Blackburn came to St. James Park Saturday and shut out the host 1-0. Newcastle, for their part, out-possessed the Lancashire club by a 3-to-1 margin and had more shots overall (15-11). These are statistics that would back up a Newcastle win, so what went wrong?
Many were critical of Rafa Benitez’s multiple changes to the starting 11. With a quarter final League Cup game Tuesday and a 5-point cushion atop the table, I defend his policy of rotation. It’s a clear opportunity, with such a large squad, to give some different players a chance to play against a struggling side and to give regulars a breather with so many games left to play this season. I’d also admit that some of the chemistry needed to break down well-organized defenses of the English second tier might have been missing with such a changed side.
To get a closer look at what went wrong, I wanted to look back at the second goal of the game against Leeds a week prior. Newcastle was up 1 goal but had been on their back foot since scoring. They looked to have no chance of extending the lead until a few moments of brilliance put the game away for Newcastle. A moment like that against Blackburn surely would have put Newcastle in the lead. Let’s break down the second goal scored against Leeds:
Leeds were positioned really well. For every Newcastle attacker, there was at least one Leeds defender. Ritchie was isolated, with his back to the net, on the wing with few options and 3 defenders to deny any attempts of dribbling towards goal.
Jack Colback comes into the picture to receive Ritchie’s pass. Leeds are still in excellent position to defend their goal. Colback’s options at this point seem to be: a low percentage shot at goal, force the ball back into the corner for Anita, switch the ball to the opposite wing for Dummett (3) or Gouffran (off screen), or play it backwards to his defense to reset the offense.
When Colback receives the ball he instead chooses to take his defender on and dribbles towards the defending player's left shoulder. Still, nothing should come of this move as Jack is surrounded by five Leeds defenders.
Anita makes a move to the corner of the 18-yard box leaving the man responsible for him on the wrong side of Anita and the goal. This is the beginning of a magical goal. Colback gives the ball to Anita. When Anita receives the ball, Leeds is still very organized. The defenders are in a straight line with Newcastle attackers all accounted for. Notice: Gayle’s in an offside position.
Anita one touches the ball to Perez and 4 Leeds defenders converge on the ball. This allows Anita to slip behind and Perez one touches the ball back to the Newcastle right back.
Because of some quick touches, Leed’s defenders are now in poor position to defend. Anita is a step behind his defender, Gayle drifted back into an onside position, and Leeds defenders are looking at their own net. If you payed attention to the Youtube timer, this all happened in just 7 seconds.
Anita delivers the perfect, one touch pass back across the face of the goal and Rob Green has no chance to stop Gayle’s shot on goal. 2-0 Newcastle!
Nothing like this happened Saturday against Blackburn and as a result, we were shut out. The players needn't look further for inspiration on how to break down even the most stubborn of defenses. Of course, all of this is easier said than done - Arsenal would win the league every year if you could rely on players’ ability to execute perfect one-two’s consistently, bringing in wins week in and week out.
This Tuesday, if the Magpies want to advance to the semi-final of the EFL Cup, they need moments of inspired team play like this. Hull will surely be stiff competition, but with moments of individual brilliance and some luck, Newcastle should find themselves playing in the next round.
-Howay the Lads