Tactical View: Little inspiration on show at St James’


TACTICAL football boff Chris Bland (@blandc_1996) gives us the lowdown on Super Sunday's showdown between Newcastle and Manchester United.

Newcastle v Manchester United | Sunday 6th October 2019, 16:30 | Sky Sports

St James’ Park hosts two sides in the midst of differing crises as the pressure builds on the respective managers. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United side have suffered their worst league start for 30 years, whilst Steve Bruce’s Newcastle were abysmal in defeat against Leicester, a result which has seen them drop into the relegation zone.

Newcastle sit 19th, and have been backed into favouritism for relegation in the past week. Struggling for goals with only four in seven games, Bruce’s boys will need a strong performance before the international break, with patience wearing thin amongst the Toon faithful.

Manchester United are 10th, and come into the game on the back of another disappointing draw with AZ Alkmaar, where they failed to muster a single shot on-target. The Red Devils are lacking cutting edge going forward, and coming up against a side who will look to frustrate them for long periods; it could be another long afternoon for the visitors.

Newcastle lacking creativity in central areas

Newcastle switched to a 4-4-2 in their 5-0 drubbing at Leicester, with Yoshinori Muto starting up front with Joelinton as Bruce looked to add support up top for the Brazilian forward. This backfired, as the Tynesiders lacked the creativity to link play up top, and bar a first half chance for the Japanese forward, Newcastle were once again toothless in attack.

Isaac Hayden’s red card on the stroke of half time set them back, but they were already 1-0 down and the signs were ominous as Leicester ran riot in the second half.

In losing Hayden, Newcastle’s midfield lacked the energy to cope with Leicester’s quick tempo, and as a result they were easily picked off. Andy Carroll was introduced as they looked to create an outlet up top, however, this was a fruitless task for the centre forward, as the midfield struggled to support him, and were subsequently overrun.

With both Jonjo Shelvey and Hayden ruled out, Bruce is down to the bare bones in central midfield. It is hard to see them having enough creativity to create chances centrally once again, as he will revert to a back five once again to frustrate United and look to exploit them in wide areas on the counter, similar to the tactics employed against Tottenham and Liverpool.

A switch to five at the back will help them to shore up the defence after last week, but it will add to the issues with creating chances. Scoring only four all season, they have averaged an Expected Goals (xG) output of 0.70, and it is hard to see it improving. Jetro Willems is expected to return at wing back, and will offer the energy they require going forward to link up with Christian Atsu in front.

Toon to target Lindelof?

One area they will look to target is Victor Lindelof’s aerial ability, a weakness which West Ham and Crystal Palace have both capitalised on this season. Sebastien Haller in particular targeted this, making sure he was challenging the Swede from goal-kicks and set-pieces rather than the imperious Harry Maguire.

In Joelinton and Andy Carroll, Newcastle have players who can cause the Swede problems. Newcastle’s issues have been getting runners beyond their target man this season, however, if they can break quickly and see the two wingers drift centrally like they did against Liverpool, this could bring them some joy.

Manchester United’s full backs are expected to push high and help provide width in attacks, so breaking quickly into these areas will be key for Bruce’s men if they are to create down these flanks.

United lacking inspiration

Manchester United struggled once again in their Europa League tie against AZ during the week, where they were unable to manage a single shot on-target, whilst only generating an xG of 0.71. Although they made eight changes for the tie, it has once again highlighted the worries the Red Devils have going forward, and in particular what they are missing Paul Pogba.

Pogba is averaging 2.6 key passes per-game, has two assists to his name already this term, and the gap in creativity is shown by the fact that no other United midfielder is averaging above one key pass per-game. Pogba is miles ahead of his teammates in terms of passes completed, averaging 74, whilst the man asked to replace him in recent weeks, Nemanja Matic is averaging 40.

Pogba offers a link between midfield and attack which is evidently missing when he doesn’t play, and if he does play, Newcastle will need to find a way of stopping the Frenchman from controlling the game. If they do sit back and stand off him, he is a dangerous prospect, and it going to be key to the hopes United have of breaking down this compact Newcastle defence.

The goal in their 1-1 draw against Arsenal came from a quick break once again as they struggled to breakdown the Gunners with a lack of tempo evident when in attacking areas, whilst Marcus Rashford is struggling in a central role.

It is hard to see United getting the opportunity to break into space in the way they want, especially after Newcastle’s horror show last weekend which will warrant a defensive response. Jesse Lingard has been added to the lengthy injury list, and could see the struggling Juan Mata given another opportunity – he will need to show significant improvement if he is to provide the missing link and increased tempo required.

United’s best hope is to sit off Newcastle and allow them the ball for periods of the game, then looking to utilise the pace of Rashford and James on the break. However, the pressure is on United to control the game and Newcastle will likely look to sit off as well. As a result, the two teams could easily cancel each other out, so its hard to anticipate a thriller on Tyneside on Sunday.

The betting angles

With two teams struggling so much in front of goal, it is hard to make an argument for goals in this game. Manchester United are struggling to breakdown compact defensive teams, in particular showcased by their struggles against Southampton and Crystal Palace, and are without an away win in 10 games. Furthermore, with Pogba missing through injury, it becomes difficult to see where United’s cutting edge will come from.

The Red Devils are priced at 17/20, it is hard to warrant much support for this price, as poor as Newcastle have been in recent weeks. However, for two sides who are struggling with an xG of under one per-game from open play, Under 2.5 Goals is well priced at 77/100 (Marathon). The pressure will be on Newcastle to strengthen defensively, and they don’t offer much threat going forward, whilst United have been solid enough at the back.

Mike Dean is the referee in the middle for this one, and given he is averaging over four cards, it is appealing to tap into the player card markets as a result. If Newcastle are forced to chase the game at any point, they will leave themselves open to a counter, similar to that against Leicester last weekend.

Under pressure to improve their discipline after Hayden’s shocking challenge last weekend, cynical fouls against the quick Dan James and Rashford will still be required to break up the play, and as a result given Dean’s lack of leniency, Newcastle to pick up a card in each half at 11/10 (William Hill) appeals.

Best Bets

Newcastle v Manchester United – Under 2.5 Goals (77/100 Marathon)

Newcastle v Manchester United – Newcastle to receive at least one card in each half (11/10 William Hill)

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