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Newcastle Utd held their inaugural French Day on Sunday in celebration of the increasing number of French players within their ranks. If things did not start as smoothly as they hoped, they would at least finish well with Newcastle running out comfortable 4-2 winners over Southampton even if the scoreline was perhaps a little flattering on the hosts.
With Tim Krul sustaining an injury during Newcastle ’s away trip to Kharkiv in the Europa League, Rob Elliot made his Premiership debut. Along with the return of Tiote in place of James Perch, these were the only two changes that Alan Pardew made to the Newcastle side which had faced Spurs some two weeks earlier.
Pochettino made two changes to the Southampton side which had defeated Man City with Shaw and Lallana returning to take the places of Fox and Puncheon who dropped to the bench.
Both sides lined up in notional 4-2-3-1 formations but how they seek to employ those formations differed. Newcastle are content to drop off whilst Southampton seek to impose their style on the game.
Much of Pochettino’s template can be seen from a quick look at the game statistics. As has become the norm under the Argentinean, Southampton dominated possession with 59%,encouragingly with 80% pass accuracy. This figure does drop to 63% when you consider the final third passes which is not as high as they would like but is still respectable. The desire to play quick one touch passing in opposition territory resulting in the drop.
This contrasts sharply with Newcastle who recorded 71% passing accuracy but only 50% in the final third owing to more speculative passes over a longer distance than their opponents.
Defensively, Southampton were aggressive. The high defensive line caught their opponents offside on five occasions whilst completing 18 successful tackles compared with Newcastle’s 16 successful tackles.
For all of the statistics revolving around Southampton, this was a Newcastle side which stuck to their task and refused to buckled under pressure. The Newcastle side of a few months ago would not have withstood an aggressive opponent. The team are more resilient now and able to respond to the initial set back suffered in this game.
Southampton began the game extremely brightly aided by a Newcastle side which tends not to press in a coordinated and structured fashion. This enabled Southampton’s defenders to come forward towards the halfway line with no real pressure, building attacks in the process. The opening goal arrived in the 3rd minute following a good spell of passing with Morgan Schneiderlin running off Tiote to finish off a knock down from Lambert. This would not have been Newcastle’s idea of celebrating their French connections, a Frenchman on the opposition scoring the opening goal.
There was evidence of Southampton’s high line being positive and negative during the opening period. The pressure on Newcastle’s defence was possible because the team operated as one unit, moving high up the pitch. Both Cork and Schneiderlin were able to support the forwards because the team is compact. If that is the positive, then the negative point is a direct result of the positive.
Cork and Schneiderlin move higher which means a long ball forward creates problems for the Southampton defence. Firstly, a long ball over the top forces the defence to turn and run towards their own goal whilst there is an increasing gap between the line. The midfield can be caught too high.
For a forward such as Cisse, who works tirelessly in the channels, such an approach by an opponent can offer him considerable encouragement. In the 20th minute, a long ball forward turned the Southampton defence. Clyne allowed the ball to bounce and the delay in clearing enabled Cisse to close the full back down and win possession.
The Newcastle equaliser was built down the right. Cabaye released Gourfran who cut inside. Clyne was caught upfield enabling Gouffran with a free run before dispatching a shot which deflected into the path of Sissoko to score. Southampton had further difficulties dealing with a long free kick in the 42nd minute. Despite there being a restart in play, Southampton did not recover their shape quickly. Cisse finished superbly with a diping 25 yard shot. The game had turned around in the space of nine minutes.
Both goals showcased Newcastle’s strength in letting opponents come on to them before searching for Cisse and wide players with raking passes.
The Saints began brightly at the start of the second half. A Lambert free kick was pushed wide before he did hit the equaliser following a good run on the right by the returning Lallana. And the forward had a further chance to provide Southampton with the lead. Again, good play on the right ended with a cross which Lambert probably should have scored but headed wide.
The turning point for Newcastle was the introduction of a Southampton substitute. Fox arrived and played a pivotal role in the final outcome.
A Newcastle free kick was played towards the Southampton penalty area. Again holding a high line, Southampton were caught out by runners moving from deep. Running back towards their goal, a Newcastle cross struck the hand of Fox and a penalty was awarded. Cabaye duly converted.
And the left back had a further hand in the final Newcastle goal. A fine run and low cross from Newcastle saw the defender attempt a clearance with his left foot rebounding off Hooiveld and into the net. Removing the element of bad luck from the equation, Fox should never have attempted a clearance on his left foot back across the face of goal. There was time to allow the ball to cross his body and conceded a corner if necessary.
Newcastle were able to hold on fairly comfortably for the remainder of the game.
With the template of Pochettino being aggressive pressing and a high tempo, there is always the problem of being extremely vulnerable during transitions. And when facing an opponent such as Newcastle, one that is content to allow the opposition to take the initiative, that can become problematic.
There is also the problem of sustaining the high tempo which Pochettino demands for the whole duration of the game. Southampton began both halves very well before their level dropped. It’s an area that can be partly addressed with improved fitness levels and better understanding of the system but it is still physically demanding and difficult to achieve.
With injuries clearing up and new players arriving, Alan Pardew was obviously upbeat after this victory highlighting that Newcastle :-
look a different prospect now
And it’s difficult to disagree with him. With the players now available to him, Newcastle do appear to be in a false position and should be targeting a top ten placing as the season moves toward its conclusion.
Although it will be scant consolation, Southampton again drew plaudits from the opposition with Pardew similar to Alex Ferguson in his praise:-
(Southampton are) as good a team as we have played this year
Pochettino’s comments after the game were, as you would expect, focused around the positive and the “small details” which influenced the outcome; the perceived foul on Clyne prior to the free kick from which Newcastle scored their second goal and Cisse being offside in the build up.
It’s not a complaint, but these are details that had an influence on the end-result of the match.
The inability to defend a simple aerial ball should be of more concern to him.
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