How Newcastle United can beat Leicester City…
Steve McClaren approaches this weekend’s match knowing Newcastle have won this fixture five times in a row, and have a team starting to take shape after a slow start.
Leicester lie third in the table, playing football reminiscent of Kevin Keegan’s famous Entertainers, but McClaren will fancy his chances of getting a result.
Here are four factors that could be influential in a Newcastle victory over Leicester:
International break benefits McClaren:
Newcastle started the season poorly, with 3 points from 8 games.
Since October’s international break, Newcastle have picked up 7 points from 4 matches – two wins, one draw, two clean sheets, eight goals and one match lost due only to referee error.
Last time the Premiership took a break, McClaren used the time to dramatically improve his squad’s performance in several key areas; they returned with a performance oozing attacking intent and they put Norwich to the sword, scoring six goals in a swashbuckling performance.
McClaren is renowned for his coaching ability; the more time he has with his players, the more he and Steve Black have to improve the squad individually and collectively. With two weeks to prepare a team relatively unaffected by injury, Newcastle enter the match in good form, fully refreshed physically and mentally.
In contrast, the international break has hindered Leicester, with top scorer and main threat Jamie Vardy returning injured. Teams often lose momentum after an enforced break, and few expect Leicester’s remarkable start to continue indefinitely; the disruption to both the routine and tactics could well prove to be their undoing.
Down to the defences:
Leicester’s early-season attacking prowess is the reason they start as favourites, but Newcastle may be the one team against whom they fire blanks. A solid defensive performance against Stoke, Elliot’s heroics a fortnight ago and the back-to-the-wall display at Old Trafford all resulted in clean sheets; if the Magpies play like that again, then they will not lose this football match.
From there, it’s a matter of scoring one goal. If Ayoze Perez notches on the counter, Newcastle win. If Mitrovic scores a header from a corner, three points. If Wijnaldum arrives late in the box, if Sissoko goes on one of his special runs, if Janmaat nips in on the overlap, then Leicester leave Tyneside defeated. If Newcastle can return from Bournemouth unscathed, they can hold firm at home. Build from the back, hit them on the break: simple, yet effective. Newcastle may need to score more than one, but they are more than capable of doing so.
The Colback cover conundrum:
Despite winning two weeks ago, Newcastle were over-run in midfield, and this is something McClaren needs to address.
Some have suggested Perez may be replaced by a deeper-lying Siem de Jong, giving Newcastle an extra body in midfield. Most people think the issue is in partnering Cheick Tiote and Vurnon Anita; that both can play alongside Colback but they don’t click as a pairing.
McClaren may opt to give them more time to gel, but there is a third option available: he could partner Tiote or Anita with Georginio Wijnaldum, starting Florian Thauvin at left-wing.
The £13m man was involved in four goals on his first start (Northampton in League Cup), but is yet to ignite at Newcastle, with most of his involvement coming from the bench. Thauvin is a player of immense potential, who is capable of being devastating on the counter attack. If he can use his pace, trickery and technique to good effect, Mitrovic, Perez and Wijnaldum will thrive on his delivery, and Newcastle will have the creative outlet they crave.
Of those three options, the first two are the most likely, but if McClaren opts to deploy the Frenchman, he could be instrumental in exploiting Leicester’s defensive weaknesses, especially the lack of cover offered by Mahrez.
Newcastle should approach this match with the expectation of conceding. Leicester have scored at least two goals in 7 of their last 8 matches so, while we should aim to limit their chances, targeting a clean sheet would be counter-productive; should Leicester score early, morale would drop at the failure to achieve the objective.
What Newcastle need to do is to aim to score at least 3 goals; that way, the task in hand doesn’t change even if Leicester do score twice. This is another reason why Thauvin should start – he focuses the mind-set on goals.
That’s not to say Newcastle should be cavalier. Newcastle dominated the first half against Sunderland playing possession football. For spells on Saturday, they should deploy the same tactics – in contrast to his reputation, Ranieri has picked a settled team. Making them chase the ball, especially an injured Vardy, not only limits their threat but tires them out. If we target three goals, then we only need one by half-time, and we have 45 minutes to get it.
Second-half, Newcastle should introduce an attacking substitute early. This has the effect of refreshing the front-line, while psychologically imposing upon a tired Leicester that they will now have to work harder. Newcastle can be patient in the quest for a second, knowing that Leicester will become exposed as they tire. Once the game opens up towards the end, a second attacking substitution multiplies the mental impact of the first, while giving Newcastle a fresh outlet on the counter in the hunt for the killer goal.
Newcastle’s key to victory on Saturday is composure. Stay calm after conceding and believe you will score more goals over ninety minutes.
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