It was a reverse scoreline of the corresponding fixture last season, as Manchester United eased passed a disjointed Newcastle with a convincing 3-0 win at St James’ Park.
Newcastle started with their best front six players in a 4-4-2 formation, but injury problems at the back meant Pardew had to settle for a makeshift defence. Steve Harper continued in the absence of Tim Krul in goal and without the first choice centre back pairing of Coloccini and Steven Taylor, Williamson and the versatile James Perch played in the centre of defence. Shane Ferguson was a surprise inclusion at left back, which saw Davide Santon move over to the right back position.
Manchester United started in an attacking 4-3-1-2 position, keeping the same defence as the previous week, when they were torn apart by Tottenham’s fluid attacking play. Danny Welbeck partnered Robin van Persie up front and Rooney played in a withdrawn striker role.
Manchester United dominate midfield in early stages
For the first twenty minutes, Newcastle saw very little of the ball, as Manchester United dominated the midfield. By playing three midfielders in the centre of the pitch (Carrick, Kagawa and Cleverly), Manchester United always had an extra man and outnumbered Tiote and Cabaye in the middle of the park. Rooney dropped deep to create a diamond formation in midfield – Carrick played as the holding midfielder and this gave more passing options and help to retain possession. Either full back, Evra or Rafael, assisted the midfield to give an out ball and created width to Manchester United’s play. As you can see from the passing maps below, they successfully made 154 passes compared to Newcastle’s 45 passes – 3 times as many passes in that period. This gave Tiote and Cabaye a difficult job trying to chase and regain possession of the ball.
In those 20 minutes, Manchester United created 5 chances, including two goals from Evans and Evra after some woeful marking. In truth, Manchester United could have been further ahead, if Welbeck finished his two chances earlier in the game.
Pardew changes to 4-3-3
In what seems like a regular occurrence for Alan Pardew these days, Newcastle changed to 4-3-3, after starting the game in his preferred 4-4-2 formation. The change came halfway through the first half and by pushing the willing Gutierrez (who played in a number of positions in this game) infield to partner Tiote, it gave Newcastle an added man in the centre of the park and it also allowed Cabaye to venture further forward to support the strikers – something that was severely lacking in the first 20 minutes. Newcastle played well with the ball and as a result, gained more possession and also created a seven chances. For a period of time, it looked as though Newcastle would reduce the scoreline, especially when Cisse’s close range header looked to be heading to the back of the net, but was saved on the line by David De Gea. With more possession of the ball, Newcastle restricted Manchester United to fewer chances after the earlier poor spell – 4 chances in the remaining 70 minutes compared to 5 in the first 20 minutes. Tom Cleverly killed the game off in the 71st minute, as his cross/shot gave Manchester United an unassailable 3-0 lead.
Newcastle fail to take chances
On a different day it could have been different. Newcastle had their chances in and outside of the box, but unfortunately, they couldn’t test De Gea enough. In contrast, Manchester United hit the target 8 times from 13 shots.
It was a frustrating afternoon for Newcastle, as the damage was done in the initial stages of the first half. Ferguson won the tactics battle, as Pardew’s 4-4-2 formation, left Tiote and Cabaye an uphill battle trying to match Manchester United’s three in central midfield.
The problem is that it hasn’t been a one-off occasion and there have been many of examples where Pardew has played a 4-4-2 formation against a team with three central midfielders and left Tiote and Cabaye exposed in the centre of the park – see Spurs earlier this season. (more examples?).
Personally, I don’t feel the 4-4-2 suits our play either. Whenever Ba or Cisse have the ball upfront, there’s a lack of support from our midfielders to get further forward to assist the strikers. By playing 4-3-3 – for example, last season with Cisse up front, it would allow Ba and Ben Arfa to support from the flanks, as well as Cabaye being able to push further forward, in the knowledge that Tiote and Guiterrez would be protecting the back four.
An international break will hopefully see our foreign players return fit and see our defensive back line – Krul, Coloccini, Taylor and Simpson return for the Tyne-Wear derby in a fortnight’s time.