How Rafa’s five at the back has produced better results AND attacking football/goals
The last time Newcastle lined up with a conventional four-man defence in the league was against Manchester United way back on the 2nd of January.
Although the switch to a 5-4-1 (or 5-3-2 depending on how glass-half-full you are) was an enforced decision after Paul Dummett’s injury, the consequences have been an important factor in the team’s improved form.
NUFC has rarely seen such effective tactical alterations from its managers in recent years. Once again, Rafa has come to the rescue with some continental nous and a willingness to tinker with existing formulas.
Aside from the West Ham game, with an extra man in defence, the whole team looks more secure and creative. The combination of Schar, Lascelles and Lejeune all on the pitch together has created a barrier to our goal as imposing as the Berlin Wall. As much as East German runaways evaded the latter every once in a while, so too do our defensive trio fail to see the odd attacker get past them. But, on the whole, they’ve been keeping the opposition at bay.
The real key to this strategic change has been Matt Ritchie’s perseverance in his new role as left wing-back. Ritchie sometimes has his critics but he is always willing to work tirelessly for the club and manager. He would no doubt prefer to be charging towards the opposition’s box than tracking back inside his own but his adaptability to the new formation has been a major asset.
A question now will be whether Dummett can equally evolve his play to fit the new system, or whether Ritchie remains in a more defensive position permanently.
I have been a fan of the five-man defence since Wales used it brilliantly when they reached the semi-finals of the European Championships in 2016. For both Wales and Newcastle, the more compact approach has improved the performances of, in all fairness, the limited players at their disposal.
Perhaps counterintuitively, far from restricting our attacking options, the likes of Sean Longstaff and Miguel Almiron seem to enjoy the freedom that more solid foundations in the rear have given them.
In the eight games since the formation change NUFC have scored 11 times, compared to the four goals achieved in the same number of matches prior.
As much as the players deserve credit, Rafa is the one pulling the strings. It is yet another example of the difference between great managers and the multitude of ordinary ones populating the leagues.
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