Nov 1, 2011

Tactical analysis: Stoke 1 Newcastle 3 in 5 key points

31.10.11 – Monday 8pm
Barclays Premier League

Demba Ba celebrates hat trick

Ba wants curly hair too?

Stoke 1
Walters 75 (pen)

Newcastle 3
Ba 12, 40, 81 (pen)

Newcastle continued their marvellous unbeaten start to the 2011/12 Premier League campaign, and moved up to third place in the table, with a 3-1 victory over Stoke at the Britannia Stadium on Monday night courtesy of Demba Ba’s ‘perfect hat-trick’.

Newcastle opened the scoring in the 12th minute when Gabriel Obertan’s accurate cross from the right was met by Ba whose diving header at the back post sailed past the outstretched Stoke ‘keeper Asmir Begovic. Newcastle’s lead was doubled 5 minutes before half time when Leon Best’s mishit shot trickled across the 6 yard area for the anticipatory Ba to prod home left footed.

Stoke increased the pressure in the second half and halved the deficit with 15 minutes remaining when Ba was adjudged to have felled Peter Crouch in the penalty area with John Walters smashing the resultant spot kick past Krul. Yet, 6 minutes later Newcastle were awarded a penalty of their own, when Robert Huth pushed Leon Best in the back, which Ba coolly converted with his right foot to complete his hat-trick and gave Newcastle the 3-1 victory.

Here we take a look at the 5 key points from a Newcastle perspective:

1. Team selection and tactics

Stoke Newcastle tactics

Having adopted a 4-5-1 formation and making 5 changes to the starting line up for Newcastle’s midweek Carling Cup exit at Blackburn, Alan Pardew returned to his favoured 4-4-2 formation with Danny Guthrie replacing the injured Cheik Tiote in central midfield as the only change to the side that beat Wigan 1-0 at St James’ Park last Saturday. Stoke manager Tony Pulis, who had also made 5 changes to his side for the midweek Carling Cup defeat against Liverpool, also used a 4-4-2 formation and made 2 changes to the side that lost 3-1 against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium last weekend with Jonathan Woodgate and Jermaine Pennant replacing Matthew Upson and Dean Whitehead.

Stoke approached the game with their archetypal direct style and looked to provide the front men – Jon Walters and Peter Crouch – with a healthy amount of aerial balls from defence, from the wings and even direct from throw ins. To counter this approach Newcastle, although employing 2 strikers, played a more defensive game than normal with the midfield sitting deep to restrict space, win the ‘second-ball’, soak up pressure and play on the counter attack which lead to the majority of the game being played in Newcastle’s half.

2. Newcastle nullify Stoke’s right sided threat

Stoke’s right side preference is underlined by the fact that they had double the amount of possession on their right side (57%) compared to their left (23%). Whether this was a ploy by Pulis to exploit the out of position Ryan Taylor at left back, a penchant to supply Jermaine Pennant on the right rather than Matthew Etherington on the left, or even both, it was a notable feature of Stoke’s play and something which Newcastle had to guard against.

Nufc tackles vs Stoke

Newcastle tackles: many took place on R.Taylor/Gutierrez' left side

They did so by deploying Jonas Gutierrez almost as a second left back in front of Ryan Taylor to double up on Pennant. Gutierrez dropped deep from his left midfield berth whenever Stoke attacked on their right, made 5 tackles and 2 interceptions and provided an ample level of support and cover for Ryan Taylor. Gutierrez’ performance set the tone for Newcastle with his work rate and selflessness to fulfil his defensive responsibilities standing out in a performance that was worthy of the man of the match award.

3. Newcastle target Stoke’s weaker left side

With Gutierrez stationed deeper than normal and subsequently restricted in his attacking duties the attacking emphasis fell to Obertan on the right of Newcastle’s midfield to exploit Stoke’s weaker left side and their own out of position left back – Marc Wilson. And this became the source of Newcastle’s first goal when Obertan took advantage of the space left by Wilson, whose poor decision making to go for a header that he shouldn’t have left him out of position, before supplying a precision cross for Ba to open the scoring.

Obertan was a useful ‘out-ball’ for Newcastle with his pace providing a valuable asset on the counter attack. He chased loose balls to put the defence under pressure, his crossing accuracy was much improved with 50% finding a teammate (20% vs. Wigan) and, although he is still prone to being caught in possession and there remains plenty of scope for development, the signs of improvement are showing in what was probably his most efficient performance in a Newcastle shirt since joining in the summer.

First goal screenshot

Newcastle’s 1st goal – Best heads the ball to Obertan who exploits the space behind Wilson


4. Defending deep and thwarting Delap’s dangerous throw ins

As has become the norm for away sides at the Britannia Stadium, Newcastle came under continuous pressure from Stoke’s relentless aerial deliveries into the penalty area via corners, crosses, free kicks and throw ins, and had to defend resolutely throughout to maintain their status as the league’s meanest defence and prevent their opponents from scoring in open play.

Rory Delap throw ins

Delap's unsuccessful throw ins: 11 of 14 failed to find a teammate

Newcastle defended as a unit from the front with each player aware of their defensive responsibilities and were successful with 26 of their 33 attempted tackles (78% tackle success). They packed the box when defending throw ins and set pieces, leaving Cabaye as the only man forward, and repelled Stoke’s many aerial deliveries through anticipation of the ‘second ball’,  solid positioning and the gloves of Tim Krul who claimed or punched away every cross he came for. Although Newcastle defended superbly as a team, again, each of the back 4 is worthy of a mention for their contribution – from Steven Taylor’s 9 clearances, Coloccini’s assured leadership, Ryan Taylor’s 3 tackles and Simpson who – in perhaps his most accomplished performance in the Premier League for Newcastle – made more tackles (7) and had more touches (59) than any of his team mates.

5. Best Ba none

Demba Ba shots

Raising the Ba: 3 shots, 3 goals

Having almost signed for Stoke in January, before signing for West Ham after Stoke refused to sanction the deal on medical grounds, Demba Ba was centre stage at the Britannia Stadium and was roundly booed by the home crowd with each touch of the ball. However, Ba, perhaps thriving on the attention he courted, was in typically deadly form with each of his 3 shots resulting in a goal to achieve his 2nd hat-trick of the season and taking his tally for 2011/12 to 8 goals in only his last 5 games. Not bad for a free transfer.

Ba will take the plaudits, and deservedly so, but a mention is also warranted for his strike partner Leon Best who was a willing runner all game, who retained possession well with a 77% pass completion rate – higher than any of his colleagues – and also won more headers (4) than any other Newcastle player. Pardew has shown faith in the pair, while there must have been the temptation to bring in the mercurial Hatem Ben Arfa, and although at times understanding between Best and Ba has been lacking,  the signs of a potent and industrious partnership are beginning to show with Pardew’s faith repaid in commitment and goals.

At the end of the day…

They said Tottenham at home was going to be Newcastle’s toughest test, Newcastle drew. They then said that Stoke away was going to be Newcastle’s toughest test, Newcastle won. They say that the league table begins to take shape after 10 games, Newcastle sit unbeaten in 3rd place…

While it’s generally accepted, even from the most ardent Magpies fan, that Newcastle won’t be able to sustain their position in the top 4, especially if injuries take their toll, hopefully they will begin to give Newcastle the credit that they have merited up to this point rather than dismissing their league position as ‘false’ and as a result of ‘not playing anyone yet’. And when discussing the race for the top 4 to at least mention each of the current occupants, even if it’s just to say ‘Newcastle are doing well, but Tottenham/Liverpool/Arsenal are better equipped/experienced to finish 4th’. We realise that. We accept that. But, Newcastle at least deserve a mention, in the next ‘top 4’ discussion, for their early season exploits.

Back to the game. Although Stoke enjoyed more shots (12 to Newcastle’s 8) and more possession (56% to Newcastle’s 44%), Newcastle came with a game plan which they executed superbly and were deserved of the 3 points for their staunch defending and clinical finishing.

Credit must go to Alan Pardew and his backroom staff. Having failed with an experimental 3-5-2 formation at the same ground last season, Pardew’s tactics and game plan worked to perfection as he became the first Premier League manager to lead his side to a victory at the Britannia this season and the first Newcastle manager to achieve an away victory at Stoke in 26 years. It was also welcoming to see small details – such as Gutierrez getting goal side of the Stoke player who attempted to block Krul at corners, freeing the Dutch keeper to attack the ball – implemented by Pardew and his team to disrupt Stoke’s usual game plan, as well as the Newcastle full backs resourcefully using the towels available at pitch side – the irony being lost on Tony Pulis.

The 3 points lifted Newcastle into 3rd position with 22 points gained out of the 30 available so far, and helped maintain their unbeaten league status – a record that they share in the esteemed company of Man City, Barcelona and Juventus out of Europe’s top 5 leagues.

Next up for Newcastle is the visit of Everton to St James’ Park on Saturday, 12.45pm kick off. A victory would lift The Magpies, albeit probably temporarily, up to 2nd place in the Premier League table. What would they say then…

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  • Top quality analysis of a top quality performance.

    The whole team were ‘man of the match’ for me.
    What a picture pulis’ face was when asked about the non-signing of Ba.
    It was v. funny watching gaz neville’s disbelief grow as the game progressed too.
    It’s so patently obvious that the ‘pundits’ have spent zero time watching NUFC in the last couple of years.

    Magpies fly low, under the radar!

  • What I could not understand last night was the constant way deLap encroached anything from 5-10 meters on every throw in coupled with the “ball drying” yet when Newcastle followed suit, without the encroachment, the normally likeable Pullis, had a fit, screaming at the 4th official. What springs to mind is that old saying” whats good for the goose is good for the gander”. Walsh’s comments on the penalties was also needless, at the end of the day these big tough footballers fall down as if they have been tasered in order to gain an advantage and the referee saw fit to award a penalty to both sides in this game which brings up that ” goose and gander” scenario again. Go the Toon long may it last. This is from a fair minded football fanatic by the way.

  • Our closing down and marking in pairs worked really well. i hope we can do that a lot more, as it forced them into errors or long balls.

  • These “5 Key Points” articles are fantastic. So much written is just stating the obvious (ie who scored, who fowled, etc) or venting opinion (usually biased, mostly pointless and often without any justification or substance to back it). We certainly don’t need more of that!.
    These articles really stand out as “professional sporting journalism” at its finest. They do a great job of analysing the game, explaining the rationale behind why what-is-being-done-on-the-pitch is being done, and giving evidence-backed reasons for why it is (isn’t) working, as well as solidly based opinion on future prospects for team and player(s).
    I’ld love to have the same solid analytical treatment of the club’s player recruitment & development, especially linked in with analysis of the best formations and set ups, weakness to address, and strengths to exploit, particularly as the Jan window approaches.

  • loved it when simpson waited for a towel to dry ball then when he got it he did,nt even wipe the ball and gave a nice little 3 yard throw in lol

  • Very good write up.I competely agree ..Jonas stood out for me with his back tracking performance.If , and its a big if , we beat Everton and dare i say get something from City, I think the man u game will be something to watch because believe me we will be playing that game like a cup final!

  • Quick mention for Guthrie who had a pretty solid game.

    It gives you a bit of confidence in the strength in depth of the squad (at least in midfield) when you get a performance like that from someone who is unlikely to be more than a bit-part player over then season.

  • good analysis. thought it was another great show by jonas. guthrie deputised well for tiote and showed good poise on the ball when he had the chance to. obertan was a constant out ball for the defence and best and ba worked their socks off. i thought cabeye was a bit sloppy with his passing but was incisive at times. it’s hard to fault the overall display as a team. roll on everton.

  • Cheers for the comments all. I’d agree with the comments saying that Guthrie had a good game deputising for Tiote. In him, Gosling, Abeid and Vuckic we have some hungry youngsters willing to step up in central midfield if needed, although Vuckic may be better suited to the number 10 role..

  • Speaking of Gutherie, it wouuld be nice if you could add the distance run by each player as Gutherie ran none stop all game. Something I didn’t know he could do and for that reason alone I’d offer him a contract extention.

  • Nothing much more to say, another cracking analysis and covers just about everything. Fantastic result and keeps us in a strong position going into the 3 tough games.

    I became a bit frustrated with all of the comments about us not facing a difficult team as yet and had to vent it somewhere. So i wrote this:

    It is in line with the last few paragraphs of this article and just describes why the start hasn’t been as easy as everyone thinks and the massive improvement from last season.

  • Yo RD looks like Smithy got his homework done in the preview. As I said we needed to get at Stoke, especially the full backs, and he targeted Wilson as a weak link which was pretty much spot on for the first goal. 🙂

    As we said previously this was likely to be a tough test for us and so it proved but Raylor’s comment about playing with no fear says a lot about the current team and its lofty position in the league. Winning games is the best confidence builder for a team and remaining unbeaten gives you that extra feeling of invincibility to a certain extent.

    I think the main reason for our performance on Monday night, apart from those mentioned above, was down to every one putting in a shift and I include the somewhat erratic Obertan and the unspectacular Best in that list. When you have all eleven players stepping up to the plate it’s a lot better than having two or three “passengers” in the team which has sometimes been the case in the past.

    As you rightly pointed out Obertan’s pass completion rate was a marked improvement on previous games and Best, although not an obvious goal threat, managed to put himself about and covered defensively just as the boy wonder used to do 🙂

    Jonas needs a special mention of course for his non stop running and harrying as does Krul for standing up, most of the time, to the physical test that Stoke seem to be able to get away with when playing at home.

    Finally, because the team were all singing from the same hymn sheet for almost the entire 90 minutes, I have to give credit to Pardwho and the backroom boys, for organising the team in a relatively simple but extremely effective manner.


  • NUFC blog varying from inane rantings to precision statistical analysis. Alternative match previews & reports plus a broader based (and heavily biased) footballing opinion on anything worthy of annoyance.

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