17.12.11 – Saturday 3pm
St James’ Park
Barclays Premier League
Having suffered defeat against Premier League new boys Norwich last weekend Newcastle fared better against league debutants Swansea, but were unable to convert one of the many chances that their play merited and had to settle for a 0-0 draw against the hardened Welsh side.
1. Team selection and tactics
Newcastle, boosted by the return of captain Fabricio Coloccini and Cheick Tiote, made 3 changes to the side that had lost 4-2 away to Norwich last weekend. The aforementioned Coloccini and Tiote replaced Ryan Taylor and the suspended Dan Gosling in the starting line up. Coloccini lined up alongside James Perch in central defence, which allowed Danny Simpson to return to his usual right back position. The only other change saw Leon Best preferred over Shola Ameobi up front, who dropped to the bench. Swansea made 2 changes to the side that had defeated Fulham 2-0 at the Liberty Stadium, with Joe Allen and Danny Graham replacing Luke Moore and Leroy Lita.
Newcastle, as they had done against Norwich, used a 4-4-2 formation with two willing and powerful strikers – Demba Ba and Leon Best – and an emphasis on attack. Swansea lined up in a rough 4-2-3-1 formation, although it could have been interpreted as a 4-5-1 formation at times such was the gap between the midfield and lone front man Danny Graham. Brendan Rogers’ side set up to defend, and break on the counter, but rarely threatened when in possession of the ball which made for a very one sided game of football in Newcastle’s favour.
2. Newcastle press to prevent Swansea’s possession play
Much has been made already this season about Swansea’s style of play and their penchant for patient possession football – keeping the ball on the ground and retaining play in the defensive and midfield thirds of the pitch through quick, often backwards or sidewards, passes – encouraging the opposition to step out of position and to exploit the spaces that appear. This had not gone unnoticed by Alan Pardew, who set his side up to press high up the pitch and guard against the opposition’s preferred style of play.
Newcastle were work-man-like in their game plan when without the ball with each player putting their Swansea counterpart under pressure to restrict their time on the ball, space and options, whilst also keeping their positional discipline. This tactic was executed very well by the well-briefed Newcastle players and effectively nullified Swansea’s attacking game plan. Perhaps the most notable example of Newcastle’s high pressing was when Swansea had a goal kick. Rather than allowing goalkeeper Michel Vorm to play a short ball to a teammate, as is his preference, the Newcastle players marked their opponents tightly and regularly forced the Swans’ keeper to instead play a long ball and thus often surrendering possession.
3. Tiote and Cabaye control crowded midfield
Despite being outnumbered against Swansea’s central midfield trio of Joe Allen, Leon Britton and Mark Gower (replaced by Kemy Agustien in a like-for-like swap at half time), Newcastle’s central midfield pairing of Cheick Tiote and Yohan Cabaye overcame their numerical disadvantage to control the central midfield area. Both players performed their defensive and attacking duties well. They were determined in their work rate to break up play and positive in their distribution to maintain Newcastle’s attacking momentum.
Tiote, returning from a 6 game absence through injury, had 84 touches of the ball, more than any other player, and won all of the 4 tackles that he competed for. He also attempted more passes (70) than any other player with an impressive 87% finding a teammate. Cabaye, meanwhile, had 78 touches of the ball, more than any Swansea midfielder, also made 4 tackles and achieved an 80% pass completion rate. The figures highlighting both players’ authority on the game.
4. Santon surges forward to support
Up against the quick-footed former Newcastle winger Wayne Routledge, Davide Santon, making only his 2nd league start for Newcastle, read the game well making 4 tackles, and won his individual battle with the diminutive winger who was later switched to the opposite flank. However, it was going forward that Santon impressed. The young full back regularly looked to get forward to support and overlap Jonas Gutierrez, with 64% of his passes taking place in the opposition half, and would be a worthy contender for man of the match.
For the opening 13 games of the season, Gutierrez has played in front of Ryan Taylor. While Taylor has filled in admirably, he is not naturally a left back, which has regularly lead to Gutierrez selflessly playing deeper to offer protection to his teammate, and in the process almost sacrificing his attacking duties. With the more accomplished Santon at left back, Gutierrez’ defensive shackles were lessened which lead to him attempting 12 crosses into the box in open play, more than any other Newcastle player. In fact, to highlight Santon’s attacking impact, 42% of Newcastle’s attacking play was on their left against Swansea, far higher than their seasonal average of 33%. Although two right footers on the left aren’t ideal in the long term, Santon’s introduction at least gives Newcastle another attacking option in the short term.
5. Newcastle encouraged to attack the flanks
When without the ball, Swansea typically reverted to a 4-5-1 formation with the central midfield trio – Mark Gower, Joe Allen and Leon Britton – joined by wingers – Wayne Routledge and Scott Sinclair – in dropping deep to close the space between defence and midfield for Newcastle to play into. With space restricted in the middle, and with central playmaker Hatem Ben Arfa merely a spectator from the substitutes’ bench, Newcastle instead looked to attack on the wings.
In total, including free kicks and corners, Newcastle attempted 41 crosses into the box, almost 5 times the 9 that Swansea attempted, as they looked to provide ammunition for their front men Demba Ba and Leon Best (replaced for the final 20 minutes by Shola Ameobi). However, of the high quantity of crosses, only a third (14) found a teammate, although the Newcastle attackers were often outnumbered by Swansea bodies who defended well and, alongside Vorm in goal, thwarted Newcastle’s many deliveries from wide areas.
At the end of the day…
It proved to be a disappointing day for Newcastle, who had to settle for a point in a game which they created enough chances and played well enough to take all 3.
In fact, to highlight Newcastle’s dominance in terms of chances, they had 22 shots, 7 times that of Swansea’s 3 shots. Yet, their aim proved to be out with only 3 of those 22 shots being on target which Vorm was ultimately equal to.
Although the outcome is frustrating, it is difficult to be too disheartened by the Newcastle performance. The defensive tactics worked well to stifle Swansea’s attacking game plan and on another day, with a bit of luck and better accuracy in front of goal, Newcastle could well have been celebrating the 3 points. Sometimes you don’t always get what you deserve…
The point moved Newcastle up into 6th place in the table and now means that they will go into Christmas in the top 7, having played 5 of the other 6 sides also occupying the top 7, which is a measure of their excellent start to the season.
Next up for Newcastle is a home fixture against inconsistent West Brom at St James’ Park on Wednesday night, 7:45pm kick off. Newcastle will be hoping to face the Baggies on one of their off days as they look to end a stretch of 5 games without a win and go into Christmas on a high.
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