Yet to take a single point from top 6 opposition, it was attempt number 9 of the season against the reigning champions Manchester City. Man City have had an excellent start to 2019, scoring 21 goals and conceding just once in 7 games won out of 7. This is a league fixture that Newcastle have not won since 2005, a tough task ahead.
Newcastle Starting Approach
Newcastle lined up in the now customary 5-4-1. Conceding so early shifted the dynamic before the Magpies could settle into their game plan, but the team reacted well and carried out Rafa’s instructions in a disciplined manner.
In possession, Rondon was crucial to Newcastle’s attacking transitions. They’d play the obvious long ball for him to hold it up but he also ventured out wide and picked up the ball on the wings, looking to cross it in. As always one of Atsu or Perez would look to link up from Rondon’s hold up play. This is evidenced by 2 of the 3 shots Newcastle having inside 20 minutes belonging to Atsu and Perez, with Rondon having the most touches and passes of any Newcastle player at that time.
Out of possession it was a very methodical approach for Newcastle. The low block of the 5 man defence was ever present but the pressing of the next bank of 4 (Atsu, Longstaff, Hayden, Ayoze) was a lot more selective. They settled deep when City progressed the ball forward, but they also proactively pressed City high whenever City were passing it from the back.
In deeper situations, they would always double up on the City winger, to try to prevent Guardiola’s side from releasing the full back for the low cross that they favour.
Man City Starting Approach
City lined up in a 4-3-3, with the typical deployment of Fernandinho in a holding role, De Bruyne and D. Silva in support alongside him.
In possession, City would bring the fullbacks forward, and either use them as the outlet for the cross outwide, or let Danilo and Walker tuck into the midfield, allowing Silva to go wide with Sane and De Bruyne wide with Sterling to interplay on either flank. From central areas, Fernandinho and De Bruyne were also playing balls over the top to try find a runner in behind the Newcastle back 5.
The pace of Man City’s play was quite slow. In fact, they registered more sideways and defensive third passes in this game than in their last away game at Huddersfield. This was influenced by the Newcastle press and space restriction. Given City’s preference of playing out from the back, they had to stay focused to ensure possession was retained, with Ayoze and Rondon looking to pounce on any heavy touches.
Out of possession they were proactive in their press as usual. Their PPDA (Passes Per Defensive Action) of 4.42 typified this, allowing Newcastle an average pass streak of 3. Their counter press was in evidence every time they lost the ball, with De Bruyne, Fernandinho and Co harrying the Newcastle players. Whenever Newcastle progressed to the final third City would rush out to meet the attacker in groups, trying to dispossess quickly rather than back off them and look to block.
Goal – 1’ Aguero (NEW 0-1 MCI)
Newcastle got off to the worst possible start, conceding within 25 seconds. Ritchie had committed forward as Newcastle played a long ball. Man City’s quick transition saw a ball played to Sterling with Lejeune pulling wide to cover him. A missed tackle by the Frenchman and Sterling was able to deliver a ball to Silva in the box who nodded it to chief Newcastle tormentor Aguero to finish it.
From a defensive point of view Newcastle will be disappointed with Yedlin, who tucked in centrally instead of watching the wide run of Silva to get to it first, as well as Lejeune failing to prevent Sterling crossing once the winger switched to his left foot. Dubravka also made a grave error, rushing out & failing to get to the ball ahead of Silva, leaving an unguarded net for Aguero.
Newcastle stayed composed despite this early setback and the strategy of the two teams was beginning to show. City dominated the ball, having 75% possession within the first 30 minutes.
What Newcastle did in these situations was have one of Longstaff or Hayden rush out to pressure Fernandinho, giving him little time to orchestrate things.
Despite City dominating the ball, the shot count was 5 to 3 in Newcastle’s favour after half an hour. Man City were not able to cut through the backline with Lejeune, Lascelles and Schär switched on in terms of clearances ( the trio made 14 in the first 30 minutes compared to City’s 11 as a team). One thing Rafa Benitez stressed before the game was to carry out a ‘balanced’ game plan. The idea was to stay solid but not invite constant pressure due to a passive midfield, as happened last year.
On Tuesday Newcastle were braver, even at 1-0 down refusing to let City kill the game through possession. Look at the team shape here from a Man City transition:
This allowed Ayoze Perez in particular to press against Danilo, who was something of a weak link in a star studded City line up. Newcastle weren’t ultra-defensive but also got back in numbers when need be. A situation dependant game plan so far.
As the match wore on, the defensive industry of of the 2nd bank of 4 (plus Rondon), and the organised shape of the back 5, meant City got little change out of Newcastle despite the opener.
After 30 minutes though, City began to pressure Newcastle more. Newcastle were dispossessed 13 times in the first half, but 10 of those possession losses happened in the final 15 minutes as City pressed well, De Bruyne in particular putting up good numbers (attempting 6 tackles in the first half).
Rafa Benitez has stressed the importance of registering shots quickly following a turnover, and Newcastle were doing that to a reasonable standard on the right hand side. Here is an example involving the 3 most attacking players:
At the other end, City’s attacks were breaking down despite advancing the ball to areas they’ve had innumerable success in. Schär on this occasion reading the play after a communication breakdown between Silva and Sané:
The half ended with Newcastle feeling they had done more than enough to be on level terms, but punished for an early drop in concentration.
A second goal was vital for City as you sensed Newcastle were always in this game, they had an attacking threat. The away side began to overload numbers, matching Newcastle’s back 5 by committing 5 men themselves. De Bruyne and Silva advanced as Danilo and Walker tucked in to help Fernandinho. Stones and Laporte the only 2 City players inside their own half, according to whoscored’s average player position plot:
They managed to create some dangerous situations, with one Sané low cross in particular almost finding Sterling for what would have been a signature Man City goal, avoided by Newcastle more through luck than judgement.
Man City registered a pass accuracy of 89% in the match overall, which in isolation sounds very good. During play, however, the weight of pass seemed off and Newcastle’s alert backline mopped up plenty. In fact, City’s backline had a better pass accuracy than the midfield trio. Although that is to be expected given the pass options are safer, it showed that City lacked the incisiveness to cut Newcastle apart in the final third on the night.
In past analyses we’ve mentioned that in the 3 centre back system, one is given license to rush out and try intercept danger as the 4 players behind him provide enough cover. Schär was the man to do that here, killing City’s attack and winning the freekick that ultimately lead to the equaliser. In this phase of play it was good aggressive defending from Newcastle that they ultimately benefited from:
Goal – 66’ Rondon (NEW 1-1 MCI)
Lascelles takes the resulting freekick which is cleared out as far as Longstaff. Under pressure from Bernardo, the Newcastle rookie works the ball out to Ritchie who has the measure of Sterling and whips the ball in.
It was 8 against 3 in the box for Newcastle so no surprise that City clear it, but it’s only as far as Hayden, who jumps well to put the ball back in the danger area. The ball fell for Rondon who finished impressively, a long ball coming over the top and with a teammate near him meant his reactions had to be spot on, and kicking it into the ground was a smart move, the bounce of the ball making it that much harder for Ederson to save. Excellent finish.
From City’s point of view they’ll be disappointed that 2 clearances wasn’t enough to get rid of the danger. But full credit to Longstaff and Hayden for keeping the attack alive twice.
With renewed confidence, Newcastle expected a City response and defended with all 11 players to counter this. City up to that point hadn’t really penned Newcastle in their own half for long stretches. Rondon had spent most of the game in City’s half as the main outlet but as City’s centre backs pushed up he was forced deeper, with the full backs staying high and acting as midfielders.
City brought on Gabriel Jesus for Sané, and with B Silva having replaced De Bruyne just before the equaliser, their shape remained 4-3-3 but Sterling took up the left wing position, with Jesus central and Aguero on the right to accommodate him.
Goal – 80’ Ritchie penalty ( NEW 2-1 MCI)
A penalty kick awarded to Newcastle is an event so rare the build up to it’s awarding has to be assessed in full.
First – Excellent work by Hayden and Longstaff, shadowing Fernandinho and closing the pass lane into him for Danilo.
Second – Once the ball is worked to Sterling, him being shifted on the left worked in Yedlin’s favour. Sterling took the ball into his stride on his right foot, with his back to goal. Yedlin was able to outmuscle him and set Newcastle on the counter.
Third – Once City recovered the ball their preference to play it short allowed Newcastle to retain their pressure higher up the pitch. Danilo’s decision to pass it back to Fernandinho on the edge of the box was risky. Although the Brazilian is quite press resistant, Rondon and Longstaff positioned themselves excellently for Longstaff to rob him on his blind side and draw the penalty.
An excellent reward for Newcastle’s holding midfielders (who forced the ball into Sterling initially), and then great work in the final third to be able to press City into such a decisive mistake.
Ritchie had to show incredible focus to keep his wits about him as Ederson’s gamesmanship delayed the penalty. Eventually, a corner flag was kicked into oblivion, which is all the confirmation you need that the penalty was converted.
City weren’t able to fashion a single shot on target in the last 30 minutes of the game. Newcastle held resolute. After taking the lead, Newcastle had 0 dribbles to City’s 6, but managed 10 tackles to City’s 4 and made 5 clearances to ensure Dubravka’s goal was protected. The away side’s attacking verve was somewhat flat. A big reason for that was shifting Sterling to the left, which not only had a consequence in the penalty but also his attempts to create danger from left footed crosses as Yedlin and Co did well to prevent him cutting inside onto his favoured right.
Newcastle saw out 5 minutes of additional time to claim a huge win, only their 4th of the season at home, and in doing so registered their first points of any kind against last season’s top 6.
Key Tactical Points
The Midfield Battle
Throughout the analyses we touched upon Longstaff and Hayden’s holding roles, and their constant watch of Fernandinho and Co. An academy graduate and back up centre midfield who has constantly been linked to moves away from St James’ Park against David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Fernandinho was always going to be a case of ‘can they be nullified?’ rather than dominated.
In terms of stopping the City midfielders, they did excellently. Despite the City counter press, Longstaff did not take a single unsuccessful touch in the game, and was only dispossessed once. Compare that to 5 unsuccessful touches between the City midfield trio and you can see the midfield pressure from Newcastle paying off.
More than what is seen in the stat sheet though, is how Newcastle’s midfield worked in tandem with the backline to force City into unfavourable passes. The constant closing of passing lanes forced City into wide passes, the Newcastle defence would then double up and aggressively win the ball back.
Ritchie and Yedlin carried their roles out well here, winning 4 and 3 tackles respectively. Schär has the reputation for being the most aggressive of the Newcastle centre backs in his approach, and his 6 successful tackles on the night was a game-high.
The manner in which City attacked was trademark. They tried the wide option, the quick interplay, and the ball over the top but the Newcastle midfield and defence combined excellently to nullify the threat all night, save for the opening 25 seconds.
Newcastle’s Quick Play Following Turnovers
Given City’s excellent counter press and ability to keep possession, this was never going to be a match to assess Newcastle’s build up play. Newcastle have been fairing decently against high pressing sides this season, with the counter attack a key weapon in their arsenal to bypass these teams.
Man City lost possession 12 times through direct Newcastle tackling, and 18 times through possession turnover from attacking breakdowns, which in theory gave Newcastle 30 attempts at transitioning this into an attacking move.
City were very good at winning the ball back when losing it, but over the course of 90 minutes Newcastle had plenty of occasions where they sustained possession in City’s final third, something unthinkable in the home game against them last season.
The main reason for this was Rondon. His hold up play was superb, constantly bringing Ayoze and Atsu into play. He was drifting into wide areas and holding the ball up there, waiting for runners. He was winning knockdowns in central areas and battling for the ball all night. This is exactly the profile of striker needed when your team don’t see plenty of the ball, and it allowed Newcastle to present an attacking threat to a team that had only conceded 1 goal all calendar year in the league so far.
By The Numbers
Without Salomon Rondon, Newcastle United do not win this match. The difference between this game on Tuesday and last season was the Venezuelan providing Newcastle with an outlet through which to launch attacks. Rondon played incredibly well for the entire 90 minutes. There are many strikers in this league who cut frustrated figures when they’re asked to play the lone role, but Rondon stayed patient and played a vital part in the victory. He took his goal superbly and was energetic in the press for the penalty. He made more passes than any other Newcastle player, and yet registered the 3rd highest accuracy. An excellent showing from Newcastle’s number 9.
His inclusion in the first team was necessitated by injury rather than through promotion from the U23s, but so far Longstaff has looked right at home as a Premier League midfielder. His work-rate was fantastic all night and alongside Hayden stifled Man City. He played the 2nd most passes for Newcastle, the most accurate long balls and put up respectable defensive numbers with 1 tackle, 1 clearance, 2 blocked shots and 3 interceptions.
As a team City were far from their best but Laporte was a standout performer on the night. His defensive positioning allowed him to cut off plenty of Newcastle long balls. He was also key in transitioning the ball from defence to attack for City, constantly bringing his teammates into play. The ex-Bilbao man was involved in 3 of the top 4 passing combinations for his team, including more pass exchanges with Fernandinho than De Bruyne or Silva managed
Laporte had the most touches and passes for City, which from a team perspective highlights their troubles at causing danger higher up the pitch, but reflects well on the personal performance of the Frenchman and his influence in build up.
Sergio Aguero loves playing against Newcastle United. His opportunism and attacking instincts make him a huge threat, and it was he who pounced on the loose ball ahead of 3 Newcastle defenders to put his side ahead. He showed more alertness than our backline on a second occasion, escaping the attentions of 5 defenders from De Bruyne’s freekick to finish past Dubravka, the Magpies’ defence spared by the referee’s decision to disallow the freekick as he hadn’t whistled for it to be taken.
Aguero had 4 shots, 2 on target. He completed 4 dribbles, and even helped out in defence, registering 2 tackles including one particularly impressive one against Rondon having tracked back to City’s defensive third.
Newcastle are always ‘in the game’ against top sides thanks to the defensive organisation of Rafa Benitez. At the same time, however, it never really feels like they get the reward. 0 points so far this season against last season’s top 6 is telling. 0 points from any game once behind this season is just grim reading, especially after the team conceded within 25 seconds.
Rather than collapse though, Newcastle’s mental fortitude saw them stage an excellent comeback.
Hayden and Longstaff would be considered 4th and 5th choice if all centre mids were healthy, and yet played a vital role in the win. Fernandinho, Silva, and De Bruyne were nullified as an attacking threat thanks to the positioning of the duo and the solidity of the defense. Quick breaks when the opportunity came, coupled with excellent hold up play from Rondon, allowed Newcastle to hurt City. A very well earned victory, and tactically spot on from Rafa Benitez.