St James’ Park is the venue for this afternoon’s encounter between Newcastle United and Wolverhampton Wanderers. Toon Army vs Wolves to me and you. Wolves, on the back of a tremendous win against Chelsea, are slight favourites in the eyes of the bookies. Prior to that win against Chelsea, Wolves had not beaten anyone since the beginning of October and were on a run of games which saw them lose to the likes of Cardiff and Huddersfield.

After not picking up their first win of the season until 3 November, Newcastle won three games on the bounce before losing at home to West Ham and drawing at Goodison Park in their last two. It’s not a very well kept secret that Mike Ashley isn’t well-liked on Tyneside and despite Benitez’ talent as a coach, there’s, of course, only much that can be done with tightened purse strings. What does all this mean? It’ll be a hard game to call as both teams blow hot and cold, nevertheless, we will investigate Newcastle’s recent heavy home defeat against Pellegrini’s West Ham to establish their weaknesses from a defensive standpoint. Alongside that, Newcastle’s attacking patterns will also come under the microscope before finishing with a look at Wolves and the selection headache Nuno has for today’s game.

Difference In Home & Away Formation

Whereas Wolves keep the same 3-4-3 formation or thereabouts regardless of who they are playing, Newcastle tend to tweak their formation depending on whether they’re playing at St James’ Park or away from home. For example, at Goodison Park in midweek, they operated with a 5-4-1 and focused on not losing the game, rather than winning. The game before, against West Ham, Benitez selected a 4-4-1-1/4-4-2 and focused more so on winning. While the attacking formation at home worked against Watford and Bournemouth, West Ham picked them apart. Let’s find out how.

Newcastle Wolves Premier League Preview Tactical Analysis
Both Hernandez and Arnautovic are being played close attention to.

Newcastle’s centre-half pairing of Federico Fernandez and Fabian Schar are keeping an eye on Chicharito and Arnautovic. Well, it certainly seems that way. Snodgrass, who is stronger on his left foot, is about to cut back in and deliver the ball into the area. If Nuno opts for Gibbs-White again, like he should, Gibbs-White and Jimenez have to play close together in the penalty box as it can have the following effects against Newcastle’s defence.

Quick-Switch From The Centre Forwards

Newcastle Wolves Premier League Preview Tactical Analysis
Simple movement creates space.

All that happens here is that Hernandez and Arnautovic essentially swap positions. Chicharito runs the back post, Arnautovic to the front, Snodgrass whips the ball in and the Mexican sticks it beyond Dubravka. Two key points from this goal, from a Wolves and Newcastle perspective. Wolves rarely flood the penalty area with stacks of players, so the fact that the Hammers were able to score with only two players in the thick of it is positive. It shows that it can be done with few players in the box.

Secondly, all it took for Chicharito to find some space was him swapping positions with Arnautovic. Instead of the centre-backs swapping players and holding their positions or following their own men, they sort of did neither which would’ve no doubt riled Benitez. It was a sloppy goal to concede, despite Chicharito’s good movement.

No Discipline

West Ham’s second goal, which came in the second half, is another from Chicharito and it’s hard to really understand what the Newcastle defence were playing at. Hernandez is doing what Hernandez does best as he waits on the shoulder of the last Geordie defender. The issue is, the Newcastle defence has got no shape whatsoever and because the attack happens rather quickly, they have no chance of regrouping.

Newcastle Wolves Premier League Preview Tactical Analysis
Two touches and Chicharito is set free.

A little disclaimer: I’m not sure if the four Newcastle players with markers under them are actually the four defenders, but it makes sense considering their positions on the pitch. It’s hooked towards Arnautovic who simply flicks it on and Hernandez’ pace can’t be halted. Take a look for yourself.

Newcastle Wolves Premier League Preview Tactical Analysis
No catching Hernandez.

Once the ball is played over to Chicharito, nobody can catch him. As you can see, there is still an awful lot of ground for Hernandez to cover, yet he makes it to the penalty area without drama and sticks another into the Newcastle goal. He beats Dubravka at his near post and that’s somewhere a keeper should never get beaten. In fact, both of Chicharito’s goals were saveable to a certain degree, so that’s another factor Nuno can take into today’s game, shoot on sight!

Attacking Patterns

Due to West Ham’s third coming in second-half stoppage time and it being more a goal of individual brilliance from Felipe Anderson rather than anything else, we will fast forward to a couple of Newcastle’s attacking patterns from the same game. One of Newcastle’s focal points in attack is none other than Salomon Rondon. Rondon is on loan from Wolves’ arch-rivals West Brom and if anyone is going to score for Newcastle, it is perhaps inevitable that it will be the Venezuelan striker. According to the xG from the game against West Ham, Rondon had the best chance for the Toon Army (0.26). We shall focus on that one, to begin with. It stems from some good, patient build-up play and is in the end only thwarted by some smart defending.  

Newcastle Wolves Premier League Preview Tactical Analysis
Triangles, triangles, triangles.

Ki Sung-yeung intelligently turns away from the West Ham man that is marking him before playing the ball to Ayoze Perez. Perez completes the triangle by playing the ball into Diame and Newcastle then have a little more room to play in. Dependant on who Nuno decides to play in central midfield, they will need to be aware of Ayoze Perez dropping deep to pick up the ball. Diame and Ki are pivotal to Newcastle as well and while there’s not much damage that can be done when they’re in their own half, it doesn’t take long for the ball to move forward.

Kenedy Drifts As Manquillo Drives

Newcastle Wolves Premier League Preview Tactical Analysis
Manquillo drives inside rather than attacking the wing.

One thing to note here is Diame is still in the picture while Ki is not which suggests that the South Korean tends to hold while Diame pushes forward to support the attack. Elsewhere, Manquillo cuts inside, into traffic before playing the ball to Rondon and that’s when the Newcastle magic starts to happen. Wolves will need to be aware of the constant movement of the Newcastle forwards, but more importantly, the late arrival of Diame to the party.

Newcastle Wolves Premier League Preview Tactical Analysis
A quick interchange almost gives Newcastle the equaliser.

Rondon lays it off to Perez before getting on his bike. Perez remains calm and takes a touch before playing a delicately weighted lofted through ball into the path of Rondon. Only a stunning tackle from Zabaleta prevents Rondon from getting his shot away, so Wolves are going to have to be on point and aware at all times. Manquillo carries on his run into the penalty area as well. That’s another thing worth bearing in mind for Nuno, Newcastle’s runners will come from anywhere.

As it happens, that’ll be the only attack of Newcastle’s that we look at as Rondon’s was the best chance and it’s become apparent that Newcastle tend to attack in the same manner more often than not. So, Newcastle’s tendencies in attack are linked to patient build-up play, quick interchanges and runners arriving from left, right and centre.

To Saiss Or Not To Saiss

That’s enough on Wolves’ opponents, now it’s time to turn the attention onto the visitors. Romain Saiss has got a history at St James’ Park that equates to Jonjo Shelvey calling the Moroccan a ‘Smelly Arab’ and if Shelvey plays, would it be unnecessarily pouring petrol on the fire to start Saiss? On the best of days, Saiss picks up a yellow card. If he’s up against someone who has previously racially abused him, who knows what will happen? From a purely footballing point of view, Saiss has to start with either Moutinho or Neves. Saiss plays the enforcer role beautifully well and he also frees up his midfield partner to do the more ‘pretty’ football. Decisions, decisions. 

Furthermore, Saiss is also left-footed which gives a much better balance across the pitch. Maybe the question shouldn’t be whether or not Saiss should start, maybe it should be whether Neves should walk back into the starting XI. On a personal note, Saiss or Dendoncker should always play with Moutinho or Neves, work in pairs, job done. It’s a tough decision for Nuno whether to change a winning team to accommodate Neves or not change the winning team at all and leave Neves on the bench.

Morgan Gibbs-White deserves another start as he was wonderful against Chelsea and as we saw earlier, if he plays close enough to Jimenez and the ball gets delivered smartly enough, the Newcastle defence will be outfoxed and Wolves will have their goal.

Motivation

Wolves produced a stirring ‘almost-comeback’ against Spurs and drew against Arsenal before losing back to back games against Huddersfield and Cardiff. So, regardless of today’s result for Wolves, if the performance isn’t there against Newcastle, the issue is clearly motivational. Wolves’ players need to be able to get going against the ‘lesser’ teams and what better way to get it going than live on Sky against Newcastle? If you were to check your watch, it will tell you that the time is approximately team news o’clock.

Team News

This isn’t going to be the longest part of the article as there’s nothing to report. Wolves’ decisions all relate to whether or not Neves walks back in and whether or not Nuno selects the same front three. That’s it.

Benitez’ decisions all link to whether or not he opts for the 5-4-1 or 4-4-1-1. SofaScore seems to think that Benitez will go for 5-4-1 and as seems to be a normal part of my previews at present, I’m going to have to disagree with them. Benitez will get slated if he plays not to lose rather than win against Wolves. I guess the only thing we can say is that time will tell.

Final Thoughts

Newcastle have scored more goals in the first 15 minutes of matches than any other 15-minute timeframe of the games they’ve played so far. Considering Wolves’ tendency to concede early on, half of Wolves’ goals have been conceded in the first 30 minutes of games, if Newcastle are going to score, you feel it will be early on. By the same token, Wolves have scored 12 of their 15 league goals in the second half, so Newcastle to be winning at halftime, Wolves at full time. You’ve heard it here first.

Until the next time.


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