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Opinion

Newcastle United – Pressing matters

1 month ago
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Newcastle United are now fully focused on the rapidly approaching new season.

Their Premier League season kicking off in only 29 days.

Indeed, the first pre-season friendly is only 24 hours away, a behind closed doors game against Gateshead at the NUFC training ground, with then friendlies number two and three only seven (1860 Munich) and ten days away (Mainz 05) respectively.

However, backtracking a bit, what did we learn from last season?

Well the first couple of months were easy, as always, desperately needing to get Mike Ashley and Steve Bruce out of the club, without those departures we knew for sure that Newcastle United were heading for disaster.

The new owners arrived in October and the following month Eddie Howe was entrusted with trying to instantly repair the wreckage left behind by Ashley and Bruce. Relegation needing to be avoided at all costs.

The media had a field day, appointing a supposedly gung-ho Eddie Howe for a mid-season safety attempt, why weren’t they getting ‘big’ Sam etc etc.

Howe had performed miracles at Bournemouth, taking them on a journey of saving them from dropping to non-league, right through to the Premier League, promoted up three levels.

On getting to the top tier, Eddie Howe got the reputation for attacking football, which was now turned on its head by our enemies desperate to see Newcastle fail. In their five Premier League seasons under Howe, Bournemouth never conceded less than 61 goals (67, 67, 61, 70, 65).

By the end of the 2021/22 season, our enemies in the media and elsewhere somehow forgot about their doom and gloom forecasts and how supposedly ridiculous it was to be appointing Eddie Howe during a crisis, instead of good old fat Sam.

I think the truth is, at Bournemouth he’d played to his team’s strengths, Eddie Howe taking them up as champions with the team scoring 98 goals, seven more than the next highest. So why not continue with a similar attack minded approach? To be fair it worked, Bournemouth took the occasional heavy defeat but with a more attack orientated approach than you normally get with clubs expected to be relegation contenders, they also had more than enough good days. Very unlucky to be relegated eventually in 2020 when the fates conspired.

Back to Newcastle United though and Eddie Howe confounded the critics using a team formation and tactics that concentrated first on creating a solid defence, whilst at the same time still gave a decent level of attacking threat. It was an unbelievable transformation considering what a mess Steve Bruce had made out of Rafa Benitez’ defensive set-up.

Newcastle had the third best form in the second half of the season behind only Man City and Liverpool, picking up 38 points in the final 19 games of the season.

However, the defensive transformation was arguably even more remarkable, the last 20 PL matches of the season saw NUFC take a couple of hammerings at Man City and Spurs, BUT in the other 18 games Eddie Howe’s team conceded only 11 goals! In comparison, the start of the season saw the Newcastle team / defence in total disarray under Steve Bruce, conceding 12 goals in only the first four PL matches.

However…I’m not finished just yet.

What I think we have surely now accepted, even his biggest initial doubters, is that Eddie Howe is far more than a one trick pony. At Bournemouth he helped the minnows survive with a very attack slanted plan, at Newcastle United Howe became the first ever Premier League boss to take a team to safety that had failed to win any of its first 14 games, achieving that on a solid defensive base with Chris Wood playing a key role in defending from the front and doing so much unselfish work, which helped enable Newcastle swiftly to move out of trouble once we got into 2022 and Eddie Howe had worked out his plan. A plan which of course included the essential signing made in January, helping to make up for some of the neglect under Ashley in the transfer market (including only one player signed in his final two windows).

Anyway, Monday 16 May 2022 saw things take yet another very surprising, but welcome, turn.

With safety achieved and certain players (especially Callum Wilson) now back fully fit, Eddie Howe took a very different approach, compared to the vast majority of games that had taken Newcastle to safety.

From the very first whistle, Newcastle United pressed Arsenal.

The Gunners needing a win to get Champions League football, the Magpies with nothing of substance to play for other than pride and serving it up for the fans in the final home match of the season. It was a no contest.

Arsenal hardly had a kick all night as Newcastle United relentlessly pressed the visitors.

After the game, Mikel Arteta was left admitting that Newcastle were ‘one hundred times’ better than Arsenal in every department. I wouldn’t disagree, NUFC were absolutely dominant throughout.

The Arsenal boss admitting that his players lost ‘every duel’ and that the home side deserved to win by more than the two second half goals that were scored.

This was superb stuff from Eddie Howe and his team, just maybe showing what his intentions might be when it comes to moving forward…

It may sound a bit odd to say but despite Newcastle United signing three defensive players this summer, I think it has seriously added to the team’s (Howe’s) attacking intentions.

I think Nick Pope will start the season as number one and he has proved excellent as a sweeper for Burnley, whilst Sven Botman looks a class act and will also help Newcastle press higher, knowing the added quality that has been brought in at the back end. Matt Targett an excellent permanent signing and a key part in that improvement in the second half last season, especially in giving that solid defence that can now also be a springboard for an increasingly attacking side under Eddie Howe.

I am not suggesting that now Newcastle United are now suddenly going to be playing every team off the park BUT I do think we are going to see the kind of pressing game that so overwhelmed Arsenal, used far more often by the NUFC head coach.

For the likes of Man City and Liverpool, I think Eddie Howe will adopt different tactics, as indeed he did at Chelsea last season, when despite having a weakened team, Howe’s side were far better on the day and deserved to win at Stamford Bridge. Only bad finishing and shocking match / VAR officials prevented that, Chelsea restricted to only two late efforts on target and Havertz producing a superb 89th finish for an undeserved home win.

Exciting times ahead under Eddie Howe I feel and whilst no result is ever guaranteed, I 100% predict what the tactics will be on Saturday 6 August, the NUFC head coach sending out his players to try and dominate Nottingham Forest from the first whistle. I can’t wait.

Mikel Arteta reflecting on Newcastle 2 Arsenal 0:

“Normally I can sit here and defend what we have done…but today it is not easy.

“Newcastle were one hundred times better than us in every department, from the beginning to the end.

“It is hard to accept but that is the reality of what happened today on that pitch.

“We knew [what was at stake] but we didn’t cope with it.

“We didn’t compete, we never even got into the game.

“We were putting ourselves in trouble time after time.

“We lost every duel.

“Every aspect of the game we were second best and Newcastle deserved to win the match, probably by a bigger margin as well.”

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