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Tactical Analysis

Tactical Analysis: Newcastle United 2-2 Southampton | Space between Newcastle’s lines and Saints’ rotational movement

Newcastle United and Southampton entered the 2015-16 season on the back of contrasting campaigns the last time around. The Magpies endured a tumultuous campaign with relegation a real possibility towards the latter stages. Southampton on the other hand were a revelation as they put behind a mass exodus to thrive in what was Ronald Koeman’s first season in charge.



Newcastle Southampton

Newcastle United (4-2-3-1): 1. Krul // 22. Janmaat, 18. Mbemba, 2. Coloccini, 19. Haidara // 8. Anita, 4. Colback // 7. Sissoko, 5. Wijnaldum, 14. Obertan // 9. Cisse

Southampton (4-2-3-1): 22. Stekelenburg // 2. Soares, 6. Fonte, 3. Yoshida, 33. Targett // 12. Wanyama, 8. Davis // 11. Tadic, 10. Mane, 9. Rodriguez // 19. Pelle

Newcastle’s Attacking Principles

Ball Retention – The Centre-Backs and Central Midfielder

When playing out from the back, to guarantee safety and quick ball movement, there has to be clear understanding by every single player on where the ball is going to go next.  If one player is not concentrating, the ball can be won by the opposition and due to the shape being fairly open from playing the ball out the back, the ‘now’ defensive team are in a difficult situation.

One way Newcastle aimed to bring the ball out from the back was the use of one of the central midfielders (mainly Anita) dropping in-between the two centre backs that had already split wide.  By doing this they created a back three with two high full backs.  Pictured below is one example of this commonly used method.

1 (1)

As we can see from the image, the player in the middle of the three is originally one of the central midfielders – Anita.  Newcastle have set up well here, Mane – the number 10 for Southampton – has stepped up in line with Pelle making a first time switch to the other centre back difficult.  However, let’s remember that Mane would have been following Anita but he has gone too deep to man mark.  Anita’s body position is correct when dropping between the defenders.  It is side on in order to receive on his back foot (attacking foot) and can now either play sideways again to move the Southampton players even more or attempt to split their higher players by passing forward to his midfield team mates.

2 (1)

Pictured above is once again Newcastle’s back three when having possession.  However, there has been a slight modification in this case.  Mbemba – right centre back – has received the ball in a wide position, causing Coloccini to move centrally, if Coloccini hadn’t moved over accordingly, Southampton may have won the ball and attacked the vacated space left by him.  The third player in the three is one of the central midfielders – Jack Colback.  As Coloccini had to move over to support Mbemba, Colback completed the three by moving into what would have been Coloccini’s position.

3 (1)

From the above image, we once again see the back three aiming to keep possession.  Keeping the ball this deep in the pitch can be dangerous if the ball isn’t moved quickly and your team mates aren’t in the correct position to receive the ball – both mentioned previously.  If the ball is moved slowly it will allow more Southampton players to move up the pitch and press the ball hard.  If the players around the ball don’t move relative to the ball’s position on the pitch a pass may be misplaced presenting the opponents with a large amount of space to attack.

Newcastle’s Defensive Vulnerabilities

Space between the Defensive and Midfield Lines

When Newcastle weren’t in possession of the ball, they pressed to get it back.  However, in some cases their pressing was unorganised between the midfield and defensive lines.  There were gaps allowing Southampton to play in between the lines of the pitch much more effectively.  The following image identifies this.

4 (1)

It’s clear too see the problem Newcastle have here.  The midfielders have allowed Mane and Pelle to have loads of space between the defensive and midfield lines.  If the ball was played quicker and one of the two received the ball, it would have created a dangerous situation.

5 (1)

Once again Southampton have managed to play in between Newcastle’s midfield and defensive lines.  Tadic, moving inside the pitch has received the ball with the nearest defender at least ten metres away from him.  As we can see from Mane and Pelle, they are making direct runs attracting the Newcastle defenders to go with them – therefore giving Tadic more space to run into.  The next image is another example of Newcastle’s defensive vulnerability.

6 (1)

In this situation, Anita is pressing Pelle who has possession of the ball but Colback is out of position.  As the two central midfielders of the formation, they have to protect the back four.  However, Colback is too high and is giving Tadic – who has moved inside once again – a dangerous amount of space in between the midfield and defensive lines.

Southampton’s Attacking Principles

Rotational Movement by Attacking Players

In terms of attacking for Southampton, they appeared to move the ball more directly from the goalkeeper to the players higher up the pitch.  However, when the ball moved from the defensive third to the midfield and attacking thirds there was smart rotational movement from the attacking players.  The aim of this attacking method was to move Newcastle players to parts of the pitch which in turn caused dangerous areas to open up that could be exploited.

7 (1)

The above image is a prime example of smart rotational movement by Southampton.  Furthest to the left is Steven Davis who has dropped into the full back position – vacated by Targett who has moved higher up the pitch.  Targett’s space has opened up from Rodriguez moving into the pitch and coming short to eventually receive the ball.  The last player in this rotation is the number 10, Mane, who has moved into what would be an inside forward’s position (in the pocket).  This rotation was done at a good pace and caused Newcastle players to move into areas they didn’t want too.  Rodriguez moved the ball further forward and a decent chance was created, resulting in a corner kick.

Southampton’s rotational movement contributed to them scoring their first goal.  As we see from the below image, Mane has dropped deeper than the ball to create space in front of him where he can now run into with the ball under possession.

8 (1)

Pelle has stayed high keeping the defence deep and Rodriguez has moved slightly inside where he has attracted the attention from the Newcastle midfielders – leaving the space for Mane to exploit with his fast dribbling ability.

9 (1)

Now, look how further up the pitch Mane is with the ball.  One key movement in this scenario was from Tadic – the right of the attacking three.  He has moved inside the pitch, attracting the full back to go with him.  This movement has left a large amount of space for Soares to take advantage off when he receives the ball.  He eventually does, crossing for Pelle to head past Krul.  This goal wouldn’t have been scored if the movement between the players involved wasn’t fluent enough.

Southampton’s Defensive Vulnerabilities

Space behind the High Full Backs

One attacking fundamental of the 4-2-3-1 formation are high full backs.  As Southampton play with a rotational four high up the pitch, it allows the full backs to take advantage of the space left in wide areas.  However, this can prove dangerous in terms of where the opposition will attack if they win the ball.

10 (1)

From the above image, it is clear Southampton like to attack with their full backs.  They have six players attacking, leaving only four back.  The central midfielders’ jobs are essential in this situation – Davis and Wanyama.  Although you can’t see them in the image, Davis (left of the two) has to cover the high full back but also contribute to the attack and Wanyama has to do the same if the ball is on the right hand side.  However, in this situation Southampton lose possession off the ball, let’s see what happens five seconds later.

11 (1)

Look at the space Sissoko has exploited.  Due to the full back attacking high and the central midfielder not being in the correct position it has caused a promising counter attacking situation for Newcastle. If Newcastle had set up to let Southampton to have more possession of the ball, they could have taken advantage of this situation more often.


Overall, this game was seen as a good start to the season by both teams.  Newcastle, playing a different style of football and receiving plaudits by many fans and Southampton winning a point having recently played in the Europa league on Thursday in The Netherlands.  Although this is only the first game of the season, things are looking good for both sides in terms of playing styles and players brought in to strengthen their squads.

Written by Jack Wilson

Jack Wilson

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