For last Saturday’s fixture against Birmingham City in the FA Cup, Rafa Benitez opted to set the team up differently than in any game previously this season, notably starting with two out-and-out strikers for the first time. Perhaps this was experimental, or a sign of things to come in response to Newcastle’s patchy recent form.
Unsurprising was the rotation of several first team regulars for the cup fixture, allowing squad players such as Grant Hanley, Achraf Lazaar and Daryl Murphy to get some game time. What was surprising, was the formation and game plan that Rafa employed in order to get the victory.
Starting with two target men in Mitrovic and Murphy,and with two wingbacks, the tactic from the outset was obvious – to get crosses into the area and aim for the strikers. Mitrovic’s injury cut this short, but it showed positive progression from Rafa, who has been quietly prompted by supporters to go more attacking.
While also showing positive attacking intent with two strikers, the 5-3-2 formation also allows the team to shore up defensively. This has been best demonstrated over the past several years in Italy by Juventus, and their relentless title winning streak.
With fullbacks in Achraf Lazaar and DeAndre Yedlin, who are perhaps more effective going forward than they are defensively, lining them up as offensive wingbacks not only suited their individual inclinations more, but provides the two strikers with constant ammunition. Should Benitez see fit to line up both Dwight Gayle and Mitrovic together, then this could provide many goals.
The central midfield three tuck in quite narrow, providing defensive and offensive support, plus it allows the wingbacks to overlap. When Jonjo Shelvey returns imminently, this could further improve the goal output, due to his ability to fire long range through balls into the wide areas.
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Defensively the formation needs a complete understanding between the three central defenders and goalkeeper, but this is something that can be established and worked on over time. And Newcastle can have viably five players to choose from in this area – Lascelles, Clark, Hanley, Dummett and Mbemba upon his return.
Though it may have been experimental, I believe that this formation is something that could work using the players at Benitez’s disposal. While it would be harsh to omit regulars such as Gouffran and Ritchie at this stage, it could turn into an effective Plan B.
While giving the fans the two striker formation they crave, and retaining the defensive solidity that Benitez has built the foundation for. This is certainly something to look out for in the coming weeks.