Newcastle return from Anfield, where they lost 1-3. Heading into this Brighton game, they have 4 points through 5 game weeks of play.
The Seagulls hit the road after a 1-1 draw with Burnley. Brighton’s early season returns have only slightly better – they have 5 points through 5 game weeks.
Over the past two seasons, Newcastle have failed to take full points off Brighton. They have drawn twice and Brighton have won twice in the years since they came up from the Championship.
Newcastle United Analysis
Newcastle seemed to have a 3-4-3 shape in attack, with the wing backs pushing up with the midfielders and the outside centre backs taking wider positions behind them.
Shelvey tended to stay closer to the backline, while Hayden looked for gaps in between Shelvey and the forwards.
48% of the attacks occupied the left flank, roughly twice the possession that the right flank had.
Nearly 1 out of 5 passes from Newcastle was a long ball; nearly 77% of all passes were forward. Newcastle also had a high ratio of shot attempts-to-pass attempts: 1 to 25.
Make no mistake – this is as clear of a direct approach as it gets. Or rather, it was an attempt at being direct.
Newcastle employed an intense press from their 3 attackers and yet had a deeper backline, between the halfway and Newcastle’s final third. This gave a “bend don’t break” tone for the defensive approach.
As Brighton would bring possession closer to Newcastle’s final third, United would form a compact 5-4-1 shape. The objective here would be to wait for a Brighton mistake to force dispossession.
Brighton had a very high tempo to their passing, though they primarily used short passes to build attacks. They were accurate with 87% of their attempts and enjoyed 71% of the possession.
Their attacking shape resembled a 1-3-5-1, with Dale Stephens forming a base with the outside centre backs (Burn and Webster) in front of Lewis Dunk. In particular, the combination of left-sided CB Dan Burn and centre-mid Dale Stephens proved to be a huge key for Brighton’s possession dominance.
Note: Brighton created some overloads on the left flank by having the right-sided CB Adam Webster drift over and participate in buildup. Newcastle’s inability to seize possession had other factors at play, but this wrinkle played to Brighton’s favour on a couple of occasions.
Brighton utilised an aggressive press, committing nearly every outfield player to close down. This was even deployed as deep Newcastle’s third. There is little emphasis on maintaining but, rather, there is for challenging for the ball as soon as possible.
In this clip, notice how Brighton’s players react to ball movement rather than moving toward their goal to regain shape. They are able to win the ball back without hardly sacrificing their attacking position.
The Tactical Stories of the Match
Brighton’s Predominance of Possession
The numbers for Newcastle here are not pretty. Coming into this match, they averaged the lowest possession share in the league. This match dropped it even further.
Some possible reasons for this:
- Newcastle United have the worst PPDA average in the league. In other words, they have the weakest defensive pressure in the top flight – tackles, interceptions, and fouls committed are far too infrequent.
- Essentially, by having a backline that sits at a low block position while having an attacking trio that aggressively presses, Newcastle is giving up acres of space in the middle of the pitch. The CMs have too much ground to commit defensive actions.
Another factor at play: Brighton had an unusual dynamic with their outside CBs, Dan Burn and Adam Webster.
Burn pushed higher up into the left, while Webster often times would drift into the middle of the pitch to help with buildup.
This would create overloads in buildup, making it difficult for Newcastle players to defend coherently.
Combine these overloads with Brighton’s passing proficiency and Newcastle’s porous defensive shape, and it can be understood how Brighton were able to influence play so thoroughly.
Newcastle’s Anemic Attacks
Newcastle have historically struggled to cope with counter-pressing strategy, and Brighton’s pressure produced predictable results.
The Magpies have yet to produce many high xG shots this season; their highest tally to date was the cumulative 1.04 rating from the Watford visit. Against Brighton, their total xG was 0.82. On the season, Newcastle have the lowest xG value in the league.
One place to look for an explanation is actually on the defensive side. Since their defensive pressure is so weak, Newcastle typically win the ball the back in incredibly deep positions.
Not only does this mean that they have the entire pitch to traverse to get into dangerous scoring positions, but it is also means they usually have 10 outfield oppositions players to navigate. (Contrast that with Brighton winning the ball back in midfield and only having roughly half the players to bypass in a far more advantageous position.)
In this clip, Newcastle win the ball back and immediately launch it up the pitch. As it is more of a desperate measure than an intentional approach, the wayward ball is given directly to this match’s most accurate passer, Dale Stephens.
Until Newcastle either commit to a steady buildup or a more intense defensive pressing, their attacking prospects continue to look bleak.
By The Numbers
Men of the Match
NUFC Man of the Match: Fabian Schär
Almost nothing sums up Fabian better than being Newcastle’s most proficient dribbler and tackler on the day.
… other than maybe having the acumen and acrobatic wherewithal for this heart-stopping clearance.
While his passing accuracy was unusually low for his standards (61%), Schär was forced into more clearances and forced long passes to relieve pressure from Brighton.
Given the state of play, Fabian was a bright spot for the club on this day. He had 3 out of 4 dribbles, 2 shot attempts, 1 out of 2 aerial duels, 3 out of 4 tackles, 1 interception, 4 clearances.
Honourable Mention: Isaac Hayden
There are many turbulent & underwhelming performances marking Newcastle’s ‘19-’20 campaign thus far, but Isaac Hayden steadily continues to put in quality two-way shifts.
He registered 4 out of 5 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1 key pass, 1 out of 1 aerial duel won.
BHAFC Man of the Match: Dale Stephens
The footballing IQ of Dale Stephens was on display repeatedly throughout the match.
Playing in a system that emphasizes player’s ability to read their opposition, Stephens ignited attacking moves regularly by showing himself to the ball any time a Brighton player was under duress.
Dale’s passing stats were eye-popping and well-earned — over half of his pass attempts were directed forwards. On this date, he had 97% passing accuracy, 2 key passes, 2 shot attempts, 3 out of 3 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 clearances.
Honourable Mention: Adam Webster
Adam Webster played a unique role for Brighton on this day: he was given license to maraud forward and sustain buildups while being sure to retain his place as the right-sided centre back in a 3-CB setup.
Sometimes, his confidence was ill-earned, as dribble moves caught him dispossessed up the pitch. But otherwise, his defensive work was spotless, and his buildup & attacking moves hugely contributed to Newcastle’s frustrating day.
He registered 10 out of 10 aerial duels, 83% passing, 2 key passes, 3 clearances, 1 interception, 1 out of 2 tackles completed.
Save for a couple of bright individual performances, this was a poor display in all phases. Brighton were the better side for the majority of the match, and Newcastle United were fortunate to earn a point.
Bruce said it well:
“We didn’t deal with Brighton who kept the ball very well and they made it a difficult evening for us. We got away with one.”