why Howe’s Newcastle are so difficult to score against

Master of the dark arts

Eddie Howe made a bit of a splash recently suggesting he was turning into the “new Diego Simeone”. During a sabbatical after leaving his previous job at Bournemouth, Howe shadowed the Argentinian manager at Atlético Madrid and never returned to his former arch-cleaner. Despite club captain Jamaal Lascelles spending most of this season on the bench, he has picked up two bookings to thwart his opponents as they attempt a late throw-in, which could make a difference , to do.

Similarly, during a recent win over Fulham, Howe’s assistant Jason Tindall sent a message to Nick Pope and a few minutes later the England goalkeeper went down unchallenged, sustaining an apparent injury. As he received “treatment”, play was stopped, allowing Howe to issue new tactical instructions, strap Bruno Guimarães’ ankle and Joelinton was allegedly hoping for a message from his fellow Portuguese Marco Silva to his Fulham players . Simeone may have considered the failure of substitute goalkeeper Martin Dubravka to be naive but Howe, who is in close contact with England goalkeeper and former Atlético Madrid full-back Kieran Trippier, his lieutenant on the pitch, is still learning about football. Whatever; A large fan banner made its first appearance at St James’ Park last month, emblazoned with Howe’s new mantra: “We’re not popular here; we are here to compete.”

Nick Pope receives treatment during Newcastle's win over Fulham after going down without a challenge.

Nick Pope receives treatment during Newcastle’s win over Fulham after going down without a challenge. Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

What about Howe’s tactics?

“Eddie knew he had to change after Bournemouth,” says former Newcastle defender Steven Taylor, who now manages Gulf United in Dubai. “And Newcastle are terrible to play against. They are the fittest team in the Premier League and their attacking intensity means coaches have to plan how to stop them.”

Part of that may have to do with another of Howe’s exciting sabbatical visits to Spain, this time to shadow Andoni Iraola, AKA the high priest of the Iberian press, at Rayo Vallecano.

At Bournemouth Howe was a 4-4-2 man but adheres to a 4-3-3 ideal for the high and hard game that often sees the Magpies always have possession in the attacking third. Operating at an often frenetic pace, the midfield forces the opposition’s mistakes by swimming forward and creating attacking overloads. While much of Newcastle’s running and movement is of high quality, they are also not afraid to mix things up by turning just when circumstances call for it. When Taylor first watched Howe train he was a little underwhelmed. “At first you think: ‘Bloody hell, this is simple,'” he said. “But then you notice the intensity of the session. That intensity takes things to a different level.”

When a breather is needed, Newcastle are so good at stoppage tactics that a recent analysis of Premier League time-wasting, citing the number of minutes the ball is held during games, showed that only Leeds were involved in “play active” less than Howe’s. side this season.

Leaving behind the plans of Benítez and Bruce

Under Benítez, Newcastle were a counter-attacking side for the first time, playing a 3-4-3 with a low block, after which Bruce made them more likely to leave their opponents. “We have to defend in depth and, hopefully, counter-attack,” he said. “That’s the only way we can play.”

A transformative takeover of the Saudi-led club in late 2021 has admittedly allowed Howe to invest around £250m in players but he has replaced a number of the old guard including Fabian Schär, Joelinton, Sean Longstaff and Miguel Almirón almost unrecognizable.

Howe’s mantra is: “Intensity is our identity.” That message is plastered across the walls at the revamped training ground, where the move to a back four has helped sign not only the outstanding Pope (who has recently kept 10 consecutive clean sheets) and Trippier but two defenders who protect left. the excellent Sven Botman and the reliable 6ft 6in Dan Burn. His strength enabled right-footed Swiss center Schär to make the most of his accurate distribution and smart vision.

Connectivity is key

Howe is a great communicator, no stranger to context and nuance, with a knack for finding the right word for every occasion. He spends hours analyzing opposition video but distills it into understandable team talk. “Footballers often stop listening after a great eight minutes,” says Taylor. “But Eddie Howe is great at saying everything important in five minutes and he’s so clever at making an emotional connection with players.”

Joe Willock agrees. “It makes the game incredibly simple and clear; you really understand what you have to do on the pitch,” says the former Arsenal midfielder turned Newcastle’s main midfield pusher. “I’m also the fittest I’ve ever been.”

Joe Willock

Joe Willock says he is the fittest he has ever been. Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

While partnership is fostered through imaginative team bonding exercises, the calm but fair Howe treats everyone as individuals. “I was able to trust the gaffer and he helped me a lot,” says Willock. “It makes such a difference when you can talk to a manager on a personal level.”

But the vision of the ‘entertainers’ (somewhat) remains intact

Howe was hired on a manifesto to recreate Newcastle’s 1990s “Entertainers” era choreographed by Kevin Keegan, but pragmatism has since entered the equation and Howe is not known for his inability to organize a defense at Bournemouth. “I’ve changed a bit – I’ve got new ideas and I’ve evolved,” says the 45-year-old who is proud of the way Brazil’s super-talented Guimarães has flourished on Tyneside. . “I’ve become a little different but basically I’m the same manager with the same principles and beliefs. The template remains to be entertained within Kevin’s framework. We want our supporters to come to the game excited. So it’s about attack and entertainment. But it’s also about winning.”

Significantly, lodestar Joelinton’s conversion from a £40m flop of No. 9 to an attacking midfielder or forward across the board was the key to many victories. It’s easy to understand why Julian Nagelsmann, his former manager at Hoffenheim, described the impressive Brazilian as a “machine” – and why rival managers refer to Newcastle’s collective size.

“They have real quality but they are also a very strong, physical team with a lot of height,” says Silva. “They are very dangerous at set pieces.”

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