Connect with us

Tactics & Analysis

The Tactics Board- MUFC 3-0 Newcastle: Butchering Magpies

This game was decided fairly early on by Manchester United’s fast start. The Red Devils scored twice in 16 minutes off of set pieces, the opposite of what the Red Devils have been dealing with so far this year. Manchester United was able to control the game early on with the extra man they had in the midfield, but after gaining a 2-0 lead, Alan Pardew made changes that made the rest of the game much more even. Adding another goal in the second half ensured that Manchester United gained all 3 points in their best performance this season.




Manchester United vs. Newcastle United

St. James Park – October 07, 2012

(I’m not calling it Moneygrubber Arena)

Game Setup-

Manchester United (4-4-2 Diamond)
After the success of the 4-4-2 Diamond against Newcastle United in the Capital One Cup, and against CFR Cluj mid-week, Sir Alex Ferguson decided to deploy his team in this formation again, but he made a few changes over the squad that faced Cluj mid-week.

The backline stayed the same, with David De Gea starting his second game in a row. Across the defensive line were Rafael, Rio Ferdinand, Jonny Evans, and Patrice Evra. In the midfield, Michael Carrick replaced Darren Fletcher as the deepest lying midfielder. Tom Cleverley kept his starting slot on the left side of the midfield, while Shinji Kagawa replaced Anderson on the right side. At the point of the diamond was Wayne Rooney, operating in a trequartista role. Up front were Robin Van Persie and Danny Welbeck.

Starting Formation

Newcastle United (4-4-2)
Alan Pardew brought his squad out in an attacking 4-4-2 at home, a change from the 4-3-3 he used midweek in a 3-0 victory over Bordeaux. The backline remained mostly the same with Steve Harper in goal, in place of an injured Tim Krul and Robert Elliot. Replacing Danny Simpson at right-back was Davide Santon, while the rest remained the same: Mike Williamson and James Perch at center-back and Shane Ferguson at left-back.

The midfield featured Chieck Tiote and Yohan Cabaye in the center, with Jonas Gutierrez on the left wing and Hatem Ben Arfa on the right wing. Starting together at strikers was the dangerous Demba Ba, who’s scored 6 goals in 5 games, and Papiss Cisse, who has yet to score this year but who scored 12 goals in 14 games last season.

Key Points-

  • Manchester United gets off to a quick start, scoring 2 goals in 16 minutes
  • The Red Devils is able to dominate the early part of the game with a 3v2 in the midfield
  • Alan Pardew switches Newcastle United to 4-3-3 after second goal, and the Magpies start to assert themselves
  • Manchester United’s defense plays very well against 2 physical scoring threats, keeping only their second clean sheet in the league
  • Tom Cleverley’s wonder strike dashes Newcastle United’s hopes


Manchester United gets off to a quick start

Manchester United came into this game on the back of a disappointing 3-2 loss to the Tottenham Hotspur a week earlier, in a first half performance that should be embarrassing to anybody unlucky enough to be on the pitch for it. The Red Devils rallied in the second half, and dominated the Spurs, but they weren’t able to recover from the two goals Tottenham scored in the first half. They came into this game with no intention of a repeat performance, and came out of the gate extremely strong.

The Red Devils were set up in a 4-4-2 diamond, which they’ve used in 3 of their last 4 games. The backline remains virtually unchanged, but instead of only having two central midfielders, you now have three. Michael Carrick started in the deepest midfield position, operating as a holding midfielder and deep-lying playmaker. Ahead of him, Tom Cleverley started on the left side of the midfield, operating as a box-to-box midfielder with the responsibility of working in the central midfield while also drifting out wide to give United’s attack some width. On the right side, Shinji Kagawa got his first start in this formation, while Tom Cleverley has played in it the previous two games.

The point of the diamond was manned by Wayne Rooney, who operates as the trequartista. He poses a dangerous goal scoring threat, but he also is a dangerous passing and creative option. He proved that in this game against Newcastle, where he completed 84% of his passes and almost a quarter of them were in the final third. In addition, he completed 8 of 9 long balls and created 2 chances. He would frequently drop into the midfield to receive the ball, which allowed him to turn and run at the Magpies defense. In addition, Newcastle’s midfield was already overwhelmed so when he dropped into it, they didn’t have anybody available to pick him up. Altogether, he posed a dangerous threat that the Magpies would struggle to deal with.

Up front, Robin Van Persie started alongside Danny Welbeck. Now, these two represented a dangerous goal scoring threat but they were also comfortable dropping into the midfield to get on the ball. Dropping into the midfield caused the Newcastle defense to lose their shape, and creates openings for other players to go into. Dropping deep, they would often drift out into wide areas, where they found plenty of space. Both Newcastle wingers were frequently forced inside to help cover the weak central midfield, and this created space for Welbeck and Van Persie to operate in. Welbeck created 2 chances in the game, while Van Persie created 3. 5 chances created by the lead strikers, an effective creative punch from an unexpected area.

Newcastle United came out in a 4-4-2, and this immediately caused problems for them. They were outnumbered in the central midfield, having Chieck Tiote and Yohan Cabaye trying to cover Michael Carrick, Shinji Kagawa, Tom Cleverley, and Wayne Rooney. This is a situation that Manchester United is familiar with, after that game with Liverpool two weeks ago.

The player that Newcastle chose to leave unmarked was Michael Carrick, but he would punish them by orchestrating the game in a similar fashion to Paul Scholes. Even after Newcastle changed formation to reinforce the midfield, they did a poor job of marking Michael Carrick. He ended the game with 77 passes, completing 87% of them. He also completed 6 of 7 long balls, which he used very effectively to change the point of attack for the Red Devils.

Wayne Rooney was an especially dangerous threat for them, as he operated between their lines and spread the ball out to all the available attacking options. Newcastle struggled to deal with him, as their two center-backs were busy dealing with Robin Van Persie and Danny Welbeck, so they didn’t have anybody who could step forward to mark him. In the midfield, Tiote and Cabaye were trying to mark Cleverley, Kagawa, and Carrick, so they didn’t have anybody to drop deep. The result was that Rooney had space and time to operate in a very dangerous area of the field.

While United was able to dominate the game early on, completely controlling possession, it ended up being two set pieces that they got their goals. In the 8th minute, Robin Van Persie was able to win a corner for the Red Devils from some extraordinary effort when he chased down a ball that most would have given up on. Instead, he chased it down and played the ball out of bounds off of Newcastle’s keeper to give United the corner. RVP took the corner, and Jonny Evans, who managed to lose his marker (Williamson) then, got up above Demba Ba to power the ball into the net.

Only 8 minutes later, after a great free kick by Wayne Rooney, Manchester United lined up for another corner. Patrice Evra was able to evade his marker, and met Rooney’s well delivered ball to give the Red Devils a 2-0 lead.

Pardew makes adjustments, and Newcastle fights back

Formations after 16th Minute

After Manchester United went up 2-0, Alan Pardew altered his formation. He went to a 4-3-3, in hopes that the extra man in the midfield would neutralize the advantage that the Red Devils had been using so effectively. Chieck Tiote played as the deepest midfielder, while Yohan Cabaye and Jonas Gutierrez played ahead of him. Up front, Hatem Ben Arfa switched to play left wing, while Papiss Cisse was moved to right wing, which left Demba Ba as the lead striker. Normally Demba Ba moves out to the wing, but his current form makes him the most dangerous goal scoring threat so he stayed central.

Adding the extra player into the midfield equalized the game, and Newcastle was able to control the ball much easier now. They still struggled at times in the midfield, especially offensively. Even though it was 3v3 on paper, it was really 3v4. Defensively, Wayne Rooney dropped into the midfield and put in a quality defensive performance. His strength and physicality was just what the Red Devils needed in the midfield to counter-attack Tiote, and Rooney did that to great effect. Additionally Tiote stayed very deep, as he was also responsible for trying to mark Rooney on defense. He was unable to get forward on the attack. Cabaye, on the other hand, played further forward but he was constantly under pressure from Cleverley. He frequently resorted to long passes, but they were often square or backwards, which meant they posed little risk.

Another consequence of the formation shift was that Demba Ba was now alone up front. Newcastle frequently plays long balls up to Ba and Cisse, as they are both physical and strong in the air, and they would be a serious threat to Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans. However, with Cisse now playing on the right wing, only Ba was left as a target man and they frequently played passes up to him, but he struggled against both Ferdinand and Evans. Even if he won the duel, he often lost the second ball.

Third goal and midfield excellence

After the second goal in the 16th minute, the game was fairly even between the Magpies and the Red Devils. The formation change had the desired effect for Alan Pardew, as his team played much better after the switch to a 4-3-3. They still struggled in the central midfield, but they weren’t as overrun as they had been in a 4-4-2. They even had some close calls, most of them owed to David De Gea’s continuing weakness in the air. The Spaniard showed his best, and worst, attributes in the 50th minute when he made a mess of a cross from Shane Ferguson. It bounced off the cross bar, and Papiss Cisse tried to put in the rebound but De Gea’s quick reflexes saved the ball before it could cross the line.

As the second half went along, Newcastle started to take more control of the game, especially down the left side, taking advantage of Shinji Kagawa.

Shinji Kagawa struggled and had a fairly quiet game. He seemed to drift out of play with his deeper role, but he had moments when he would get up the pitch, near the 18 yard box, that he was able to make some impact. While Cleverley was able to influence play and make an impact both from a deep position in the midfield and up near the box, Kagawa was much better suited when he could play up near the penalty area, where he could make use of his great vision and movement to find little pockets of space to operate in. This biggest problem was Kagawa’s struggles defensively. At Borussia Dortmund, and his early games at United, he’s had an open defensive role, just pressuring the backline, but on the right side of the midfield, he had specific marking assignments and he struggled. In the second half, Newcastle started to take advantage of that.

With the Magpies pressuring down the right side, Sir Alex Ferguson took Kagawa out and replaced him with Antonio Valencia. This provided Manchester’s attack more width, and also some much needed defensive help for Rafael. As soon as Valencia came into the game, the game started to slip away from Newcastle and the Red Devils again started to dominate possession.

A key of Manchester United’s midfield performance was Tom Cleverley, who functioned well on the left side. He played quick short passes, combining it with his strong movement off the ball to cause many problems for Newcastle. Additionally, he put good work in defensively to ensure that Newcastle’s midfield pairing of Tiote and Cabaye didn’t overrun Michael Carrick.

Manchester United was able to end Newcastle’s hopes of a comeback in the 71st minute. This goal was setup by Wayne Rooney’s excellent movement, as he received the ball on the left touchline from Patrice Evra. His movement pulled Tiote and Cabaye to him, which meant that Tom Cleverley was unmarked at the corner of the 18 yard box. Rooney coolly slid the ball to him, and Cleverley was able to take a wicked curving shot that caught Steve Harper out. The ball floated just past his fingertips into the upper corner of the net to give Manchester United a 3-0 lead.


With a third goal, Manchester United was able to see out the rest of the game and claim all three points from a very challenging fixture, one in which they lost 3-0 last season. Alan Pardew has to be very disappointed in the performance his team put forward, as they struggled throughout the game. Papiss Cisse had a poor game, while Chieck Tiote and Yohan Cabaye were marginalized. One of his few standout performers had to be Davide Santon, at right-back.

Manchester United finally put in a full 90 minute performance, and looked very sharp. A 3-0 victory, with no goals scored by the 3 strikers on the pitch, has to be very pleasing to Sir Alex Ferguson. What is more satisfying is the clean sheet, only the second one they’ve kept in the league this year. Wayne Rooney put in another excellent display, as did Tom Cleverley and Robin Van Persie. Shinji Kagawa struggled a bit in an unfamiliar role, as he’s used to playing further up the pitch. If this formation is to become Sir Alex Ferguson’s favorite for the year, they will need to hope that the Japanese international will pick up his new position, or they will have to play Wayne Rooney up front with Robin Van Persie and play Kagawa in the slot behind them.

I hope you enjoyed the post, and comments are always welcome!

By RangeRooney