How Newcastle United Can Set Up to Beat Manchester United
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Realistically—and based on Newcastle's 3-1 home defeat to United this season—no one expects the Magpies to get anything out of this fixture. They are without an away win all year, so a trip to Old Trafford isn't going to have the team rubbing their hands with glee.
However, the fact remains that there is a lot of talent in the Newcastle squad, and this terrible season they're having doesn't reflect that.
With the continuing injuries to Hatem Ben Arfa and Yohan Cabaye, as well as the suspended Cheick Tiote, the Toon are bereft of creativity in midfield. This has led to a defence-orientated strategy from Pardew, but the emphasis on not conceding goals inevitably concedes possession, and the pressure has been too much for Newcastle to withstand.
If they are to get a result against Manchester United, Pardew needs to look at the team's second-half performance against Manchester City.
Facing a 2-1 deficit—the team is also yet to win from behind—Newcastle suddenly looked better. Although Pardew had switched back to the 4-4-2 formation that has been the subject of criticism, the way the players worked within it showed improvement.
No longer relying on long balls in Demba Ba's direction, the Toon played patiently in midfield, with offseason signing Vurnon Anita displaying deft touch with first-time passes and one-twos that kept the passing game dynamic.
Papiss Cisse has struggled to regain the form he showed upon arrival, but linking up with Anita gave him opportunities that he has lacked this year. Cisse was unable to convert, but got himself goal-side of the City defence and was given the ball at his feet.
Sir Alex Ferguson has had problems with his defence conceding goals this year, which Newcastle can exploit if they keep the ball on the ground. Anita's slow start has gained momentum in recent weeks, and he now looks more confident in possession.
Tiote, on the other hand, has regressed.
It's no good having control and touch in the centre of midfield from one player if another concedes possession with poor vision and slack passing. Tiote has played the ball across his defence too many times without looking for opposing pressure.
It's absolutely vital that Tiote and Anita work together to retain possession in midfield, using short passes to link the attacking play and getting Ba and Cisse involved from different parts of the pitch. This hasn't been the case for much of the season.
Another criticism of Cisse—and Ba, to an extent—is that he makes the same runs as his Senegalese teammate. They are similar players and instinctively look for the same spaces in which to receive the ball, so spreading the passing to their respective sides will help to keep them apart.
Facing a leaky Manchester defence, Newcastle have a real chance to play the ball through them and get Ba and Cisse the service they need.
To do this, they need to find a place for Sylvain Marveaux.
Pardew has been reluctant to remove Jonas Gutierrez from the starting lineup, but the Argentinian is struggling to get into a position to benefit his team. Gutierrez makes a lot of runs, but never seems to go very far, and his performances indicate a player in decline.
Marveaux hasn't been given the opportunities he deserves. When he was given a starting role against Wigan he was arguably Newcastle's best player, seemingly everywhere in the opposition half and providing the pass for Gael Bigirimana's fantastic finish.
What will be the result of the game?
He was rewarded with an appearance as a 90th-minute substitute in the following game.
Having lost six out of the last seven games, Newcastle obviously have defensive problems that need to be addressed if they are to keep out the likes of Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney.
There have been too many mistakes made at key times for the defence to efficiently function as a unit. Davide Santon can be a wonderful player, but he has a habit of limiting these moments of wonder to his attacking play.
Santon's runs up the left wing are a great threat in the game, but they cause him to get caught of position and force his midfield to stay back and cover for him. This in turn depletes the midfield and renders Newcastle unable to regain possession.
When faced with a midfield that will send Tom Cleverley and Rooney forward, getting caught out of position isn't something Newcastle can afford. Cleverly and van Persie struck within the first four minutes against Sunderland, so any early uncertainty will be punished.
Fabricio Coloccini has to command his defence. If there's one thing Newcastle currently lack, it's a centre-back who leads from the front and demands perfection from his back four.
Injuries have affected the Magpies at all positions, but since Coloccini has returned it's his job as captain to marshal his players into a unit.
Danny Simpson and Mike Williamson are frequently exposed and will face a difficult time at Old Trafford. They need Tiote and Anita to run the midfield as mentioned above, cutting out the service to van Persie from which he will dominate.
Norwich proved that a team can nullify Manchester United with an incredible work ethic and group effort, protecting a 1-0 lead with some help from their goalkeeper.
It might not have been the best United performance that day, but Newcastle have to take heart from it, especially since they are the travelling team.
Deny them the space to run the game by controlling possession from midfield, protecting the defence and stifling their natural game. Keep the tempo high and use Marveaux to create opportunities for the strikers.
Sounds easy, doesn't it?
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