A surprise for everybody when Rafa Benitez named his team on Saturday afternoon.
Fans expected a number of changes but not many, if any, would have forecast the United boss playing two strikers and using a 3-5-2 system.
Rafa Benitez made eight changes and started with Sels in goal, a back three of Lascelles, Haidara and Hanley, with Lazaar and Yedlin as wing-backs. Then a midfield trio of Colback, Tiote & Anita, with Mitrovic and Murphy up front.
Rafa says he was disappointed because the injury to Mitrovic meant he had to make a sub so early, Gouffran playing in an advanced position alongside Murphy.
However, the Newcastle Manager felt that the first 30 minutes saw the 3-5-2 system working well, United leading and well on top, with Birmingham not having a serious chance.
The problem came though for Rafa Benitez with the players he’d had available for this match, saying that as the first half went on, he thought Newcastle ‘didn’t have the legs to cope with the pace of the game’.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that this must be a reference to the midfield three, with Tiote not the quickest anyway these days and not match fit, whilst both Colback and Anita aren’t the quickest either.
The Manager also felt that the players selected conceded possession too easily and added to the pressure on his team as the game wore on.
When you have players such as Lazaar and Yedlin who are ideal for the wing-back role, hopefully Rafa Benitez sees the possibilities this system could give with better players alongside them.
Playing Gayle with either Murphy or Mitrovic (or a new signing…) and then the likes of Hayden, Shelvey, Ritchie, Clark etc involved.
I think certainly in home matches Rafa Benitez maybe has to look at changing tactics and/or personnel as Newcastle have struggled to break the opposition down at times.
“I was a little bit disappointed – not because of the formation but because we were trying to play with two strikers and then we lost one after just a few minutes, so we had to change things in the game.
“We wanted to manage in a way (formation & tactics) that was more what we were trying to do and get more from it.
“But in terms of the defence and midfield, I was trying to protect some players who were playing too much, to be sure we have numbers there.
“I think the formation was fine for 30 minutes and after that we needed a little bit more control – but maybe we didn’t have the legs to cope with the pace of the game.
“In possession we could maybe have done a little bit better, we gave the ball away too much and so we had to defend a lot.
“I was happy with a lot of things but we can improve on the understanding, we can definitely improve some obvious things.”