Home » Tactical analysis: Erik ten Hag needs to nullify Newcastle United’s midfield overload

Tactical analysis: Erik ten Hag needs to nullify Newcastle United’s midfield overload

by Red Billy

Manchester United head to St. James Park this afternoon knowing that a win against Newcastle would be a huge leap forward toward securing Champions League football next season.

It would open up a six point gap between the two sides with just 11 games to go.

However, in a match which will be won in midfield, the absence of Casemiro, Christian Eriksen and potentially Marcel Sabitzer leaves United boss Erik ten Hag with few options.

Newcastle’s success this term has been built on a solid defence and manager Eddie Howe has performed miracles in this area. Their goals against of just 19 from 26 games is easily the best in the Premier League – eight better than the next best (City).

Howe employs a 4-3-3, usually with Kieran Trippier at right-back, Fabian Schär and Sven Botman at CB and Dan Burn left-back. They will regroup quickly in transitions and you will see players leaving the ball to run back to reform the line.

So United will struggle to catch them on the back foot with speedy counter-attacks. On the other hand, they will often get 8 or even 9 men behind the ball so a more measured build up can also lead to frustration.

One way to beat this sort of defence is with a patient build-up and quality distribution from deep. This would tend to favour the likes of Marcel Sabitzer (if fit) or Bruno Fernandes playing deep rather than the more workmanlike stars such as McTominay and Fred.

Trippier is the defender given more licence to join the attack, but the Magpies tend to shift the rest of the defence right to cover, with someone dropping back from midfield to take up the space left on the left.

This counter-intuitively means that attacking their left flank is more productive after a turnover. Quick breaks from United’s right could therefore favour Diogo Dalot’s inclusion ahead of Aaron Wan-Bissaka, as the speedy Portuguese will get on the front foot more naturally to support the winger.

Howe also encourages his forwards to drop back into midfield, which can mean a two-man United midfield can get overrun. We saw this in the Carabao Cup final, which Newcastle dominated for large parts of the first half and was only properly combatted when Ten Hag added an extra man in that area in the second half, bringing on Marcel Sabitzer and Scott McTominay. The full-backs will also be expected to tuck in to provide more support in this part of the field.

Newcastle do not use a high block, so more forward players will take more chances because they know the defence will stay relatively deep and stable. It also allows them to challenge more in their own half than other sides, so United will have to be wary themselves of committing too many men forward in case possession is lost.

Today’s match kicks off at 4.30pm.


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