November arrived with no wins on the board yet for Newcastle United. Looking to change this at the 11th attempt and hand Rafa his 50th win as Newcastle boss, they faced a Watford side that have started their season strongly and gave Newcastle a hiding in the same fixture last season.
Newcastle Starting Approach
Newcastle lined up in a 4-4-1-1 and despite starting a target man up top in Rondon, they didn’t utilise him as a focal point in attack. There was a preference for shorter passing sequences with wingers tucking in narrow and Muto dropping deep to participate in the build up.
Watford were able to stifle that decently with a double pivot of Doucoure and Capoue supported by runs from Hughes. Their fullbacks Femenia and Holebas pushed high up to offer Watford an escape outlet from the Newcastle midfield press.
In the clip above note Ritchie and Kenedy's role in the move. The wingers were seldom the widest player in our attacks, Ritchie tucking in to link with Yedlin and Kenedy tucking in to add to the numbers in the box.
Watford Starting Approach
Watford lined up in their usual 4-2-2-2 shape with Pereyra and Hughes just off the further advanced Deulofeu and Success. In their attacking transitions, it looked more like a 4-3-3 with Pereyra joining the attack and Deulofeu playing as a striker. They favoured attacking down Newcastle’s right hand side with 43% of their attacks initiated in that zone.
Newcastle’s defensive shape was a little less rigid than usual and Watford were allowed space to operate in with their fluid front 3. This would change when the more aggressive Schär came on in the 2nd half and things tightened.
The clip above demonstrates the Watford attacking preference. Pereyra, Holebas and Success attacked well down the left, and Watford had 4 bodies in the box at the end of the move as Newcastle were allowing them too much space to work in
Newcastle started on the back foot in the match. Watford were getting players high up the pitch and keeping possession. Their midfield was safe with Capoue and Doucoure shoring things up. Success had the measure of Yedlin early on as he combined with Holebas and Pereyra down the left to play in Deulofeu.
25 minutes in and Watford had twice as many attempts (8 to our 4), more tackles and more interceptions. It was a display of poor finishing as Mariappa and Deulofeu spurned good chances to put them ahead.
The half continued with Watford playing the better football but Newcastle never looked on the ropes. We’ve become accustomed to seeing Newcastle look calm with a low block back 4 but this performance was different. Newcastle alleviated pressure by carrying the ball forward through direct dribbling.
Kenedy and Ritchie tucking in allows Newcastle a higher concentration of players in the middle of the pitch, with Yedlin and Dummett staying deep and wide to protect the flanks. By the end of the half Newcastle completed 5 dribbles to Watford’s 0, with Kenedy responsible for 3 of them.
The 2nd half saw Ayoze and Schär in the lineup in place of Muto (off just before half time) and Lascelles (off at half time). Schär, in particular, brought a new dynamic to the defense. Lascelles is irreplaceable, his leadership and organisation is obvious to anyone who follows Newcastle United matches. He does lack in certain technical aspects to his game though, notably passing out from the back. Schär, despite being less disciplined, is much more adept at moving the ball up the pitch. Within seconds of the restart, he demonstrated this by calmly exchanging passes with Dubravka and playing a ball Newcastle benefited from.
He was also more aggressive in his defending, and as the player nearest Yedlin provided him the help against Success that was needed in the first half. Schär ended up with more interceptions than any other Newcastle defender, despite playing 45 minutes fewer.
Ki replaced Shelvey within 5 minutes of the restart. Although there has been a noticeable drop off in Mo Diame’s form compared to last season, perhaps it was a good stroke of fortune that he stayed on the pitch rather than Shelvey, as his defensive qualities allowed Ki to play his natural game.
Shelvey remains one of Newcastle’s best players, and usually the heartbeat of our good displays. That said, there is no denying he was off the boil in this game, Shelvey and Ki both ended the game making 21 passes, the difference being the success rate of 86% for Ki and 52% for Shelvey.
After taking the lead, Newcastle’s game management was pretty good. Watford only managed 1 more effort on goal, the horror miss from Okaka towards the end of the game. Dubravka only made 1 save in the entire match thanks to Watford’s profligate finishing.
There was a marked improvement in our defending with Schär, our control with Ki, and most importantly, our goal-scoring with Ayoze! The forward is a divisive figure, but showed good instincts to take the one chance that fell his way.
Key Tactical Points
Creativity from midfield after forced changes
The superior passing accuracy of Ki against Shelvey mentioned earlier can be explained by Shelvey’s preference for the Hollywood pass being less likely to find it’s target than a short pass. Indeed, Shelvey attempted 7 long balls to Ki’s 2, and only found a Newcastle man with 2 of them. One instance saw him pass to Rondon who was offside, another was to Yedlin but it was over hit and Holebas got to it despite Yedlin’s best efforts. It would be dismissive to blame it solely on Shelvey though, as it depends on better runs and positioning for these types of passes to work too.
That in itself brings up an interesting tactical dilemma. Is Shelvey’s passing style incompatible to the current set up? Last season Gayle was a good outlet for the long ball with his lung-busting runs, this season we are seeing less action from our front men.
The recent game against Brighton is a good example as Duffy and Dunk left little space in behind, which made it difficult for Shelvey to influence proceedings from deep. Ki has seen limited minutes so far but has shown a couple of qualities that can solve this problem. The first is his trap of the ball, the second is his calmness in looking for options. In the build up prior to taking the lead, Ki showed awareness of those ahead of him and instigated a pass and move run which resulted in the free-kick.
Going forward it will be interesting to see if Ki can force his way into the starting line up, and with that, what happens to the Shelvey-Diame duo that seems to have dropped off in productivity but was vital in our 2nd half resurgence last season.
Defensive issues in closing spaces
Newcastle’s goals conceded column doesn’t look too bad. It’s level with that of Arsenal’s and less than that of Manchester United’s while markedly better than teams around them. However, on the defensive display in this game, there are concerns with the number of chances conceded. Watford got in behind too many time with the combination play on the left hand side and also from a couple of quick counter attacks that took last-ditch tackles to prevent the worst. Their xG of 2.43 is an indicator of just how good their chances were.
Last season it seemed the control of our defensive third was better, with fewer instances of players being caught out of position or beaten in 50-50s. Newcastle need to rediscover that defensive solidity going forward, but it is reassuring that not many goals are being conceded at this point.
By The Numbers
How the Goals Happened
Receiving a pass from Kenedy in the middle of the pitch, Ki showed strength to hold off pressure from Deulofeu before exchanging passes with Dummett. Ki drove forward with the ball and exchanged a 1-2 with Kenedy only to be fouled by Hughes on the edge of the box as he ran towards the ball.
From the freekick, it was a well-whipped delivery, matched by good movement from Ayoze, as he peeled away from Success to head it home.
Kenedy is both Newcastle’s most lethal attacker and its best defender (outside of the backline). While this match wasn’t exactly a perfect, error-free display, Kenedy did show quality in several different contexts. A class showing from the Brazilian.
- 86% passing accuracy
- 1 assist
- 1 shot attempt
- 1 clearance
- 1/1 aerial duels attempted
The moment that Ki entered the game, it permanently changed the balance of play.
Through the first 50 minutes (before Ki’s arrival), the shot attempts were Newcastle 7-14 Watford. In the 40+ minutes after Ki was subbed on, the shot count was Newcastle 3-2 Watford.
His FK delivery was sublime and was a critical piece of the outcome – but his ability to attack with the ball at his feet and look for outlets also allowed Newcastle to get into increasingly dangerous positions.
Fantastic sub appearance, to say the least.
Jose Holebas was in near-total control of his flank; Ritchie and Yedlin had 1 key pass and 0 completed dribbles combined.
Holebas also demonstrated clever overlaps with Pereyra and Deulofeu, helping to create exploits in the Newcastle defence.
All in all, a fine two-way display from the full back.
- 4 Shot Attempts
- 93% Passing Accuracy
- 2 Key Passes
For an attacker that had 0 completed dribbles, 0 shots on target, and was subbed off after 66 minutes, Gerard Deulofeu certainly caused havoc in Newcastle’s final third.
Deulofeu played off his teammates well – whether it was Pereyra, Doucoure, Capoue, or Holebas, Gerard drifted into space and his fellow Hornets almost always delivered the ball. From these isolated positions, Deulofeu was able to create potential scoring moments for Watford, such as the shot attempts from Isaac Success in the 12’ and 44’.
His numbers don’t pop off the page, but his guile in attack certainly disrupted Newcastle’s backline on several occasions.
This was an interesting match in that tactically Watford seemed to have the upper-hand, and in adversarial circumstances with the injuries, Newcastle wrestled back control thanks to the contributions of the 3 substitutes. Problems still persist in creativity from open play, a set-piece goal proving the difference here. 7 league goals from 11 matches is paltry, and 4 out of the 7 goals have been from headers, a (57%) percentage high in the league. More is required from this team in open play.
It is clear that this squad isn’t performing at it’s maximum yet, and even further doubts as to whether the best XI has been found 11 games in. The positive is that you don’t need to play convincingly to win every match, and Newcastle found a way to get the 3 points this Saturday, and with 2 out of the next 3 games at home, there is a decent opportunity to put more points on the board.