A hard-earned victory away to Tottenham last week provided Bruce with a much-needed boost ahead of his kindest fixture to date – home to an out-of-sorts Watford, the only team in the league yet to earn a point.
Gracia’s side have struggled for some time, 1 league win in their previous 9 games and no clean sheet since February, the goodwill of an FA Cup final run fast dissipating.
Newcastle United Analysis
This match saw Newcastle’s highest possession share so far this season coincide with their least amount of long balls played (only 13% of overall passes compared to 25% last time out), as well as their highest total pass count and highest average pass streak.
Despite that balance, when looking to create chances their preferred 2 methods were combining down the left (41% of attacks), and Schär long balls to get a runner in behind. Below is an example of the former:
Newcastle favoured a press as high as the midfield line, with Joelinton and Almiron helping Hayden and Longstaff both in central areas and out wide. Their shape was 5-4-1 whenever Watford had prolonged periods of possession, but broke quickly into a 3-4-3 when the ball was won.
As was the case under Rafa last season, one of the centre backs would break shape and push higher to disrupt an opposition move, as seen here with Dummett
Mirroring Newcastle, the opposition lined up in a 3-4-3 on the ball. Watford favoured the right hand side for their attacks (40%), utilising Janmaat’s exceptional ability on the ball to drive up the pitch and look to combine with Hughes and Pereyra, who were playing off the shoulder of Gray.
In the beginning phases, they rarely played long balls, instead trusting their fullbacks to initiate attacks and even tuck in to combine and create potential scoring chances as seen below
Watford, as away sides tend to do, defended with a deeper line than Newcastle’s. Their shape was also 5-4-1 when out of possession, leaving Gray up top for potential counter attacks.
Again, similar to Newcastle, one of their centre backs would break shape to try to harass the man in possession (seen at the beginning of the below clip with Kabasele), but in general they stood off Newcastle forwards and held shape until the tackle opportunity.
The Tactical Sequences of the Match
Kick-Off to 30′
GOAL – 2’ Hughes (NEW 0-1 WAT)
Newcastle pressed high forcing Watford to pass it back to their defence but a long ball from the centre back meant that the nufc shirts that were high up the pitch had conceded plenty of midfield space. Despite Lascelles winning the aerial duel, Pereyra pounced on the loose ball, dribbled and worked the ball into the vacated midfield area for Cleverley.
There is still a huge element of fortune to the goal, with Dummett’s block deflecting off Lascelles perfectly into the path of Hughes to finish past Dubravka, but you have to question whether Newcastle had overcommitted in their press.
As seen here, the moment Cleverley receives the ball only Longstaff from the midfield is behind the ball, with Hayden & Atsu struggling to get back, and Almiron (the right sided midfielder when nufc are out of possession) not within view.
Conceding so early is always a disruption in the game plan, but Newcastle remained calm, attempting to get in behind Watford’s backline. That proved difficult in the opening exchanges, with the Hornets happy to sit deep and protect a lead. 2 blocked shots (Hayden & Willems) were the only efforts of note, Newcastle struggling to create chances with some sloppy football, losing possession 7 times through a combination of being tackled and unsuccessful touches. The worst of which being Almiron’s unsuccessful touch here after what was the Magpies’ best move of the early stages.
30′ to Half Time
Joelinton began to drop deeper to initiate attacks, attempting to pull Watford defenders away from their structured shape. The attack shown below is a demonstration of this. Joelinton drops deep to receive a pass from the left centre back, and the ball is worked to the left hand side. It’s good work from Almiron, Willems and Atsu – as they combine and pull defenders outside of their box.
The ball put in for Joelinton, whose movement off the shoulder of the centre back is excellent, was similar to the Tottenham goal last weekend – only this time Foster displayed great awareness to claim the cross.
Watford began to push their defensive line higher up, and Newcastle were performing better as a result, suddenly finding room for their pacey forwards in behind. The Magpies succeeded from 5/6 dribbles in the last 15 minutes of the half ( only 3/7 in the opening 30’), as Almiron and especially Atsu proved difficult to tackle for the visitors.
GOAL 41’ Schär (NEW 1-1 WAT)
Newcastle scored a deserved equaliser minutes before half time. As a Watford corner is cleared, Joelinton does really well to resist the press from Cleverley and Cathcart, turn inside and find Schär in space who advances up the field on the counter.
Passing it to Atsu, the Swiss international continues his run into the box (the second such instance of the half where Fabian stayed up top after dribbling forward), Atsu did well to escape the attentions of 2 Watford players, laying it to Joelinton who again turned and found Krafth out wide.
The cross was decent, finding Hayden who was sandwiched between 2 Watford shirts as the ball deflected off his arm. The loose ball found Schär who tucked away quite a difficult left footed finish, Foster not able to get a strong enough hand to it to keep it out.
Half Time to 70′
Watford made a slight adjustment to their tactics at the start of the half, going for long diagonals from their centre backs to try and find runners in behind. However, this played into Newcastle’s hands quite nicely. In the opening 25 minutes of the half, Newcastle made 4 interceptions and won 3 tackles thanks to Watford’s risky strategy. Not only that but they managed to translate winning possession into chances, taking 7 shots during this period.
The best of these chances fell to Almiron, after a turnover from a Dawson long ball, and great work from Lascelles to bypass the Hornets’ midfield while they were out of shape.
A chance that wouldn’t register on the shot stats soon followed. Kabasele again breaking shape but Joelinton protected the ball well to find Atsu, who skillfully found Hayden before a low cross from Willems just evaded the Ghanaian who followed into the space vacated by Kabasele. Joelinton dropping deep to participate in build up was again key to a created chance.
70′ to full time
Watford responded to the Newcastle momentum by throwing on Chalobah and Success for Hughes and Doucoure. No changes to team shape as Success took up Hughes’ right forward position, and Chalobah in for Doucoure in centre midfield.
The impact was almost immediate. Suddenly, Watford had a physical presence with fresh legs out on the right and their diagonal ball tactic found him. The cross to Gray was good, and Newcastle, having been caught up-field, escaped more through luck than good defending as seen here:
Newcastle’s response was to sub in Manquillo for Krafth, Muto for Atsu and Fernandez for Schär, but the visitors were in the ascendancy in the closing stages. The last 20 minutes saw 6 shots to 1 in Watford’s favour, despite possession being an exact 50/50.
It was the exploitation of Newcastle’s left side that was the issue, but Newcastle also showed vulnerability in central areas towards the end. Success was drifting everywhere and here he creates a chance for Pereyra despite Newcastle’s shape being stable
With Watford sensing a winner they kept pushing bodies forward. Newcastle seemed to run out of ideas in possession so it only seems apt that their final effort of the game came from a counter attack after the Hornets over-committed. Joelinton showed great strength to ward off Chalobah and release Muto, who timed his run perfectly but delayed the shot until the angle became too difficult.
By The Numbers
Men of the Match
The Ghanaian has been the beneficiary of Saint-Maximin’s injury troubles, and followed a solid showing away to Spurs with a man of the match performance here. Coming off for Muto in the 81st minute, Atsu put in a shift where he was constantly looking to put in Joelinton, and showed great awareness to combine with his teammates on several occasions to create chances.
What most stood out was his care in possession, not once was a Watford player able to tackle him, despite Atsu going for quite a few take-ons.
Honourable Mention: Sean Longstaff
The North Shields lad hasn’t quite reached the heights of his pre-West Ham injury form, but had quite an influential game on Saturday. He proved to be quite a creative threat (5 chances created, 3 key passes), and played 5 accurate long balls. He did not neglect his defensive duties either, registering 2 tackles, 2 clearances and 1 interception.
The Watford custodian had an impressive game, much more in the command of his area than his saves, although he pulled off several smart stops all the same. Newcastle were able to trouble the Hornets centre backs on quite a few occasions, but Foster bailed them out with the timing of his claims from crosses and closing down angles such as on Almiron’s miscontrol. He will be disappointed to have been beaten by Schär’s effort, but without him Watford may have quite easily lost this.
Honourable Mention: Will Hughes
The wide forward made a dream start, pouncing on the deflection to finish past Dubravka, and put in a strong performance throughout. Heavily involved in his side’s attacks, he would look to find pockets of space to work with Janmaat, Pereyra, and Gray. He registered 1 key pass, 1 accurate through ball, completed 4 dribbles, and made 3 tackles.
Newcastle head into the international break with 4 points from 4 games, an improvement on last year’s showing at the same stage. If the performance at Spurs was heroic, at Norwich shambolic, then today can only be described as a mixed bag.
Tactically, it was a decent enough showing, the pace of Almiron, Atsu and the craft of Schär caused Watford plenty of problems. There is room for improvement on the right hand side, however, with Krafth and Almiron unable to work in tandem and threaten opposition there. Yet, ironically, that is the side the equaliser came from.
On transitions, Watford were largely poor but questions must be asked why they were able to succeed with their right flank attacks so late on, when they were well dealt with in the opening phases. Although part of that is down to the new partnership of Atsu and Willems needing time to gel, with Ritchie out of the side through injury.
Javi Gracia summed it up well
“They started better, they were dominating, creating some chances but after the changes we did we felt better, improving and creating our chances and with options in the end to win the game.”