainly an entertaining outfield cameo from the ex England number 1.

By The Numbers








On Target












Passes Per
Def Action

How the Goals Happened

4′ Mee own goal (BUR 0-1 NEW)

The short corner routine saw a Yedlin cross cleared to the edge of the box. Kenedy battled for it and the loose ball fell to Fernandez and the Argentine’s effort was diverted into his own net by Ben Mee.

The interesting thing here is Newcastle committing everyone forward (bar Dubravka) for the set piece, Kenedy was the furthest back and had he lost his challenge a potential counter was on, it was a high risk, high reward set piece strategy by Newcastle that paid off.


24′ Clark (BUR 0-2 NEW)

Another short corner routine but this time the cross from Ritchie was quality and Clark peeled away from his markers to glance a header into the bottom corner.



40′ Vokes (BUR 1-2 NEW)

A searching diagonal from Mee found Vokes who got the better of Clark in the air and planted a superb header home, with Dubravka not positioned well enough to deal with it.

Key Performers



Sam Vokes

Of the two strikers, Vokes was much more in tune with his attacking instincts than his partner Wood. It was a good showing against Newcastle’s 3 centre backs, as he spent the match battling for aerials and affording chances for Burnley attackers with his knockdowns and flick ons. He took his goal superbly with the one blot on his copybook the missed free header at the death.

Kevin Long

The Burnley centre back had a decent game, as all 4 of Burnley’s backline took part in the strategy of long balls to the forwards, and although the bulk of those came from Mee, Long was the most accurate in doing so. He also won more tackles and made more interceptions than any other Burnley defender in a busy display.

Newcastle United

Ayoze Perez

This could have gone to a number of players with lots of good performances across the pitch for Newcastle. Ayoze gets the nod as, to go with his usual workrate, his attacking display was one of the best on the pitch. He showed some great touches, his shielding of the ball was effective and the highest quality moment in the attacking third was his pass that lead to Joselu’s shot off the post. The formation really suited his style on the night, as he found plenty of support next to him rather than being marked out of the game as can sometimes happen to the number 10 in a 4-2-3-1.

Ki Sung-Yeung

Another fine display from the South Korean international. The team seems to use the ball much more effectively when he’s on the pitch. Not only is this true for attackers but the defence used him on occasion to play the ball out to, and Ki’s calmness and awareness of those around him meant he was able to pick the next pass out despite Burnley’s press. Ki made 19 passes in the final third, 89% pass accuracy, 2 key passes, and 4 accurate long balls.

In Conclusion

Proponents of the 4-2-3-1 formation give it acclaim for being fluid, with the team shape resembling 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 in transition across 90 minutes. 5 at the back formations have a reputation for prioritising a defensive strategy. Newcastle’s iteration on Monday would contradict this.

A first away victory of the season as Rafa Benitez’s tactical switch worked to a treat, with Burnley lining up in a familiar formation. The 5-4-1 did not look negative all match, and while you can attribute that to the fact they faced equal opposition rather than one of the big boys, Newcastle United played some good stuff at times. This was the most assured display of the season and, but for some rotten luck, it should have been won by a bigger margin.