The most recent round of EPL fixtures saw Newcastle United take a long trip down south to take on AFC Bournemouth. Victory for Bournemouth was vital given that they find themselves in the relegation zone. The last time Bournemouth won a game was in February which needed to change if they were able to have any hope of survival. Newcastle United, on the other hand, were unbeaten in the EPL since the return, however, their most recent game saw them suffer a 2-0 defeat to Manchester City in the FA Cup. The job that Steve Bruce has done at Newcastle has gone significantly under the radar and huge credit should be attributed to him and his coaching staff. Eddie Howe has done such an incredible job for Bournemouth that removing him from the job shouldn’t even be considered. However, he and his coaching staff need to find solutions to AFC Bournemouth’s dire form if they are to survive. An interesting fixture between the two sides from opposite ends of the country was on the cards.
Newcastle ran out 4-1 winners and condemned Bournemouth to yet another damaging defeat which lingers them even closer to a sink down to the Championship. Allan Saint-Maximin was influential and grabbed three assists. Newcastle played some exceptional football at times and managed to keep an exceptional defensive shape which prevented Bournemouth from having many chances. Bournemouth, on the other hand, were a shadow of their former selves and to be frank, were awful during this game. They need a major improvement and it needs to come fast.
Bournemouth lined up in a traditional 4-4-2. Aaron Ramsdale started in goal. Adam Smith, Steve Cook, Nathan Aké and Lloyd Kelly were the back four. Their job would be to stop Newcastle hurting them and to also move the ball out of defence into the attacking areas. Jefferson Lerma and Phillip Billing were the holding midfielders. Their job would be to protect the back four and also to move the ball forward when it was possible. David Brooks and Arnaut Danjuma were the wider players. Getting them on the ball to create spaces and get at what would be a rigid Newcastle backline would be important. Josh King and Dominic Solanke were the two centre-forwards. Bournemouth would be hoping their goals could get them out of a sticky situation they find themselves in.
As for Newcastle, they lined up in a 4-4-1-1. Martin Dúbravka started between the sticks. Emil Krafth and Javier Manquillo were the full-backs. Their solidity and ability to support the attack would be important. Federico Fernández and Jamaal Lascelles were the centre-backs who were vital to stopping Bournemouth’s attacking players. Jonjo Shelvey and Nabil Bentaleb were the holding midfielders, who had the job of protecting the back four and providing a ball playing outlet. Allan Saint-Maximin and Joelinton were deployed out wide. Newcastle would play extremely narrow, so this suited the pair very well. Sean Longstaff was played tucked in behind Dwight Gayle, who led the line.
Newcastle’s high pressing
It could also be said that the reason for such a high press from Newcastle was to win the ball back high up the pitch to move forward in counter-attacking transitions. As mentioned earlier, it was seen in the first goal from Gayle. The likes of Saint-Maximin thrived from this, as when the ball was won back high up the pitch he could move forward using his pace and skill. The midfield two of Shelvey and Bentaleb were vital for this, as between them they managed to win 23 successful duels between them. This breaking up of play was vital for them in terms of breaking up play in these central areas when Newcastle looked to press high. They also liked to push forward when Newcastle was pressing near the halfway line to provide the solid foundation for the others to press from. This combined with the energy and willingness to press from Longstaff also gave them another stream of pressure when they didn’t have the ball.
Below is a further example of this. We can once again see Newcastle positioned high up the pitch trying to win the ball back and stop Bournemouth playing through them. As has been mentioned, Bournemouth has some very good ball-playing defenders and players that can influence the game from deeper positions. Therefore, it was vital that Newcastle established a defensive presence in the game and this came from pressing from the front.
Newcastle’s defensive shape
Newcastle have overall been relatively solid when defending this season. They have kept nine clean sheets which is joint seventh in the EPL rankings alongside Manchester United and Crystal Palace. Steve Bruce has continued the legacy of the previous regime of being defensively organised and being able to keep a good defensive structure. The defensive players they have also are able to defend deep for large parts of the game. The 1-0 victory against Chelsea earlier in the season is perhaps the best example of Newcastle defending in deep positions. In this game, their back four was excellent and provided real solidity for the rest of the team to build upon. It was the case that Newcastle looked to press high, however, whenever this press was beaten the Newcastle back four managed to maintain this defensive structure. Fernández and Lascelles won 21 successful duels throughout the game. Manquillo and Krafth made 30 between them, which shows the effectiveness of the entire back four.
Below is an example of this excellent defensive shape. We can see them well organised and not allowing any space for Bournemouth to run into or to create from. This is excellent defensive work and credit must be given to Steve Bruce for making his side so able to deal with attacking sides such as Bournemouth. As will be discussed, they seem to have now found the balance of being excellent at defending and very threatening going forward on the counter-attack. This is a balance which teams often struggle to find and to Newcastle’s credit, they seem to be finding it evermore.
Statistics often paint a picture which is not fully representative of the actual game and in other cases, they are evidence of a certain pattern or multiple patterns that a team embarks on. The statistic that shows Newcastle have made 824 clearances shows that when it comes to defending, they are no-nonsense which serves them extremely well. Steve Bruce relies on teams being solid at the back which Newcastle have been this season. The game against Bournemouth was further evidence of this. Bournemouth may have got a late consolation goal, however, they never looked like threatening the Geordies as they were so well organised. This has been the blueprint throughout the season and Newcastle now is benefiting from being so well organised defensively. This will ultimately keep them in the Premier League this season and is the main reason as to why they have survived.
Below is another example of this defensive structure. We can once again Newcastle very well organised and not allowing Bournemouth any space to play through and create chances from. This has been the story of their season and is a big reason as to why they are going to be a Premier League club next year.
Newcastle’s narrow attack
We looked earlier at how Newcastle were able to press high when they didn’t have the ball and how they managed to keep their defensive shape. However, since they managed to score four goals and play some exceptional football it is vital to look at how they managed to attack Bournemouth when they had the ball. The most significant point of analysis could be seen through Newcastle having their forward players extremely narrow when they had the ball. We can see this development below by looking at the average position map of the Newcastle players. We can see the four Newcastle attacking players extremely narrow together. Saint Maximin and Joelinton who were on paper meant to playing as wingers were essentially right and left sided attacking midfielders. This was to create fluid football in attacking areas and to create space for the full-backs to potentially move into.
The purpose of playing with a more narrow attacking structure as mentioned was to allow the wider players to be more involved with the build-up play as opposed to being isolated in wider areas. Saint-Maximin managed three assists in the game, which highlights the benefits of having the attacking players in more narrow positions. Joelinton, who is usually a central striker, was playing as a left-sided attacking midfielder which allowed him to pick up central positions and form good combinations with Gayle who started as the central striker. Manquillo who was the left-back, could also push up the pitch and cover the wide space that was left by Joelinton. This combination worked extremely well on the left side and the right as well with Saint-Maximin taking up a wider role to allow spaces to be picked up on the inside. This tactical set up by Steve Bruce was significant in causing Bournemouth defensive problems.
Below is an example of this. We can see the attacking players very close together which allows them to have more possession of the ball and cause Bournemouth huge problems. This was seen throughout the game and it was crucial in Newcastle scoring four goals. It could be seen that all four of these goals that were scored game from the attacking players being in a narrower shape. The image below is, therefore, an accurate indicator of the trends seen throughout the game.
When moving forward in counter-attacking transitions it was also the case that Newcastle were also extremely narrow. This was once again as a result of them making the transition from the high press defensive position into a counter-attacking movement. This was to have a more effective output from central positions. The Bournemouth defence always seems liable to conceding goals, which would have been in the thought process of Steve Bruce before the game. Having such attacking players close together and moving forward on the counter-attack could hurt any team which was seen to great effect during this game. As mentioned, Saint-Maximin grabbed three assists, which is evidence of how good Newcastle’s tactical tweak to move the attacking players inside was.
Below is yet another example of this. We can see Newcastle on the counter-attack but playing with a real narrow system in terms of moving forward with the ball. This was crucial when Newcastle looked to win the ball back and break with speed and accuracy. It was vital they stuck to this attacking game plan which they did to great effect.
Bournemouth has had a very difficult season. They sit in the bottom three and this result does not do them any favours. They are bottom in terms of clean sheets kept with four and have the fourth fewest goals with 30. They are, therefore, struggling at both ends of the pitch and action needs to be taken. The approach that they took in this game against Newcastle can only be described as reckless. There was a lack of discipline in both the attacking and defensive areas of the pitch. Bournemouth on paper lined up in a 4-4-2, however, it was often the case that it turned into a 4-2-4. Of course, they needed to win to put pressure on the teams around them, however, this reckless approach of pushing men forward at all times did not pay off in this game and Newcastle were able to pick them off with ease. Of course, Eddie Howe should stick to his principles in terms of what has made Bournemouth get to his point, however, not realising the danger points is a reckless approach and will see them go down should they not improve.
The first way to analyse this is by looking at them when they had possession of the ball. We can see the Bournemouth players making charging runs forward at all times and not being aware that they could lose the ball and Newcastle’s threat on the counter-attack. As mentioned, they essentially played 4-2-4 with the two wingers and two strikers combining in forward areas as a front four. This lack of structure meant that they could not play the ball through into spaces as there was no creativity from the midfield. This hurt them a lot throughout the game, as they never managed to get in control of the match and dictate the patterns of play.
The best way to highlight this reckless approach from Bournemouth is to look at the average position map. We can clearly see how far forward the wingers were, and how much space they left behind them. It was this approach which led to Newcastle being able to find so much space in counter-attacking situations. It also highlights why there was so much space for the Newcastle players to come into in the central areas.
We discussed why this all out approach didn’t work for Bournemouth when they had the ball, however, it is also vital to analyse how it didn’t work for them when they didn’t have the ball. They, like Newcastle, tried to press high up the pitch, however, it was not to the same effect. They, unlike Newcastle, have a huge amount of defensive frailty within their central defence. This, therefore, means that pressing high up the pitch is not sensible as there is a higher chance of conceding. This is not to say that they should simply go into a defensive mindset, however, changes need to made on the basis of this game moving forward. Bournemouth still have to play the likes of Manchester United and Manchester City, so changes will be required in order to prevent losses.
Below is an example of the shape they took up when they didn’t have possession of the ball. We can see all of the midfielders and both strikers involved with the pressing. Since Bournemouth don’t have a reliable defence, when spaces where found by Newcastle Bournemouth were not able to deal with it. This is something they must improve upon.
To conclude, Newcastle were much the better side and were deserved winners. The score line itself is not kind to them in any way. Bournemouth were extremely poor and looked like a side that are in need of major adjustments in order to survive. Newcastle will be extremely happy with their recent form and will be looking to maintain a top half finish. Their next game is West Ham at home, which Bournemouth fans will be hoping they win. Bournemouth on the other hand need to make major changes in order to survive, and travel to Old Trafford on Saturday to take on Manchester United. This game was a classic tale of two teams with deeply contrasting form.