Man City 2-1 Newcastle: tactical weaknesses exploited early on, before Johnson’s winner

October 5, 2010

The line-ups after Hatem Ben Arfa's injury, and including Sol Campbell rather than Fabio Coloccini, who departed after 35 minutes

A close game that Newcastle were slightly unfortunate to lose.

Manchester City continued with their now-established 4-5-1 system, with David Silva and James Milner switching flanks. Jerome Boateng and Joleon Lescott came into the backline.

Newcastle’s system (taken after Hatem Ben Arfa’s early injury) was also a 4-5-1, with two wingers either side of a compact three-man midfield of Joey Barton, Kevin Nolan and Cheick Tiote.

The game started very slowly, partly because of Ben Arfa’s injury – both sides stood off and played in front of each other, with none of the six central midfielders looking to break towards goal.

The most obvious tactical element was Newcastle’s crazily high defensive line, combined with little pressure on the Manchester City man with the ball. This meant City had a fairly simple approach of hitting balls over the defence for the forward three players to run onto. Both James Milner and Gareth Barry got free on the left hand side in this fashion, and it was amazing that Chris Hughton didn’t tell his defence to drop deeper early on.

It was no surprise when City took the lead following a ball over the top – Mike Williamson scrambled back, brought down Carlos Tevez, and Tevez converted the penalty.

Newcastle attack down left

City’s clear weakness was down their right-hand side, since David Silva was drifting into the centre so much that he was effectively deserting his flank. He failed to get back in position quickly enough when City lost the ball, and Newcastle attacked down that side, with Jonas Gutierrez driving directly at goal and Jose Enrique overlapping to give Boateng a 1 v 2 situation at left-back. Gutierrez’s run eventually found him picking up a rebound from his own cross, and he smashed the ball into the net. The Chalkboard below shows David Silva’s passes – very few from the right hand side (he did switch with Milner at times) as he was rarely on that flank. Below, how direct City’s approach was to exploit that – a quick ball out to Gutierrez, who simply powered straight at goal.


by Guardian Chalkboards

The second half also started slowly in terms of goalmouth action, as Newcastle’s defence had dropped deeper, presumably after some half-time instructions from their manager. City had less of an obvious route to goal, and were instead looking for some creativity from the centre of midfield which didn’t arrive. Here, we had a classic example of the general feeling that Mancini’s conservative central midfield trio won’t be inventive enough to break down sides that go to City, get men behind the ball and defend solidly. David Silva grew into the game, but James Milner (who was apparently ill) seemed off the pace, and City looked like they were going to have to turn to the bench to get the breakthrough.

Substitutions

And, in fairness to Mancini, that’s what he did. Emmanuel Adebayor arrived on 57 minutes to replace Yaya Toure, though City’s shape here was slightly confused, with Tevez seemingly playing from the right, and Silva in behind Adebayor. Still, this system only lasted for 15 minutes before Adam Johnson arrived, and he provided some drive and natural width from the right, despite being a left-footer – getting down the line and cutting in on the edge of the penalty area was an improvement in terms of width from Silva, who barely stayed on that side – although Silva played well in the second half.

Newcastle’s approach stayed the same – having been forced into two first-half changes due to injury, Chris Hughton didn’t have much ability to change things in terms of personnel. Shola Ameobi’s hold-up play was disappointing, although he probably should have had a penalty when he was tripped by Lescott in the corner of the box.

Johnson’s Robben-esque cut-in-and-shot was the winner, with Newcastle doubling up on him but still letting him come inside onto his stronger foot. Chris Hughton then removed Kevin Nolan and brought on Andy Carroll and switched to 4-4-2, but it was too little, too late, and City defended well late on.

Conclusion

For much of this game, it was a fairly basic 4-5-1 v 4-5-1 battle. Kevin Nolan played deeper than he has so far this season (when often playing as a support striker) and Ameobi wasn’t as capable in the air as Carroll as been, meaning Newcastle often found it difficult to advance up the pitch into the final third.

City were too cautious for much of the game, and they needed substitutions to stretch Newcastle and provide more of a goal threat. One suspects that Newcastle’s approach of playing a high defensive line was the exact opposite to the optimum strategy against City – they rely on Tevez dropping deep and other players exploiting space in behind, so denying them that space seems to make more sense. Certainly, when Newcastle dropped deeper, City were less of a threat.

Working out how to allow Silva to take up his favoured central positions whilst not leaving an obvious weakness defensively should be Mancini’s main consideration over the next fortnight.

Man City 2-1 Newcastle: tactical weaknesses exploited early on, before Johnson’s winner

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