Summer signings Callum Wilson and Jeff Hendrick scored on their debut as Newcastle United won their opening game in the 2020-21 Premier League season against an uninspiring West Ham United. There were still no fans to see it. Although, those watching back home would have been impressed with the way Steve Bruce led his team to victory at the London Stadium. The former Manchester United captain got his tactics right to kick off their season in style. West Ham came close twice during the goalless first half when they hit the woodwork but Newcastle walked away with a comfortable 2-0 win on the opening-day clash.
Newcastle lined-up in an old school 4-4-2 formation with Wilson, Hendrick and Jamal Lewis making their debut. Andy Carroll and Wilson lead the line for the Magpies. Hendrick started as a right midfielder–a position he had grown tired of playing when he was at Burnley. Lewis started as a left full-back while Miguel Almiron was dropped to the bench giving way to Jonjo Shelvey. Javier Manquillo was back into the first XI in place of DeAndre Yedlin after their defeat to the EFL side Stoke City in a friendly.
For this fixture, David Moyes named the likes of Sebastian Haller, Andriy Yarmolenko and Felipe Anderson on the bench. West Ham played in a 4-2-3-1 formation in which Mark Noble played as an advanced playmaker behind Michail Antonio. Lukasz Fabianski was back in goal after his international duty, replacing David Martin. The midfielders Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek were deployed to cover the backline, with Soucek given the license to get forward. Fabian Balbuena remained on the bench, as Issa Diop and Angelo Ogbonna continued to impress as central defenders.
West Ham United’s build-up play
West Ham controlled the game right from the opening stages to the end, having about 69% possession. They were up against a very disciplined Newcastle side defending in a narrow 4-4-2 formation. It made it difficult for Rice, Soucek and Noble to get on the ball and dictate possession. The solid structure set out by Newcastle reduced the passing options for Diop and Ogbonna. Now, we will have a look at different tactics West Ham used to break down Newcastle and get into the middle third.
As you can see here, Rice has dropped into defence forming a back three with Ogbonna and Diop. Thus, the full-backs could move higher to provide width and passing options to the central defenders. Here, Rice becomes the third player in the first line of attack. Hence, the line becomes slightly wider which makes it difficult for Newcastle to apply pressure wide. The weakness of such a structure is that the players in the second line can get outnumbered. As the build-up play centrally became difficult, West Ham tried to play out wide. Therefore, 54% of their attacks were from their flanks.
The above image shows another structure that West Ham used, which is with Cresswell operating as a deep full-back. Cresswell tucked in as left centre-back, which allowed Rice and Soucek to remain in the second line of attack and provide options to break Newcastle’s first line of defence. This meant that Pablo Fornals had to stay wide and isolated on the left wing. In this way, West Ham could build 46% of their attacks from the centre. This structure is an effective means to reduce pressure from the opposition by increasing the distance required for them to shift. However, the weakness of this structure could have been the lower occupation of space behind Newcastle’s four midfielders.
Ryan Fredericks – The real threat for Newcastle United
A staggering 42% of West Ham’s attack was from their right side. As Newcastle was playing very narrow, Fornals and Jarrod Bowen were operating in the half-spaces between the opposition’s second and third line of defence. This allowed their full-backs to get into wider positions. Now, we will have a look at how Fredericks was vital for West Ham when they predominantly attacked from the right side.
In the 26th minute, Soucek switched positions with Noble and played in a more advanced role. West Ham started attacking from the right side as Noble dictated play from a deeper position. Thus, Soucek played behind Antonio and could make runs into the box to meet crosses. In this way, West Ham wanted to attack Newcastle by whipping crosses into the box, targeting the space behind Newcastle’s defence looking for the physical presence of Antonio and Soucek. As you can see here, Fredericks crosses from deep and Soucek gets on the end of it only to head it inches away from the goal post. Standing at 1.92 m, Soucek gave the presence of another tall figure inside the box. In this match, Fredericks was impressive as he attempted six crosses and completed three of them. He made a game-high four key passes. West Ham failed to convert chances made by Fredericks from the right side. They came close twice in the first half, hitting the woodwork twice.
Many times, Fredericks accelerated forward to receive the ball behind Saint-Maximin. Fredericks exploited his weak defensive capacity by getting in behind from his blindside. As shown in the above image, Bowen drops to give a passing option and Lewis has no other choice than to follow him. Saint-Maximin holds his ground and doesn’t realise the amount of space left behind by Lewis. Thus, Fredericks makes a run from in behind to receive a perfect through ball by Rice. He immediately cuts it back for Bowen, who skies it away into the stands behind the goal. Here, the timing of Fredericks’ movement was of utmost importance, he used his excellent acceleration and didn’t allow Saint-Maximin to cover the space.
Newcastle’s build-up play & attacking tactics
As seen in the previous season, Newcastle used to play with a narrow attacking structure but in this match, they used different approaches. Now we’ll have a look at Newcastle’s build-up play and attacking tactics that they used against West Ham.
West Ham had no intention of pressing Newcastle’s centre-backs. Thus, they were allowed time on the ball and no pressure was applied. During build-up play, Newcastle used an asymmetrical 3-2-4-1 formation. Lewis tucks into the back three as a left centre-back. Part of the two in the 3-2-4-1 formation is Shelvey and Hayden. Hayden stays in the centre, shuffling from one side to another along with the ball, while Shelvey operates in a wider position almost like a right full-back.
The middle four operate in a distorted shape. Manquillo stays high up and wide on the touchline, whereas Saint-Maximin, Carroll and Hendrick form a linear trio on the centre of the pitch. Last but not the least, Wilson remains on the shoulder of the last defender. It looks like Shelvey is a part of back four but it is not anything of that sort. Shelvey-Hayden operated as a double pivot to allow Newcastle to bypass any pressing attempts from West Ham.
As you can see in the above image, Carroll is standing in between West Ham’s defenders and Rice. He comfortably heads the ball to Saint-Maximin. Newcastle used the “long ball” tactic effectively, whereby the defenders were sending long balls from deep to Carroll who is an aerial threat and can overpower the best of defenders to win the ball. Hendrick and Saint-Maximin were there next to Carroll to pounce the second ball. The primary aim of this tactic was to win the second ball to progress further upfield. The most important player to execute this tactic was Carroll. He attempted a game-high 17 aerial duels, and he won nine of them which is an impressive 53% considering the number of aerial duels attempted.
When the play transitioned from the back to front, Newcastle’s shape shifted into an unbalanced 2-3-4-1, in which Lewis formed a midfield trio with Hayden and Shelvey. This is a shape which has been used by Manchester City in the past. As you can see in the above image, the midfield trio in this shape is asked to hold to clog the midfield and to prevent counter-attacks against them. Since, Carroll and Hendrick were operating in the half-spaces, the West Ham midfield defended narrower which opened up the spaces behind their full-backs. Thus, Newcastle’s midfield trio helped in rotating the attack from the left to the right flank, in search of Manquillo.
A majority (43%) of Newcastle’s attacks originated from the right flank. Just like West Ham, Newcastle also used their right full-back more to initiate the attacks. He was heavily involved in the game, as he whipped five crosses into the box out of which three reached one of his teammates, which is an impressive 60% accuracy rate. The above is an example of one of his crosses which ended up as a goal for Newcastle and second assist for him. Manquillo took on Fornals on the right flank and managed to dribble past him. He looped in a cross which Hendrick flicked on at the near post and Wilson bundled it home in a typical poacher’s fashion before Fabianski could do anything about it. Thus, Wilson gave a 1-0 lead to Newcastle from close range. This was his eighth goal in nine appearances against the Hammers.
Newcastle’s old-fashioned defence
Newcastle allowed West Ham to play out from the back with very little pressure on the ball. Most of the times, they had all their men behind the ball and their four midfielders ensured that there is no space for West Ham to string passes together in the build-up. Now we’ll look at how Newcastle defended with the ball.
West Ham started the game with two holding midfielders Rice and Soucek. Later around the 25th minute, Noble and Soucek switched positions. As you can see above, Wilson and Carroll are using their shadow to cover Noble and Rice, respectively. The first line of defence prevented West Ham’s centre-backs to pass the ball to their defensive midfielders. It was clear that this system was being used to prevent them from playing through the middle. This meant that the four midfielders behind Wilson and Carroll had to remain flexible and efficient as a second line of defence. They had to cover as much ground as possible while maintaining their shape.
Newcastle were playing with two banks of four in front of their goalkeeper. The task of these eight men were to cover the entire width of the field. Throughout the match, the two banks of four oscillated between deep and medium defensive blocks. Newcastle didn’t allow West Ham space through the middle and forced them wide. Above is an example of Newcastle’s excellent defensive shape. They are well organised and aren’t allowing West Ham to create through the centre due to their compactness. The credit to this solid shape goes to their manager. Bruce has continued the club’s legacy and ensured that they are able to deal with teams that keep more possession. In this match, Newcastle kept the right balance between defending solidly and be threatening when counter-attacking.
The Newcastle new boys
As we all know Newcastle handed Wilson, Hendrick and Lewis their debuts. All three had a major impact on the game and added a flair to this Newcastle side. We’ll have a look at how the three new players contributed to Newcastle’s win on the opening day of the season.
Wilson was a threat throughout the game and got his reward in the 56th minute of his debut game when he scored from close range. It looked enough for Newcastle to clinch a victory against West Ham. As you can see in the above image, Wilson makes a run using his excellent acceleration in between Ogbonna and Cresswell. He managed to get past Ogbonna and chipped the ball into the box for Carroll which Diop intercepted and cleared by getting in between. Throughout the game, Newcastle made good use of Wilson’s pace to exploit the space between the left centre-back and left full-back. He ended the game with a goal to his name.
Newcastle created a lot of chances throughout the game. Lewis combined well with Lewis early in the first half. As you can see here. Lewis crosses the ball into the box onto the head of Wilson, who nodded the ball wide. He created another chance for Wilson later on in a similar situation where he crossed the ball and Wilson got in front of Diop and shot it just wide of the goalpost. Lewis looked quite good on the ball as he made two key passes and had two shot assists to his name. Defensively his numbers looked solid, winning 67% of his defensive duels and made four interceptions.
Bruce deployed Hendrick as a right midfielder as part of the Newcastle set-up. Hendrick made sure he adds a goal to his assist to Wilson. As you can see here, Hendrick is left unmarked by the West Ham players. He receives a low cross Almiron, takes a touch and then shoots into the roof of the net four minutes from time. Apart from a goal and an assist, Hendrick worked tirelessly and whenever he got the ball, he kept the attack going. He completed 80% of his passes, which is pretty good as a right midfielder. Defensively, he covered well for Manquillo and made the highest number of interceptions (10) for Newcastle.
The match looked very interesting in the first half but became scrappy in the second half. Both the teams got a lot of chances, with West Ham striking the woodwork twice before half-time. Even though Moyes introduced Haller and Yarmolenko later in the second half, they didn’t have a significant impact on the scoreline. It looked less likely that the Hammers would mount a comeback as they managed only three shots on target. But it was Newcastle who were more clinical and came out on top. Hendrick’s goal guaranteed Newcastle their first winning start to a Premier League season since 2012. It was a miserable night for the Hammers. Now, Moyes has a lot to think about before their next match against Arsenal.