Absolute banger of a game between two top-six teams in the Premier Leagues three matches into the season. Some things popped up in my crazy mind as I was watching the plot unfold ahead. Let’s get it poppin’.
Three Quick Thoughts
1. Counter-attacking is the clear blueprint
You don’t need to read more than one or two of my pieces that 1) I surely love and appreciate Eddie Howe for his tactical magnificence, 2) that I didn’t like overspending on a player like Chris Wood that did not do a lot to help the team last season and is looking more and more like a deep-bench afterthought now, and 3) that the combination of the first two points is clearer by the day with Newcastle employing a measured-but-lightning-quick approach to hurt their rivals as their most efficient plan on the offensive transition/attacking phase of play.
Passing the ball around a thousand times per game is still kinda hipster. It’s getting a bit faded by the year, but it’s clearly there and staying strong because of the results it brought to multiple clubs and nations. I am a born FC Barcelona fan (sorry to disappoint you, I’m a dumb Spaniard with marginal roots to that club, so it is what it is) and I got to enjoy Pep Guardiola in his multiple shapes and forms and in full from high school to college graduation, and I just loved it.
Is that game plan the proper one for the Magpies to employ? Maybe in a few months or (realistically) a few years from now depending on how football evolves, but now, it’s a sound and solid no. This brings me to the next thought, which wraps up the whole counter-attack approach and discussion.
2. The four-man-or-five-man backline conundrum
We thought Matt Targett would be back and available for Howe to include in the starting eleven against City. Turned out that wasn’t the case. The point/thought I will explain with the next few lines doesn’t make much sense after knowing what happened Sunday at St James’ Park, but it is still one worth considering for whatever comes next—even more, knowing that this is a campaign with a freaking World Cup of all things smacked right in the middle of it because FIFA. Anyway. Still not knowing whether Targett would ultimately miss this game or not, two options emerged for Newcastle at the back: a two center-back line with Burn sliding to the left and Schar-Botman as the central pairing, or a three center-back unit with all aforementioned three featuring in it and Trippier-Targett used as full-length wing backs on the right and left sides respectively.
Of course, Newcastle played an extraordinary counter-attacking match using what they have been using for nearly a year since Eddie Howe took the helm and started to inject his plans and schemes into the brains of the Magpies' outfield players. Could this five-man backline work, though? Trippier spent more time on the opposite half on Sunday than he did on Newcastle’s own. Burn didn’t because Burn was never born to do it, but Targett definitely has the proper skill set to do it and is surely geared to backtrack if needed. The three-center-back package would be a stout one, and all Newcastle would “miss” would be the third midfielder that, in all honesty, is the weekly Odd Man In/Out player for Howe to pick. It’d definitely suck for Joe Willock as he’d go to the bench in this scenario, but while he’s been good he’s definitely not put on any sort of supreme displays, either. Idea worth giving a minute of thought, in my opinion.
3. Goals galore, but Newcastle needs more
The last time Newcastle scored three goals was back in April against a doomed team in Norwich City. Before that, you have to go all the way back to February when they completed a 3-1 game against a very mediocre team in Everton. And only once before (against Brentford, in the 2021 calendar year and already with the Saudi contingent on board) did the Magpies net three past any living breathing goalkeeper. This was City, and this was the fourth game in a season-and-change in which Newcastle scored three goals. In other words: outlier spotted.
Southgate watched this match live because he knows he doesn’t have many—if any at all—options available outside of Harry Kane to fill the striker position in the England national team when they fly to Qatar in November. Wilson, of course, delivered the goodies in awesome fashion. But that was it, and that still is for Newcastle when it comes to goalscorers. Almirón has tied his mark from last season already. Saint-Maximin’s two assists are almost half of the five he got last year. Something has to give. Or someone has to arrive. Because this pace is unsustainable in the largest range of potential scenarios.
There is still a little bit more than a week remaining in August for transfers to go down and Eddie Howe keeps feeding pundits and fans the information they want to hear: “no news yet, but we’re getting there.” We can only hope that’s the truth, that the board is operating properly and working and mining all possible corners to bring some offensive reinforcements, and that whoever ends landing in Tyneside is, at least, half as good as Nick Pope has been.
Game Recap already available. Top-3 Players and Quotes coming tomorrow.
Howay the Lads!