Bruce had the displeasure of guiding Newcastle United to their worst Premier League defeat since October 2015 (Man City A, 1-6) last time out at Leicester. It’s the 2nd instance of a shocking away performance already this season. The win at Spurs followed the first one, and the chance to make amends in a game against “top 6 opposition” again presented itself – in the shape of an out of sorts Manchester United.
Newcastle United Analysis
Newcastle have tended to favour the left hand side to launch their attacks this season, and although that side saw the majority of attacks again this game, it was a close split with 37% down the left, 34% centrally and 30% down the right. Contrast that with Brighton (48% down the left), and you can see the Longstaff brothers’ influence on proceedings in terms of improving progression through central areas.
Yedlin and Willems were also heavily involved, with the 5 at the back formation seeing 2 wing backs who advanced high up the pitch for the first time, rather than the usual 1 or the other.
In terms of the route to goal, Joelinton would drop deep as usual, either receiving a Schär longball or passes from the middle, with Saint-Maximin and Almiron making runs in behind, looking to profit from combinations. Saint-Maximin actually ended the match with a higher average position than Joelinton, such was the emphasis on him to lead the charge.
It was the tried and trusted 541 shape – deep and organised – as Bruce was true to his word in setting up with tactics the players were familiar with after 3 and a half years under Rafa Benitez.
Regarding the press, there was a positive energy about the team. When everyone else was in the shape, a 1 man press would be engaged by the nearest Newcastle player to the ball, Sean Longstaff particularly impressive here.
Man Utd Analysis
A 4231 set up from Solskjaer saw the fullbacks create the most width, with wingers James and Pereira tucking in closer to Mata to offer support for the lone man Rashford. Man Utd’s best route to goal was set pieces (7 of their 12 attempts) as Rashford proved difficult to find despite the 3 men behind him entrusted to do so.
Their main attempts at attacking saw either wide players put a cross in (they were only accurate from 5/25), or look to play in between the lines with their 4 forwards against the Newcastle back 5.
Their shape was very narrow, conceding a lot of space on the wings for Newcastle, confident in crowding out Joelinton should crosses come in. McTominay and Fred would drop deep to help in defensive phases.
Their press was stronger than Newcastle’s, which reflects their superior possession stats. They attempted to win the ball in numbers, rather than a 1 man press, which meant a lot of space for Newcastle to counter with should they get clear. Notably, Saint-Maximin pulled them out of shape often with his impressive dribbling.
The Tactical Sequences of the Match
Kick-Off to 27′
The opening exchanges were a little slow paced from both sides, but the difference between the Brighton game and this one was Newcastle’s ability to exert some midfield control. The Longstaff brothers were key to this, with Matty pulling off 2 interceptions & 1 tackle as Newcastle held firm in the opening 27 minutes.
Newcastle grew in confidence as the half ticked on. Schär used the Joelinton outball, as the Brazilian elected to stay high this time. He was able to bring men into play, and Newcastle fashioned as fashioned a long range chance for Matty Longstaff, as seen below.
Man Utd’s narrow shape meant Newcastle were struggling to gain entry into the box, all 4 of their shots up to this point from outside the area.
27′ to Half Time
Although Newcastle managed more shot attempts from this point to half time, the general play was a lot more balanced. Man Utd were able to stifle Newcastle’s progression up the pitch better (The Magpies completing only 1 dribble from 27’-halftime compared to 9 in the opening 27’).
What was impressive for the home side, however, was their isolation of Rashford and forcing the away side into hopeless passes up the pitch. The 1 man press was executed very well by Newcastle to make this happen as seen here
Half Time to 72′
After the restart, Man Utd attempted to give Rashford more support by deploying Mata almost as a second striker, and switching the positions of James and Pereira, with the former getting into more dangerous situations on the right.
Newcastle responded by substituting Joelinton for Carroll, which saw an immediate effect of playing more long balls and hitting more crosses to the striker. At first, there were a couple of long balls from deep areas which were aimless & lost possession. Within 10 minutes of coming on however, the aerial threat of Carroll almost paid dividends as he headed Matty Longstaff’s cross, after excellent work from Schär and Yedlin in the build-up.
Man Utd, having introduced a true striker partner to Rashford in the shape of Greenwood, changed to 442 and began to pin Newcastle back, dominating possession but failing to find openings. Their pressure meant Carroll dropped into something of a midfield position which gave Yedlin no clearance option in the clip below, leading to renewed pressure from the visitors who still couldn’t fashion a chance from it.
GOAL 72’ M Longstaff (NEW 1-0 MNU)
After wonderful work from Schär to prevent Rashford from tapping in, Newcastle defended two consecutive corners before breaking on the counter attack. As Schär heads it to Almiron, the Paraguayan stays calm and finds Saint-Maximin with a superb pass.
Saint-Maximin leads a 3 against 7 counter attack, with Man Utd scrambling, Tuanzebe impressive in sprinting back and almost winning the ball. It is then about fine margins as Saint-Maximin picks out Willems who did well to stay onside, and then even more impressive work to evade 2 opposition shirts and find Matty Longstaff waiting to strike.
It’s a sweet connection and a dream moment for the 19 year old debutant as he finds the back of the net. Saint-Maximin enjoyed the strike with the best seat in the house, inside the goal, thus preventing him from any possible offside scenario.
72′ to Full Time’
The final 20 minutes saw the home side cede possession (25%, lower than the overall of 32%), sit back, and soak up the pressure. Newcastle’s final shot of the game would come in the 76th minute via Sean Longstaff. Andy Carroll dropped so deep to help out he was like an auxiliary central midfielder.
The visitors had 5 attempts during these minutes, 3 of which were from set pieces as Newcastle stood resolute in their defending from open play. Whenever Man Utd advanced, a combination of their lack of quality and Newcastle crowding the box limited them to poor efforts on goal as seen here.
By The Numbers
Men of the Match
A dream goal and a dream display from the local lad. Deputising alongside his brother, his performance was full of energy as well as confidence, switching play on several occasions with some impressive passes. His goal was superbly taken, as was his earlier effort that hit the crossbar. You could pick out great defensive and attacking contributions all game from him, full credit for performing like that on his premier league debut.
Honourable Mention: Fabian Schär
The only fault you could pick with him was losing Maguire on the corner in the first half. That aside, the Swiss international had a fantastic game, making crucial blocks and tackles to deny Rashford a sniff of goal. His distribution was key to Newcastle progressing up the pitch (15 total long balls, next best is Matty with 7). He also registered a game high 4 interceptions.
Honourable Mention: Sean Longstaff
The elder Longstaff looked like his pre-injury self on this occasion. The early tackle on McTominay set the tone for his performance as he looked a lot more assured on the ball (91% pass accuracy), and showed his creative side (4 key passes), as well as playing the only accurate through ball of the match, when he found Almiron with a great pass from deep. He was also the most impressive in leading the Newcastle press, forcing red shirts into uncomfortable passes on many occasions.
In a game where they looked lost in attack, the visitors did display some good defensive work to nullify the Magpies. At the heart of that was Maguire, who despite missing a gilt edged chance at one end, managed pretty well at the other, especially against Almiron.
Honourable Mention: Axel Tuanzebe
The youngster played at centre back and then right back after Dalot was substituted and fared pretty well. He was up against a tricky customer in Saint-Maximin but did manage to tackle him once as part of a defensive showing with 2 clearances, 2 interceptions and a 90% pass accuracy.
Newcastle’s tactical setup and performance was very reminiscent of a Benitez side, and the players looked much more comfortable carrying out that game plan. Sean Longstaff improved in both defensive and attacking phases, and the full backs were able to influence things better, especially with the pace of Yedlin and the trickery of Willems.
It was far from perfect for the Magpies however, with plenty of room for improvement not just in creating chances but taking them as well. Matty’s was only the 5th league goal of the season, and the previous 2 home goals have come from counter attacks after opposition corners, so the general attacking needs work. 2/3rds of Newcastle’s shots were from outside the box.
At the other end there isn’t much to criticise on this occasion. The solid defensive work, combined with Man Utd’s attacking ineptitude, was pleasing to see.
8 points from 8 games can definitely be improved upon, but this game serves a better tactical basis on which to do so, rather than the 4 at the back set up seen at Leicester or the 3 midfield set up seen in the first few games.