Newcastle United’s recent defeat to Everton left them without a win since October, and losing seven out of the last eight matches since; picking up one point during the process.
Part of the reason for this can be manager Rafa Benitez’s tendency to try new formations and experiment with his team in order to find a formula for success in the Premier League, however this has not gone to plan.
In the 1-0 defeat to Bournemouth in December, Benitez diverted from his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation to a more attacking 4-4-2 arrangement in an attempt to penetrate the opponents and take the game to them.
This worked well at the beginning of the Bournemouth game, with United dominating possession and creating chances early on, although the dominance seemed to wear off in the second half, with the Cherries subsequently scoring an injury time winner. Rafa must have seen something he liked from the match and has since used 4-4-2 in four of the six matches since.
In United’s barren spell, the pattern is for them to take the lead early on and then go on to concede consequently lose the match; they have lost three matches out of the last seven from winning positions, all from scoring within the first 15 minutes.
Another system utilised was a 3-5-2 shape against Chelsea in early December, with Rafa endeavouring to nullify Chelsea’s width to prevent them from crossing into their box frequently. This backfired massively however, with winger Matt Ritchie having a nightmare performance after being deployed as a left-back.
Newcastle’s slump is not solely down to a change in shape, however. The Magpies will believe luck has been against them, with unfortunate late winners conceded against Bournemouth and Leicester City and a gift of a goal given to Everton.
Such lapses of concentration are the ‘mistakes’ which Benitez has referred to on many occasions, stating that his team are paying for them. With Newcastle in poor form and only one point off the relegation zone, confidence is low.
They may now be more susceptible to errors, which is exactly what everyone associated with the club does not want. In his pre-Arsenal press conference, Rafa declared for every member of the club as well as the fans to ‘stay united’ in order to progress through the dry patch; another message that Benitez has affirmed multiple times.
The Toon must revert to the 4-2-3-1 formation which was functioning well at the start of the season and which was an extremely successful tool in gaining promotion to the Premier League.
The ‘number ten role’ within the system was an important factor. United forward Ayoze Perez was used in that role, while he regularly pressed the opposition and dropped back into midfield, creating a five man unit in the middle of the park when Newcastle did not have possession.
With key players such as Jamaal Lascelles and Christian Atsu returning from injury and potential new owners funding the club in January, the Toon Army will hope that they can start climbing the table sooner rather than later.
Written by Dawud Arshad
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