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Wijnaldum, Ayoze interplay exhibits room to grow, significant upside for Newcastle

Newcastle were strong in the attack against Norwich City. Was there a weak link between Ayoze Perez and Gini Wijnaldum?

Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

We have been talking about Newcastle's attacking foursome against Norwich for obvious reasons.  You can read on Moussa Sissoko's performance here and Aleksandar Mitrovic's over here if you have missed them.  We are then left with Gini Wijnaldum and Ayoze Perez to look at.  Fortunately to a degree, these two will necessarily overlap to a certain degree.  It's very hard to complain about a six goal haul, especially when you've been as goal-shy as we have been this season.  If there was a difficulty in the offensive performance it came largely in the interplay between Wijnaldum and Ayoze.

Although the formation was presented to be a 4-4-2 on paper, it didn't really play out that way.  In practice, it probably (in attack) was more of a strange 4-3-1-2 in which Moussa Sissoko was given license to roam on both sides of the midfield while Gini was a constant threat coming through the middle.  Seems legit, right?  To a degree, sure.  The difficulty is that in the standard interplay between Ayoze and Aleksandar Mitrovic, Ayoze is asked to play as a withdrawn striker slightly behind Mitro where he can provide and play off of the big Serb.  This is exactly where he was in the build up to the first goal against Norwich where he had rightly identified the huge gap in the Canary back line and should have been the easy recipient of Sissoko's entry pass.  As we all know, it was Wijnaldum who ended up on the end of that pass as he had taken up position largely on Ayoze's toes.

The second and third goals could be seen as a potential ideal in this attacking setup.  On the second, following Ruddy's clearance out of bounds, you can see Mitro and Ayoze both drag defenders to the corner of the 18-yard box which created the room for Gini to make a run from advanced midfield to head in easily for his second of the match.  Following the dummy positioning, Ayoze peeled back toward the middle, but Gini's finish ensured we would never find out what would come next.  The third saw Gini tracking back as Jack Colback ultimately blocked a shot which sprung a counter attack.  Moussa found Ayoze in acres of space on the outside of the Norwich defense and while there may have been a bit of fortune that the initial blocked shot bounced back to Perez giving him a second bite at the cherry, it is exactly what you'd want to have seen on a counter attack of that nature.

Although you could frequently see times in which Ayoze and Gini were trying to play the same role on a particular move, the flexibility and skill of the two players would show tremendous benefit on the fourth and fifth goals as Ayoze played the link man on counter attacks, providing Moussa Sissoko with useful passes (the second time just before getting cleared out by a tackle which earned and advantage call from Anthony Taylor).  In fact, Ayoze was again in a link-up type position on the counter for Newcastle's sixth goal, playing the pass that allowed Gini (who had taken up a wide position on the counter) to carry into shooting position.  In the spirit of Ian Cathro and his "Where should the next pass go?" questions, there is some discussion to be had whether Gini should have used Mitrovic's useful slashing run instead of taking on a shot from distance, but hindsight and hot hands, etc. kind of make that discussion moot at this point.

Before there were words written on this piece, I had an idea that it would demonstrate a need for growth in the relationship and positional play between Georginio Wijnaldum and Ayoze Perez, and to be fair we're far from the finished article for sure.  In fact, if you expand the scope to include the interplay between Ayoze and MItrovic, there is plenty of room to grow (the pair exchanged only 8 passes on Sunday, 3 coming from kick-offs).  The reality is that, based on an extremely small sample size, Gini and Ayoze may be further along that path than we think.  You can't argue with Gini playing in the attack the way he did as it translated to four goals, but if they continue to grow and eliminate positional disputes (like the first goal) and maximize the attacking threats, the future in the attack looks very bright indeed.