United travelled to Craven Cottage, with little to lose in terms of league position. The most they could move was one position in either direction and had already been guaranteed top-flight status.
However, as the club hierarchy & Rafa Benítez have protracted talks of a renewed deal, an especially positive performance seemed to be necessary for that dilemma.
Fulham’s status had also been determined: they were relegated. Their caretaker manager, ex-Newcastle player Scott Parker, had recently been given their manager position full-time, and he surely wanted to generate what positivity available to carry into their upcoming Championship campaign.
Fulham relief upon a trio attackers to create breakdowns: Mitrovic, Cairney, and Sessegnon. Behind them was a distinct midfield band, comprising of the full backs, midfielders, and the right midfielder Aite.
Fulham dominated possession, owning 68% of touches on the ball. They were able to produce 16 shots, though half were from long range and none were from the inside the 6-yard box.
While the bulk of their shots came from the middle (75%), they did not utilize him as a target man. Rather, a patient, slow buildup through the middle, funnelled through Tom Cairney or Ryan Sessegnon, is where shots were produced.
Fulham rarely had a clearly-defined shape when out of possession. They would immediately launch into a “high press” – meaning that they were closing down Newcastle centre backs within moments of receiving the ball. However, the press wasn’t quite effective, in that Fulham’s PPDA was 13.3, which is a bit below league average.
If the high press was broken, Fulham’s shape would settle into a 4-5-1. As Newcastle was primarily trying to counter-attack, these moments were few and far between.
Curiously, for as many shots on target as Newcastle had, Fulham’s clearances & tackles totals were quite low (1 and 2, total). This would suggest that Marchand & Mawson perhaps struggled in snuffing out attacking exploits, as their combined defensive productivity lacked.
Newcastle United Analysis
When throwing attacks forward, the front trio of Atsu, Rondón, and Pérez proved to be the main outlets for breaking into space. Rondón maintained his target man play, while Atsu & Pérez looked for gaps on the wings & central areas to keep attacks alive. Pérez tended to stay behind the attacks, in order to help Isaac Hayden cover the right flank danger men of Joe Bryan & Ryan Sessegnon.
xGBuildup is a stat that gives players the value of a shot their passing leads to. Newcastle, typically a direct, long ball playing side, has been morphing into a more dynamic attacking side — and that showed on this day with Shelvey & Diamé having the highest xGChain values. (Usually, it’s the centre backs that win this prize, from all the diagonals pinged.)
Jonjo & Mo also for 75% of the completed dribbles, further cementing their presence in the middle against Fulham.
Newcastle had a shape resembling a 3-4-3 when setting up in their typical low-block positions. The team had one of their lowest PPDAs of the season (28.3) but this seemed to be their design.
By sitting back and keeping bodies close to Mitrovic, his ability to play a target man role was significantly reduced. Newcastle practically asked for Fulham to methodically buildup, as an organized shape would prove to be too much for the Cottagers to break down. Nearly 10% of Fulham’s passes were crosses (compared with just 3% for NUFC), further reinforcing the state of Newcastle’s defensive solidity.
It should be noted in this space that Isaac Hayden, in the right wingback position, was tasked with tracking Fulham’s left winger Ryan Sessegnon. Hayden kept Sessegnon quiet on this day, which seemed to shut down a primary creative outlet for Fulham.
How the Goals Happened
9′ Shelvey (FUL 0-1 NEW)
Matt Ritchie curled an outswinging corner at the far edge of the 18-yard box, where Jonjo Shelvey was waiting in space. After trapping it, Jonjo hit it off the volley into the upper left corner of the frame.
11′ Pérez (FUL 0-2 NEW)
Matt Ritchie charged down his left flank, with Atsu nearby drawing Fulham’s Cyrus Christie into the equation. Because Fulham’s Marchand was marking Rondón in the box & Alfie Mawson was maintaining zonal responsibilities, there were acres of space in the 18-yard box for Atsu to slip into.
He did so, Ritchie flicked him the ball, and Atsu charged toward Fulham’s Sergio Rico, snapping a shot at the lower left corner of the goal frame. Rico got hands on the ball, but it bounced into the onrushing Ayoze Pérez, who shot it into the back of the net.
61′ Schär (FUL 0-3 NEW)
A bit similar to the 1st goal, Matt Ritchie outswings a left corner attempt to the centre of the 18-yard box. Schär, who started in a position closer to the 6-yard box, leaves his marker (Cyrus Christie) and finds space to meet Ritchie’s service, then nods the ball into the upper right part of the goal frame.
90′ Rondón (FUL 0-4 NEW)
A tactical switch just minutes prior moved Pérez from a right wide position to the left side of the pitch. Kenedy had come on and occupied the left flank, which allowed Ayoze to operate centrally. This positioning meant that Pérez was able to run a counter-attack through the middle of the pitch with no Fulham defenders within a 3-yard radius.
Mawson & Marchand were coiled around Rondón, who had begun to angle toward the left side of the pitch. Ayoze played a throughball to the left edge of the box, which Salomon in enough space to turn and run into Fulham’s 18-yard box.
Metres away from the 6-yard box, Salomon fired a low driving shot at Sergio Rico, who parried it toward the left edge of the box. Rondón retained possession, and smoothly slung it to the right of Rico and into the net.
By The Numbers
Men of the Match
The rare time that opposing MotM’s squared off against each other. While Lascelles handled Mitrovic, Schar often had Cairney in his zone. And while Tom didn’t necessarily get the better of this battle, he was Fulham’s most effective player on this day.
Of the 16 shots on goal, most came through him. Also, that he completed 2 out 2 attempted tackles as a primary tackler is notable.
Every attack went through Cairney, and he supplied their few moments of danger.
Newcastle United FC
The stats reflect a decisive two-way contributor, but they don’t quite capture how critical he was as Newcastle’s release valve.
Newcastle has had mixed success dealing with counter-pressure from the opposition (at best), and part of that has been the absence of technical quality in the midfield and backline positions. But Schär has the rare ability as a central defender to dribble, engage in short-pass combos, and competently hit diagonals that actually hit their target — all under duress.
Also, Fabian is productive going forward, as his 5 completed passes in the final third were 3rd-highest for NUFC (behind 8 for Jonjo and 6 for Rondón).
Schär’s defensive work was commendable as well (especially in preventing Tom Cairney from creating dangerous chances). But his attacking contributions proved critical for the scoreline being what it was.
Rafa’s reputation as leading his teams to late season sturdiness is well-founded; Newcastle were nearly spotless at the back and were deadly given opportunities in front of goal.
Fulham seemed to cope poorly with the transitional phase of their counter-pressure turning into a zonal marking system. Moments of confusing led to missed assignments and a confident Newcastle put them to the sword.
As Rafa puts it:
“We did well. The main thing is this was the last game of the season, and to do that when you are safe, away, and in front of a lot of our fans, I’m really proud and pleased for this group of players. The fans have been so good all season, since I have been here they have been fantastic and I am trying my best to give them something back.
I am professional and if I can give them something back, like these four goals on the last day, a sunny day, it’s nice to know we did what we had to do. Obviously, I think in the end it was a very good season for us. We have proved that this is a very difficult competition and I am really proud of this group of players, giving everything even after the games we were safe.”