Once upon a time, a galloping, elusive force of nature, raiding and monitoring the flank was the order of the day in both European and South American Football. Originally regarded as an Outside-Right or Left, nowadays the Traditional Winger, these wizards of the Dribble were the epitome of entertainment in football for many a decade – not expected to offer the Full-Back the courtesy of ‘tracking back’, Stanley Matthews’ plague upon the Bolton defence spearheaded Blackpool’s 1953 FA Cup final victory, which is commonly regarded as The Matthews Final, while Brazil’s 1958 World Cup campaign only truly came to life in the final group-stage game, in which Mane Garrincha’s dribbling exploits devoured the Soviet Union’s rigid back line.
Newly-promoted Newcastle United faced an ambiguous start to the 2017-18 Premier League campaign, losing their first two games; a 0-2 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur, and a narrow 1-0 defeat to Huddersfield Town (Reminder – Midfielder Aaron Mooy was the standout feature, showcasing a great range of passes, while also covering ground well.).
Yet, following this disappointing start, Newcastle went on a three-game winning streak, which oversaw comfortable victories over the likes of West Ham United and Swansea City. Though Newcastle, as of game week 9, are now three games without a win, one positive that can still be taken, and one that emerged during the winning streak, was the clarity and consistency established in tactical game plans.
Manager, ‘Rafa’ Benitez, has been making good use of counter-attacking methods;
The use of a 4-2-3-1 formation offers the Magpies the ability to attack in transitional phases in great numbers, while also maintaining structure in shape. The way in which the 4-2-3-1 formation has been used by Newcastle United has improved heavily since the opening day defeat to Spurs, with Joselu acting as a direct target man bringing the best out of Right-Winger Matt Ritchie, who now has 4 assists (as of 15/10/17) to his name. But, the key to maintaining solidity, in my opinion, is the midfield pivot, consisting of either Mikel Merino, Jonjo Shelvey or Issac Hayden.
All three midfielders, who tend to play in deeper roles, have coincided with Benitez’s 4-2-3-1 formation. Deploying a double-pivot in a five-man midfield enables the closing down of space between defence and midfield, while subsequently intercepting opposition passes and then igniting a counter-attacking move, with a midfielder required to release a pass to a winger in space, who will then bring the striker into play. What separates both Mikel Merino and Jonjo Shelvey from Issac Hayden in a tactical sense, are the former’s abilities to break down opposition lines with passes and/or play long-distanced passes into space. To an extent, Merino’s approach to this deep-lying midfield role offers comparisons with Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic. Similarly to Newcastle, Jose Mourinho’s side have also started some of the new seasons matches with a 4-2-3-1 built to ignite counter-attacking movements, but Manchester United’s approach to shape has been much more fluid, or has fixated on protecting the final-third through rotating to a back-five without the ball, depending on the opposition. Though different stylistically, Matic and Merino both carry out the same functions, as in anticipating and closing down opposition passes, retaining possession, and controlling the tempo of play.
Jonjo Shelvey, on the other hand, has left me wondering as to whether an England call-up should be aimed in his direction. The area in England’s starting XI/squad that leads to many debates is midfield, and whether England do contain the tactical prowess needed. Perhaps Shelvey would be a plausible alternative to Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson.
Yet, regardless of this praise of Shelvey’s recent form, it is Merino, who of the three, has impressed me the most. Newcastle United recently activated the option to turn 21 year-old Merino’s loan move from Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund into a permanent deal, and I cannot think of any reason as to why they should have not done so; Merino is calm and collected in midfield, and like Spanish compatriot and fellow summer-signing, Joselu, has brought a sense of consistency to Benitez’s desired tactics in the last 6 matches. Though, consistency in the goal-scoring department, and as a result, form, is also needed if Newcastle are to have a stress-free season.
Yet another series has been added to the repertoire already offered by the website. This new series, which will be known as “Thoughts in short”, will offer the same quality and clarity in its writing, but in a shorter form, to allow convenience for both the reader and writer if necessary.
It is important to offer content for those who prefer both short and long-form pieces, and I do hope that this new category allows for a greater sense of consistency in regards to the amount of content regularly published.
Ryan Quinn, Editor
Jelle van Dijk offers a close take on what he currently feels are the underlying problems with Dutch football;
Though the Netherlands defeated Sweden via a comfortable 2-0 win, the ‘Oranje’ failed to qualify for the upcoming World Cup which will be hosted in Russia.
Napoli seared through as clear winners in what was for large durations, a very chess-like encounter. Having won half of their first two games of the new Serie A season, Bologna, who hosted the encounter deployed a narrow 4-4-2 formation, which relied on man-oriented pressing and an organised back line. Napoli, on the other hand, who had won both sets of matches, scoring 6 goals in the process, set out with their associated 4-3-3 formation which is well-suited to controlling space in the opposition half.
In this article I am going to discuss the 2-2 draw between Liverpool and Sevilla in the UEFA Champions League from Liverpool’s point of view. The specific points I’m going to cover are Liverpool’s defence, Liverpool’s pressing and Liverpool’s lack of overall game management and control.
Manchester City hosted Everton in the second week of fixtures in the Barclays Premier League. Home debuts for Ederson and Kyle Walker were a highlight for City. Impressively Everton obtained 8, yes, I said it 8 English men and 9 British players in their starting 11. City were hoping to better their home form this season compared to last season while Everton begin their run of 4 games against the top 6 teams.