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Opinion

Is this Newcastle United formation really the way forward?

5 months ago
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Since the addition of Graeme Jones at Newcastle United, the team has set up very differently.

A 4-3-1-2 formation, Graeme Jones regularly used it in his time at Luton Town.

Steve Bruce has stated he is intent on doing things his way, as Newcastle fans wonder who has been the real driving force in the switch to a different formation.

Since adopting the 4-3-1-2 formation, amongst the results Newcastle United have recorded victories against Everton and Southampton (These the only two victories in the past fifteen games for the Magpies).

However, there are also matches where it has proved less fruitful, such as Monday night’s loss against Chelsea and the defeat by Crystal Palace. With these defeats in mind, Newcastle fans are left to consider whether this formation really is, as Steve Bruce put it, “the way forward for us.”

Now, the main positive of Newcastle adopting this formation is clearly the mentality shift that it has introduced, 4-3-1-2 lends itself to a potentially more attacking style of play and higher pressing.

In playing this formation, Bruce and his coaching staff evidently want to shift to a more proactive approach than that of many games this season, when Newcastle have been passive.

The use of two strikers outlines this attacking intent as well as allowing Miguel Almiron to occupy a more advanced midfield position, a role that he appears to be relishing with his double against Southampton.

The fact that formation also allows one of the midfield three to arrive late into the box is another positive. The loan signing of Joe Willock, a box-to-box midfielder that Newcastle have been crying out for all season, further outlined the benefits. Willock’s debut goal against Southampton reinforced Bruce’s faith in this approach.

The narrow shape also gives the centre-backs more protection as the central midfielders maintain a short distance from one another and can cover each other if one player gets caught out. Moreover, by packing the midfield, Newcastle limit the capabilities of their opponents to find gaps through the centre, forcing them wide.

However, this particular positive can also prove to be a negative, as proven against Chelsea on Monday night.

On countless occasions, Emile Krafth found himself left to defend against the attacking runs of both Timo Werner and the overlapping of Marcos Alonso. Newcastle’s midfield looked caught in two minds as to whether they should go out to give Krafth support or stay inside and maintain their compact shape. Too many times this happened and eventually Newcastle paid the price, Chelsea’s first goal came from Timo Werner getting by Krafth and delivering a dangerous ball which was palmed out by Darlow straight to Olivier Giroud.

Now I know that Chelsea have much more quality and depth than this Newcastle United squad but surely you don’t leave your right-back two against one? If anything, Newcastle should have been doubling up on Chelsea’s players!

This happened time and time again, on both sides, and the combinations of Werner and Alonso, and Hudson Odoi and Mount, caused problems for Newcastle United all game.

Newcastle also lacked a focal point in attack. Both Gayle and Saint-Maximin were too wide and Newcastle struggled to maintain possession. Callum Wilson’s absence was apparent, not only for his goalscoring but also his hold up and mobility too.

When playing against teams like Chelsea where they dominate possession, this formation just didn’t work, but against Everton and against Southampton until Wilson got injured, the 4-3-1-2 formation did work incredibly well. Newcastle looked a consistent attacking threat and defensively resolute.

This could lead you to believe that the key is simply Callum Wilson.

I don’t think it is simply down to personnel though, as Newcastle did lose playing this formation against Crystal Palace, where Wilson played the full 90 minutes. Wilson is a huge miss of course, but I don’t think the success of this formation solely relies on his involvement, although it is a massive boost when he does play.

This formation is new for many of the players and perhaps Newcastle will get to grips with it sooner rather then later. It is clear the desire is to play this way for the remainder of the season and despite the performances against Palace and Chelsea, there is plenty of evidence from the victories over Southampton and Everton to suggest this could be the way forward.

Whether this formation and approach is really the long-term answer remains to be seen but Newcastle fans will certainly be hoping that the team becomes comfortable and consistent in this formation sooner rather than later, especially with the increasing threat of Fulham breathing down our necks.

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