Newcastle scored their first goal and won their first game of the season in a narrow 1-0 win against Fulham. The majority of the game saw very little action in the final third, as both teams struggled to link up with their forwards. However, with the introduction of want-away midfielder Yohan Cabaye and new loan signing Loic Remy midway through the second half, it gave Newcastle extra impetus in their attack and from their continuous pressure Hatem Ben Arfa scored a fantastic goal to win the game for Newcastle.
Starting line up
Alan Pardew selected the same team as the previous week against West Ham, opting to keep their 4-4-2 formation. One criticism of the 4-2-3-1 formation that Pardew employs is the lack of support that Cisse gets up front. As a result, Newcastle usually fail to gain any sustained pressure in the final third and this results in the opposing team regaining possession fairly easily. By adding an extra man, upfront it would allow Newcastle to gain more possession further up the field. Shola Ameobi was favoured in front of Yoan Gouffran, as it gave Newcastle the option to play the ball longer if needed so.
With Ameobi’s critics, he can be effective in holding the ball up and bring midfielders into play. Martin Jol brought in several changes to the team, including bringing in new signing Darren Bent into the forward line and allowing Berbatov to drop deeper in a more traditional number 10 role. With Berbatov playing in a withdrawn role and Bent playing on the shoulders of the defenders, Fulham would look to Berbatov feeding Bent through balls in behind Newcastle’s defence. An interesting tactic from Jol was to drop Adel Taraabt to the bench and opting to play Kacaniklic on the left wing instead. With Ben Arfa targeted as the danger man and Taarabt not renowned for his defensive duties, Kacaniklic would help Riise in double teaming against Ben Arfa.
Lack of Fulham attack
Martin Jol’s change to 4-4-1-1 formation didn’t really work for Fulham. For the vast majority of the match, there was no link up play between the forward line and the midfield. At times Berbatov, playing in a withdrawn striker role, strangely dropped very deep to receive the ball – almost playing as a fifth midfielder, even though Parker and Sidwell were only yards from the ball. This resulted in Bent being very isolated up front and saw very little of the ball. During the whole match, he only had 20 touches of the ball and consequently, didn’t even have the opportunity to even take a shot on goal. Although this wasn’t just isolated to Darren Bent, in total Fulham only managed three shots all game, all from long range and the first shot coming midway through the second half.
In total. Fulham only attempted 81 passes in the final third, completing only 56% – emphasising the lack of pressure from Fulham. In comparison, Newcastle made nearly double the amount of passes (158) in the final third and completed 73% of those.
Newcastle improve after substitutions
Up until the three substitutions, Newcastle also struggled to get any cohesion attacking wise. Although not as poor as Fulham, Newcastle took more shots than Fulham before the substitutions, but like Fulham a lot of the shots taken were from further out. With the three substitutions and in particular, new loan signing Loic Remy being a creative link and being able to carry the ball further forward, it allowed Newcastle to have possession nearer Fulham’s goal. The shot map below shows the shots before (8) and after (11) the substitutions. Once the first substitution was made on the 65th minute, more shots resulted and more in closer proximity to Fulham’s goal.
Ben Arfa will collect all the plaudits for his wonderful goal, however Davide Santon had a very solid match defensively and offered a lot in attack as well. Since his debut in 2011, Santon has come on leaps and bounds defensively. On Saturday, he won all three tackles, won 75% of his ground duels (6/8), won 67% of his aerial duels (6/9), and also intercepted the ball on five occasions, the most from any Newcastle player. As you can see from the defensive map below, the majority of his defensive work was done further up the pitch.
With Sylvain Marveaux cutting inside and Fulham defender Reither tracking his run, it gave space for Santon to push into. At times, Ruiz would track back, but it also gave Newcastle some much needed width, as it became too congested in the middle with Ben Arfa cutting in from the opposite flank – Debuchy also take advantage of the extra space vacated by Ben Arfa. With Santon gaining possession on the left flank with no opposition at times, he was able to cross more often – 7 crosses from open play, only second to Ben Arfa. However it is obvious from the map below that his accuracy needs to be worked on.
With Loic Remy full fit and Newcastle keeping their first XI fit, the team looks able to achieve a better position that last year’s lowly 16th position. However, there is a lack of quality beyond that first XI and there are doubts that Director of Football, Joe Kinnear will add to that before the transfer window closes on Monday night. Pardew will be extremely happy with finally getting their first goal and win of the season and the last 20 minutes of the match will give him much hope knowing that Newcastle are able to play some quick and neat football.
Fulham on the other hand could be in danger this season. Outplayed in all of their three matches so far, although snatching a 1-0 win against Sunderland on the opening day of the season has masked their early league position, Martin Jol will have to find a way of providing some much needed support to Darren Bent if they are to stay away from the relegation zone this year.
All Stats Image via the FourFourTwo StatsZone app powered by Opta.