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Opinion

Sheffield Wednesday did their homework on four Newcastle weaknesses

3 years ago
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Everybody will have their own reasons for the final scoreline of Newcastle 0 Sheffield Wednesday 1.

In the main, Sheff Wed fans will believe that it was the quality of their team that did the trick, whilst Newcastle supporters will generally think it was self-inflicted wounds that caused their team to hand victory to the visitors.

Personally, I think it was a bit of both, though maybe the crucial battle that was won, was the one involving Rafa Benitez and Carlos Carvalhal.

The Sheffield Wednesday boss certainly appeared to have done his homework when it came to assessing Newcastle’s weaknesses.

Firstly (& secondly), you can’t ignore the ongoing weakness of United’s left side of the pitch.

The opposition clubs, not just Sheff Wed, have increasingly come to realise that this is the Achilles heel of the side.

Both Dummett and Gouffran are 100% triers but the quality both going back and forwards just isn’t there.

Yes they stick at their jobs but the limitations of the pair have been largely covered up by Newcastle dominating most matches and the creativity quality from elsewhere in the team – particularly down the right side with Ritchie and Yedlin/Anita, along with Shelvey and Gayle.

Maybe 90% of the time attacks down the Newcastle left end up at a dead end and the ball going backwards, as neither Dummett or Gouffran have it in them to try anything. This is compounded by the duo being no more than adequate on the defensive side – most danger tends to come from that side as well.

Rafa Benitez has used the Dummett/Gouffran partnership to tie down one side of the pitch and it has worked ok up to a point – but with push coming to shove and Shelvey suspended and Ritchie a bit in and out recently, we need to up the quality on that left hand side ASAP.

Thirdly, I have to say that Sheffield Wednesday looked to have marked down Jamaal Lascelles for special treatment. I thought it was noticeable that they appeared more than happy to let him have the ball as the defence/midfield ponderously moved the ball around the pitch.

I think Lascelles is a decent/adequate centre-back and Captain but the Owls appeared to have realised that he is a bit of a Mike Williamson with the ball, in comparison to his teammates. More often than not the visiting players closed down the other options and forced Jamaal Lascelles into being the one who ended up having to try and play the ball after extended sideways/backwards passing movements. Almost without fail he ended up gifting the ball to Sheffield Wednesday.

It is clear to us all that Ciaran Clark is an immeasurably better player on the ball (and better defender for me) than Lascelles and he has the confidence, ability and pace to get out of trouble when put under pressure, not so with our Captain. This doesn’t necessarily have to be an ongoing major problem but it does mean that Rafa will have to stop putting any responsibility on Lascelles when it comes to trying to play the ball.

The other option of course could be to bring Chance Mbemba back in for Lascelles, yes I know he had a wobble and lost his place to Ciaran Clark but if you recall that was the home defeat to Wolves when both he and Lascelles had a shocker. Maybe the Captain’s armband helped Lascelles not to be the odd one out and we shouldn’t forget that Mbemba was Newcastle’s best defender in the Premier League last season, his first in the English leagues.

The fourth weakness that Sheffield Wednesday potentially targeted was Jack Colback. A bit like Lascelles, Wednesday appeared to be a lot happier seeing him on the ball, rather than midfield partner Isaac Hayden. Colback’s refusal to move forward into space is very frustrating and his negative short/backwards passing really hindered the team. He was always going to be compared to Shelvey in the playmaker’s absence but I think Rafa Benitez has to accept he can’t repeat the role/responsibility he gave to the former Sunderland midfielder against Sheffield Wednesday.

I would have maybe considered adding Vurnon Anita as a fifth weakness but his isn’t quite as pronounced as the others. He didn’t do too badly going forward last night and his ball retention was decent – the problem is though that his defending is getting more and more exposed and Wednesday also used his lack of height when often hitting high balls to Newcastle’s right that the visitors were always going to win.

There is nothing in the Newcastle team that is broken but I think it is clear that there is far too big a gap between the strengths and the weaknesses of the team, meaning that when the opposition correctly targets the right parts of this NUFC side – we are always going to be at risk of performances/results like the Sheffield Wednesday one.

Interesting to see what Rafa Benitez does in the next few weeks and whether he uses the transfer window and/or his fringe players to try and get a better balance in the team in terms of overall quality/strength.

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