02.02.11 – Wednesday 8pm
Barclays Premier League
Following a football free weekend, after their early FA Cup exit, Newcastle were back in Premier Leauge action with a trip to Craven Cottage to face Fulham. Clad in their unluckly blue away kit, Newcastle succumbed to a 67th minute Damien Duff goal, the former Newcastle player latching on to a pinpoint Danny Murphy pass before slotting the ball into Steve Harper’s goal, as Newcastle registered their first league defeat of 2011.
We take a look at the 5 key points from a Newcastle perspective:
1. Tactics and team selection – 442 vs 442
Alan Pardew named the same starting 11 that started the previous game against Tottenham, almost by default such was the number of injured players and lack of strength in depth, however was dealt a blow after only 13 minutes when Shola Ameobi went off injured with a suspected fractured cheekbone and had to be replaced by substitute Nile Ranger.
Both sides lined up in a 442 formation and for the majority of the game cancelled each other out, as was the case at St James’ Park earlier in the season. Fulham applied a 442 formation with inverted wingers, players occasionally exchanged positions while the two forwards dropped deep and mixed their runs to maintain their unpredictability. Newcastle however looked rigid in their allocated positions and, although discipline was a part of the gameplan, it reduced their freedom going forward.
2. Congested midfield leads to tight game
With Fulham playing inverted wingers, Dempsey a right footer on the left and Duff a left footer on the right, there was a tendency for the wingers to cut inside onto their stronger foot when in possession, as highlighted in our preview. Newcastle lined up with Joey Barton on the right side of midfield who often drifted inside to his preferred central midfield position, with Jonas Gutierrez the only out and out winger on the pitch.
With a tendency for the wide men, Gutierrez aside, to gravitate towards the middle of the pitch meant that at times there were 6-7 players in what was a congested central midfield area. Both sides pressed, were quick in the tackle and as a result were often able to prevent the opposition from building up an attacking momentum from central midfield – one of the reasons why the game remained so tightly balanced for large periods of the game as neither team could find a way through the congested midfield area.
3. Newcastle fail to see out their defensive game plan
To deal with the inbound threat from the Fulham widemen and that of Danny Murphy in central midfield, Newcastle set up narrowly, with Barton tucking inside, and placed a high emphasis on pressing their opponents when in possession. The Fulham goal aside, Newcastle’s game plan was relatively successful as they broke up play on 12 occasions as the chalkboard to the right demonstrates.
However, as highlighted in our preview, it is a dangerous game to give someone with the passing ability of Danny Murphy time on the ball. As if to quantify this point, in the 66th minute when Murphy was allowed time and space he played long a pass to perfection over and behind the Newcastle defence which Duff got on the end of to put Fulham 1-0 up. A moments lapse in concentration which was to prove costly for Newcastle as they failed to see out their defensive game plan.
4. Lack of quality up front
Following the injury to Ameobi and with Hangelaand winning everything in the air, Newcastle noticeably hit less high balls and instead tried to play the ball into the feet of forwards Best and Ranger to hold up. However this was all too easy for the Fulham defenders, Aaron Hughes in particular who simply pressed up high on his marker, usually Best, and before the Newcastle man had a chance to take a second touch Hughes had nicked it from him. It was simple but effective and prevented the ball sticking up front for any sustained period of time for Newcastle.
As well as an inability to hold the ball up, the Newcastle forwards also showed an inability to beat their man, vary their runs in terms of dropping deep on occasions or making runs in the channels and it became all to predictable for the Fulham defence. Such was their lack of productive involvement in the game, Best and Ranger only managed a combined 19 completed passes and 1 shot.
5. Lack of creativity from the Newcastle midfield
With Guthrie, Nolan and Barton tending to sit deeper in the Newcastle midfield it was left to Gutierrez to bring the ball out of midfield with his forward runs and although he did this well on several occasions, too often the attacking move broke down as Gutierrez’ final ball was poor or not read by the Newcastle forwards.
There was very little else in terms of link up play between the midfield and the forwards as well as a general lack of creativity, too often the passing was poor or easily read by the Fulham players. Newcastle have relied heavily on the passing and creative abilities of Barton this season especially the long diagonal pass which he has perfected, however without a big man up front to aim for this skill becomes a wasted art as there is nobody to receive the passes. The chalkboard on the right displays Barton’s unsuccessful passing against Fulham, with his diagonal passing now almost redundant he may be better served in the centre of midfield where he can have more of an overall impact.
At the end of the day…
As is often the case when a game is so tight, a single goal can be enough to win it and this was the case for Fulham. Once Newcastle fell behind they looked short of ideas, quality and belief and in truth never looked likely to get back in the game. Fulham were deserved of the 3 points for their better quality in the final third.
Where Newcastle failed to build up an attacking rhythm going forward, Fulham were more fluid and inventive and bettered Newcastle in terms of chances created both in quantity, 9 shots on target to Newcastle’s 3, and quality of chances, and were perhaps unfortunate not to score more than they did with Duff and Dempsey wasting good chances.
It was the worst possible preparation for Newcastle as they sold their best striker Andy Carroll to Liverpool and then spent the days after squabbling over who initiated the move with said player via the newspapers. It must have almost came as a surprise that they actually had a midweek fixture to prepare for and the lack of preparation/fallout from the transfer window seemed to have an impact on the attitude of the Newcastle players as they lacked the confidence and attacking belief that served them well against sunderland and Tottenham in the previous two games.
Of course the loss of Ameobi was a massive factor. Ameobi has his doubters but he has the most experience out of Newcastle’s current selection of forwards and poses far more of a threat and concern to defenders. Following the Tottenham game I highlighted that Pardew should look at bringing in another forward and this was while Carroll was still at the club, this never happened and with Carroll now sold and Ameobi expected to be missing for up to 8 weeks the prospect of relying on Best, Lovenkrands and Ranger is bleak. It is all the more frustrating that able and available strikers such as Robbie Keane and Daniel Sturridge were scoring for their new clubs on their debuts this week.
Newcastle are now 10th on 30 points after 24 games and realistically need approximately 14 points from the remaining 42 available to be confident of survival. Achieving a third of the points remaining is more than do-able however it becomes more difficult with a depleted forward line and some difficult fixtures coming up. Next up is Arsene Wenger’s Barcelona Lite – Arsenal. With a lack of available forwards, Newcastle may line up 4-5-1 with Cheick Tiote returning from suspension in midfield alongside Kevin Nolan and Danny Guthrie, with one of Best, Ranger or Lovenkrands acting as the long striker. Any points return would be welcome.
Help wanted: If anyone can explain what Martin Tyler meant by Danny Guthrie’s yellow card being a Premier League yellow card? apparently the viewers knew what he meant… If you did could you kindly let us know…cheers!