Newcastle United have qualified for the Champions League for the first time in 20 years, but after a mid-season swing saw them slip out of the top 4, Eddie Howe made a small but essential tweak to their tactics that put them back on track . .
Securing their top-four status with a 0-0 draw against Leicester City, Newcastle achieved what many before them valiantly tried, but failed in vain, by breaking into Europe’s elite competition.
Most seasons see an unexpected team challenge for the top four be it Leicester a few years ago Southampton a decade ago or even Newcastle themselves under Alan Pardew there are regular teams vying for the top of the table in the first half of the season.
In the end, they all failed to maintain their strong form, with results slipping away as the so-called bigger teams got into their rhythm and overtook. Around February, on the cusp of the Carabao Cup final against Manchester United, Newcastle’s form looked shaky and they were losing ground in the Champions League battle.
While defending remained the foundation of why Newcastle got to the position they were, they saw the struggle to score goals slip a bit.
However, Eddie Howe managed to turn things around with his brilliance by adjusting his tactics to ensure his side scored more often. High pressure, a key feature of the team’s identity, was soon changed, with the philosophy of why they pressed being developed by the manager.
Previously, Newcastle would consistently win the ball into the opposition’s defensive third, but they failed to convert these high turnovers into shots in the Premier League. Teams started playing from a deeper position, which meant more players around the ball to defend if they lost the ball.
Opportunities became limited, so Howe began inviting teams to play longer by pressing smarter. Players stopped any build-up, forcing the opponent to move into third midfield longer. Once the ball got there, Newcastle struck.
With the other team higher up the pitch and a little more exposed, Newcastle would win the ball, leading to more direct attacks – anything that starts within your half of the pitch and gives a chance on goal within 15 seconds.
If Four Four Two Adam Clery discusses in more detail in the video above that these tactics and personnel changes are exactly why Newcastle United reached the Champions League.
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