The switch from 4-4-1-1 to 4-4-2
For the first seven games this season Chris Hughton fielded a formation resembling 4-4-1-1.
Kevin Nolan has played just off the striker for all of the first seven games this season except for the visit to Man City where he played in a compact midfield three with Cheick Tioté and Joey Barton.
Then, against Wigan, Hughton made the switch to 4-4-2.
Nolan was rested so Peter Lovenkrands came in as a striker and Danny Guthrie came in on the right of midfield. Newcastle got two goals in the last twenty minutes to draw 2-2 at home.
Against West Ham and Sunderland the same system was used but with Barton moving to the right of midfield, Guthrie was dropped and Nolan returned to play just in front of Tioté in the centre, Shola Ameobi came in for Lovenkrands and Danny Simpson made his first appearance this season replacing James Perch. Newcastle beat West Ham 2-1 away and beat Sunderland 5-1 at home.
The right side of the team has been significant factor in the outcome of the three games.
Often when a manager switches from 4-4-1-1 to 4-4-2 a centre midfielder is sacrificed to make way for the second striker but Hughton instead decided to take out the right-winger and then move one of the three centre midfielders out to the right of the pitch. In the formation, the right-sided midfielder is required to perform two roles: he must provide width, getting in good areas for crosses whilst also moving into central areas to get involved with build up play.
The success of the right-sided midfielder is largely down to the ability of the right fullback to get forward along the right flank. When the right-sided midfielder moves inside it is very important that right fullback gets forward to maintain the width high up the pitch otherwise the right-sided midfielder will find it difficult to find space.
This is what happened against Wigan. The Newcastle right fullback, Perch, didn’t get forward enough because he was occupied and pushed back by the presence of Wigan’s left-winger, Charles N’Zogbia.
Here’s a heatmap showing where Wigan passed the ball in the first half:
It shows that 26% of Wigan’s passing attacks came via N’Zogbia down Newcastle’s right flank.
This Chalkboard shows Perch’s inability to get forward in the first 45 minutes:
The result meant that Guthrie’s job was more difficult. He completed 20 out of 26 passes. Here’s a Chalkboard showing his 17 successful passes from open play.
He wasn’t able to distribute one ball into the box from open play in the 66 minutes he was on the pitch.
Against West Ham and Sunderland it was a different story. Barton was moved to the right-sided midfield position and Simpson replaced Perch at right back. Their job was made a lot easier by the fact that neither West Ham nor Sunderland fielded a player that permanently occupied Newcastle’s right flank.
Here are the heatmaps that show where West Ham and Sunderland passed the ball in the 90 minutes:
West Ham focused only 19% of their attacking play down Newcastle’s right flank and Sunderland focused only 14%.
Simpson was therefore able to get forward well making a number of passes in the final third.
Simpson’s ability to get forward made it easier for Barton to find space and the equaliser against West Ham is a perfect example of this. Tioté squared the ball to Simpson who dribbled forward into the final third with plenty of time and space. He passed it wide to Barton. Barton then crossed it into Carroll who headed it into the path of Nolan. Nolan finished with a first time shot.
It’ll be interesting to see how effective Barton and Simpson can be when they face a team that field a permanent left-winger and also how effective Guthrie and Perch might be when they face a team that do not field permanent left-winger.
Data taken from Guardian Chalkboards