Newcastle United 2-2 Liverpool: Tactical Analysis

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Newcastle United 2-2 Liverpool

Newcastle vs Liverpool is always an exciting fixture, as history bears witness. The two sides have always thrown up some wonderful football, some fantastic results and memorable moments.

This particular game wasn’t quite as brilliant, but it did have it’s fair share of incidents and excitement (and so very nearly an entralling end). Coming into the fixture, all the talk was about Loic Remy and Daniel Sturridge who were the two leading scorers of the league.

Newcastle twice took the lead in this game, even being reduced to 10 men in between those goals. Steven Gerrard notched up his 100th league goal for Liverpool while Daniel Sturridge continued his rich form. Cabaye was Newcastle goal-scorer with a fantastic long attempt, while Paul Dummet scored his first for the home side in only his second appearance.

Lack of personnel upfront

Alan Pardew opted to play Haten Ben Arfa in the central role, the false nine as it’s commonly called (although the actual football wasn’t false 9). It was a bewildering set-up given that Liverpool were playing with 3 at the back, given them further control in their own half.

Ben Arfa never ventured forward opting to play his usual game i.e. in the second striker’s role. Loic Remy who is Newcastle’s in-form man was positioned out wide and rarely did he get into the box, it meant Newcastle had almost nothing in the final third. Gouffran and Debuchy often made runs down the right hand side, attempting to put crosses into the box while Remy attempted the same down the opposite flank, but there was no one to aim for as no man in black & white ventured into the Liverpool box.

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The more apt thing to do would be to to have played with at least one, possibly two, strikers to take on Liverpool’s 3-man centre-back pairing. Johnson & Cissokho were pulled back by Newcastle’s wing-play, and a more centrally focused attack could have worked very well for Newcastle against a shaky Liverpool side.

The losing two-man midfield battle

Rodgers, who is becoming known for his tactical knowledge and discipline, got it wrong in the middle of the park today against Newcastle. While personally, I like the look of a 3-5-2 set-up and completely favour it, altering the system based on the oppositions approach is a wise thing to do.

Given Newcastle’s set-up, and Pardew’s usual philosophy, the home side were always going to look to play on the counter, realising that Liverpool would effectively have only three players back with the full-backs shifting between attack & defense based on the phase of play. Taking that into account, taking into account the fact that Moses isn’t a midfield player, not a centrally favoured one, playing only Gerrard and Henderson in the centre made no sense. A quick counter via the midfield was always going to be successful. Now it has to be said that with Lucas missing, Rodgers was forced into such a system but a certain Joe Allen was available, adding him to the two-man midfield and possibly replacing Moses would have been the sensible approach.

As it happens, Newcastle were dominating the midfield play, being given a lot of room. The two-man midfield of Liverpool and the three-man defense were unable to co-ordinate in their defensive duties. It resulted in Newcastle being encouraged to take some long-rangers; Remy tried a couple of outrageous effort, but it was one such effort from Cabaye that got Newcastle their first goal.


Even in the second half, with 10 men, and withdrawing Moussa Sissoko, Newcastle for a small period were being offered time and space in midfield. Coutinho and Lucas’ absence hurt Liverpool today as the midfield looked completely lost. The actual impact wasn’t felt as Newcastle were reduced to 10, but had Mbiwa not been sent off, Newcastle could have gone all the way in this game.

Atrocious Aerial play

In terms of aerial play, this was probably the worst performance from both sides. Liverpool’s marking for Dummet’s goal was shocking, but the real atrocity was in the opposite defence. Newcastle, time and again, were allowing Liverpool to win headers and complete free ones. A shocking display for a side at that level.

More shocking than Newcastle’s defensive aerial display was Liverpool attacking aerial display. Given the number of opportunities Liverpool were afforded, you’d expect atleast one to be on target, but the reds failed to muster up any real threat despite it being put on a plate for them.


Liverpool realised Newcastle’s aerial weakness and attempted to attack it by putting players into the box and encouraging Cissokho and Johnson to drive crosses in. It was an obvious system to employ, but it became a bit redundant as Liverpool failed to use it to their advantage. Lost for ideas but given time, Liverpool kept trying this avenue to no avail.

Containing the ‘Wing Backs’

Liverpool’s 3-5-2 continues to come under some heavy criticism. Some traditionalists like the idea, others are opposed to this ‘innovation’. One of the crucial factors in a 3-5-2 is the use of the wing-backs on either side. If they are able to get forward and back adequately, it can be a deadly tactic to implement (as Juventus have done). But if the opposition find a way of negating their influence, countering their play and just reducing their contribution, you are left with two lost players attempting to work down the channels. You either get them with too much attacking emphasis, or a deeper defensive game. Once the balance is lost, the entire system falls apart.

This was what was happening to Liverpool as Newcastle’s own full-backs and midfielders prevented the wing-backs from having a sustained influence on the game. While Cissokho did make some important defensive plays, the overall play from the wing-backs was lacking.

Once again, the true effect (or lack of it) from the wing-backs wasn’t seen as Newcastle red-card significantly shifted the scenario. But with equal men on either side, Newcastle were well on their way to containing Liverpool’s system.

Over to you! That was our analysis the clash, was there anything particular that you (tactically) noticed? Let us know by dropping a comment below.

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Sami Faizullah

Sami Faizullah

Co-founder and Chief Editor here. Obsessed with tactics. Keen follower of young players. Creator of #TalentRadar. Appeared in A Football Report's list of "Best in Football Writing 2012".
Sami Faizullah
  • Gabe Vino

    Good article! I have one thing to point out though; the #10 isn’t really a false 9, he’s just the primary creator of attacks. Otherwise, it’s well-written, good job!

    • samiOOTB

      Thanks once again Gabe. Well, in modern football, when there’s no striker ahead of the #10, it’s just referred to as false 9. That was my interpretation for convenience, but yes, you are right:)

  • Aakriti

    I agree, I too am in favour of the 3-5-2 formation, but BR should adapt and shift it according to the opposition. The midfield looked vulnerable.

    Enrique was missed. While Cissokho was decent, that flair on the left flank was lacking.

    Liverpool should have won, with the chances created in the second half. But a good one point anyway.

    Well written. And a great analysis. Like always!

    • samiOOTB

      Thanks Aakriti.

      Yes that game was Liverpool’s to win. But for most part, you could hardly tell Newcastle were down to 10, no urgency from Liverpool, completely lost for ideas.

  • SK Jensen

    Now being somewhat biased I don’t understand the selection of central defenders at the moment. Didn’t Agger and Toure/Skrtel keep three clean sheets in the first three games (admittedly Agger was literally saved by Mignolet against Stoke). No doubt Sakho is an important signing and competitor to Agger but I havn’t been impressed with his performance in the first games he’s played. Any stats comparing the two? I think he needs more time to settle in and get used to PrL.Of course he was an expensive signing but Rodgers has shown courage before in keeping Allen who he brought in from Swansea on the bench. If going back to a two central defenders system it is a tough choice between Toure and Skrtel but still think the latter has too little to offer in building up the game.

    Moses has been appaling in his role in central midfield and as everyone else I can’t wait for Coutinho to return. However, the dependence on one player leave us weak and exposed. Would it not be a better option for example yesterday to have put on Allen (in the absence of Leiva) and pushed Gerrard forward back to his old role as attacking midfielder? Remember he just scored an amazing goal for England so he can still do it the ‘grand old man’.

    I am a great fan of BR but really left confused by his recent choices…

  • scytheavatar

    3-5-2 is always going to be one of those things in football that works well in theory but less so in practice. Which is why despite people claiming it as a counter for 4-2-3-1 it hasn’t caught on outside Italy. Its success depends heavily on the ability of the wing backs, and Liverpool just doesn’t have good enough wing backs to get it working consistently. Rodgers is playing with fire by sticking to it, because Liverpool’s defense hasn’t been convincing under that formation.