Victory for Huddersfield in this game would put them level on points with Newcastle. A victory for the Magpies would open up a 6 point gap on the Terriers. Despite the season not reaching the halfway point yet, this was a classic 6 pointer.
Both of these fixtures were settled by 1-0 score lines last season, and with Huddersfield having only scored 3 goals at home all season, a high-scoring affair was not to be expected. Newcastle have been decent on the road this season, only suffering defeats in Manchester, a city where they conceded 5 of just 7 away goals so far.
The absence of the injured Aaron Mooy, who scored the winner in this fixture last season, could prove to be crucial in deciding the destination of the points.
Huddersfield Starting Approach
The Terriers lined up in a 3-5-1-1 with Löwe and Hadergjonaj wing backs. They deployed Pritchard in the 10, giving him license to roam around in the final third and Depoitre took up the lone striker role.
In possession, Huddersfield set up with a high defensive line. Kongolo, despite starting as left centre back, added extra width by taking up the left wing back role as Löwe tucked in narrow.
This meant that despite starting a back 3 on paper, their shape was a lot more flexible and looked like a 4 at the back at times, especially when Billing or Hogg dropped into a central defensive position on occasion to help the defence.
This gave them plenty of passing options as they looked to create chances. They routinely looked to play between the lines but the Newcastle set up restricted space. It also provided Newcastle a counter attacking incentive, Kongolo would vacate the left defensive area often and no one would cover.
Huddersfield also utilised Billing’s long throws and long balls to Depoitre as other attacking options.
Defensively, Newcastle’s struggles to drive forward meant the Terriers’ high line was relatively comfortable. So much so that 7 of the Huddersfield players ended up with an Average Position beyond the halfway line.
Huddersfield were also pressing intelligently. They were hunting the ball pro-actively and 2 different pressing strategies were on show. One was a man to man press as soon as a Newcastle shirt received the ball. The second was the counter press, wasting no time in hunting down the ball after a Newcastle interception/tackle. This defensive pressure contributed to Newcastle registering an overall pass accuracy of 54%.
Newcastle Starting Approach
A continuation of 3 at the back for the Magpies with Manquillo and Kenedy at wing back. Ritchie dropped to the bench for this game as Newcastle’s attack was a 3 of Rondon, Atsu, and Perez.
Atsu and Perez took it in turns to join Rondon in attack, to ensure one was always helping Ki and Diame, as seen in the two screen grabs. During build up, they took up position in the left half space and the right half space respectively to ensure a passing option for Kenedy and Manquillo was available.
In possession, Newcastle struggled to build attacks as a counter attacking strategy was the order of the day. Credit goes to Huddersfield for stifling any potential build up with their pressure. Newcastle were able to get the ball upfield via a Schär long ball and set pieces when the counter attack wasn’t possible.
Defensively, the Magpies held a very rigid shape, rarely breaking formation. Rondon and Perez did attempt to press just beyond the halfway line but other than that every Newcastle player was deep.
Newcastle were almost non-existent as an attacking threat and the majority of the half was an attack vs defence training drill for Huddersfield. Billing was at the heart of most of Huddersfield’s good play, leading their press and was giving Diame no time on the ball.
Where Huddersfield faltered was creating genuine dangerous opportunities. Despite all the possession and plenty of good movement, the final ball let them down.
These attacking breakdowns were a combination of poor quality play from the home side but also a credit to Newcastle who were a lot more switched on defensively than in the previous match. Huddersfield ended the half with just two efforts on target, both via Billing. One from a free kick and the other a tame deflected effort.
Although Newcastle only had 2 efforts in the first half, Manquillo at full back was driving forward well and offered a sign of what he can bring, looking to find Rondon with a ball in behind. The Venezuelan seems to have got his fitness up and was getting into good positions, despite the frustration of Newcastle seeing little of the ball.
The half ended with 6 Newcastle dispossessions as Huddersfield got 13 tackles in to the Magpies’ 7. The Terriers enjoyed a 69% possession share at the half and yet weren’t able to make it count where it mattered.
Not much changed in terms of possession play as the 2nd half began, although Newcastle were starting to show more composure when Huddersfield pressed, again using Schär as the main driver of forward play.
Goal 55′ Rondon (HUD 0-1 NEW)
Newcastle took the lead with a goal that captured the best of Rafa Benitez’s away tactical plan. First, having the 3 centre backs allows Lascelles to rush for the aerial at the halfway line and not risk space opening up, with no Huddersfield player beyond Depoitre allowing Newcastle to recycle possession.
Although recruitment is always a point of frustration, Rafa has managed to acquire a backline comfortable on the ball, goalkeeper included. This is evidenced here as Clark, Lascelles, Dubravka, and Schär combine to work the ball forward despite the Huddersfield high press.
Once the ball was worked wide, the wing back to winger combination between Manquillo and Ayoze cut the Huddersfield backline, allowing Rondon, who made an excellent run off the shoulder, to take advantage of his centre back being drawn towards the ball and finish the only shot he’d have in the game.
The Huddersfield response to going behind was to change formation and personnel. Wagner switched to a 4-2-3-1 with Erik Durm at left back and Ramadan Sobhi left wing. With a lead to protect, Newcastle were able to deploy Atsu and Perez even deeper centrally, crowding bodies in areas Huddersfield tried to get their passing game going.
Not much changed in the flow of the game, pretty passing from Huddersfield until they reached the final third and Newcastle defending well. In fact, the Magpies almost grabbed a second 10 minutes after the opener when a counter attack was launched after a Billing long throw was cleared. Huddersfield had overcommitted and Ayoze was in space, chipping the keeper after a brilliant work from Atsu only to see the linesman raise his flag.
It was a tight call, and the lines on the pitch show that at the very least Ayoze was level, in a situation where VAR would’ve been handy to help the referees.
Newcastle themselves faded again as an attacking threat, only managing 1 effort after scoring, from outside the box through substitute Ritchie.
What they did manage to do though was increase their tenacity in the last stretch, out tackling Huddersfield by 10 to 3 in the final half hour, with 6 players from the home side being dispossessed. Unlike recent games against Wolves and Burnley, there wasn’t to be a final scare in added time.
Key Tactical Points
Better press resistance required
One of Newcastle’s struggles in this game was to get a decent number of passing sequences going. Of course, the away counter attacking strategy doesn’t allow for possession retention but when it did fall to them they were hounded out too easily by the pressing Huddersfield players. The one occasion they stayed composed lead to the goal.
It doesn’t seem as much a formation issue with as 4-2-3-1 and 5 at the back throwing similar patterns in this regard. It then becomes a case of looking at personnel. Newcastle were dispossessed 10 times, 3 for each of Rondon and Perez, 2 for Diame in the middle and 3 for Kenedy. Ki is the best player in this respect, with 0 dispossessions to his name. There is also controlling the ball under pressure even with no tackle from the opposition. Atsu had 8 unsuccessful touches, Rondon 4, and Diame 3.
This was partly due to a PPDA stat of 4.8 for Huddersfield, meaning they allowed Newcastle near to 5 passes before attempting a defensive action, and that pressure was enough to disrupt any fluency from Newcastle.
Zonal Set Piece Marking
Coming into this game week, Newcastle had conceded a league-high 8 goals from set pieces. Huddersfield mustered 7 attempts from set pieces as indirect free kicks and long throws were their best avenue to goal.
Rafa has been an advocate of zonal marking for some time, and it was something highlighted often during his time at Liverpool, as seen here in his blog. He identifies that the determination of the individuals marking at set pieces to be the crucial factor, rather than deploying a man to man marking tactic.
On Saturday, Newcastle players lined up zonally for all set pieces and were very effective at clearing the ball. Whether Rafa Benitez is correct about determination and concentration being the key to defending set pieces, or if it is system based, will be interesting to look out for in the coming weeks, today’s effort was excellent and Rafa will say that the concentration levels were there on this occasion.
By The Numbers
Philip Billing [MotM]
Excellent in the press and showing the dynamism to drive the ball forward, it was an impressive showing from the 22-year-old. On a day where Huddersfield struggled to break Newcastle down as an attacking unit, he provided the most spark. He showed his versatility with an impressive passing range, and provided an extra weapon of attack with his long throws.
A solid showing from the Dutchman on what was his Premier League debut. In an industrious display, he had the most touches of anyone on the pitch. He recycled possession well and amassed 5 tackles, a game-high. Where he wasn’t able to influence things was in the final third as Newcastle held firm, but otherwise, it was a good display from the debutant.
Ayoze Perez [MotM]
On a day where Newcastle saw little of the ball, any positive attacking situations usually involved Ayoze. It was his vital interception that lead to an Atsu effort on 52 minutes and he showed great awareness to cutback the ball to Manquillo, despite the attentions of two Huddersfield players closing him down. He was denied a goal to cap off a fine display by the linesman’s flag, but this was another game that displayed how vital he is for Newcastle United.
The Swiss international was aggressive in defence, and alert in attack. He behaves almost like a midfielder at times, driving the ball forward to initiate attacks when the midfield options are closed. His ball to pick out Ayoze for the goal was quality, and he could have grabbed a goal himself with more composure from a first half set piece. His tenacity in defence was vital, as he registered 3 tackles, 4 interceptions, and 13 clearances. He also played more passes (25) than all Newcastle players bar Kenedy (29) and was accurate with 6 of his 12 attempted long balls.
With a tuck of the glasses and a handshake, it was a job well done in a classic Rafa Benitez away game plan. Plenty of questions remain for him to answer about the home form, with Fulham up next at St James’ Park, but there is no doubting his ability to grind points on the road.
Newcastle didn’t come to out pass Huddersfield or attempt to press them high. Rather, they trusted their quality of defence over Huddersfield’s quality in attack and it proved to be the right call. 26% possession, 233 passes to 644, 4 crosses to 41 all in Huddersfield’s favour, but most importantly, 3 points for Newcastle United.