“Where there’s a will there’s a way”, and Newcastle United demonstrated that on Saturday after coming from behind to defeat West Ham in London.
One of the most interesting and eventful matches of the season for the Magpies encompassed a brilliant performance and three points. Goals from Henri Saivet, Mohamed Diame, and Christian Atsu secured three points against West Ham and temporarily lifted Newcastle United out of the bottom three.
Many observations were made during the game regarding the performance of certain individuals and the team in general, but here are five key things we learned from this match.
The 4-4-2 Formation
Every now and then Benitez decides to go with the 4-4-2 formation. In most cases, it has not worked but it proved to be the correct formation against West Ham. Prior to the match, West Ham conceded a total of 32 goals in its first 19 matches. Benitez knew that the opposition were vulnerable in defense and this formation enabled the Magpies to attack on a frequent basis.
The major risk that comes with this formation, however, is that it can lead to poor spacing on the defensive end and gives the opposition room to work with. This was put on display in the first six minutes as Marko Arnautovic had all the time in the world to dribble and score on Rob Elliot.
Although this formation provides Newcastle United with a better chance of scoring goals, it should only be used against opponents in the bottom half of the table. The Magpies do not have sufficient quality on the roster to maintain leads against superior sides.
The Lascelles-Clark Duo
While Benitez prefers to start Jamaal Lascelles and Florian Lejeune together, the duo of Lascelles and Ciaran Clark should be the defensive combination going forward. With Lejeune being a new transfer, that fact alone is not a good reason for extensive playing time. Clark was at fault for the foul he committed to give West Ham a penalty, but he played well overall and showed signs of leadership by organizing his team-mates on set pieces.
Together with Lascelles, Clark presented the tall and physical forwards of West Ham with aggressive duels and close marking for most of the game. This enabled Newcastle United to frustrate West Ham all evening.
Henri Saivet: Welcome to the Rotation
Despite his shaky start to the match with a soft, ill-advised pass that was intercepted by Arnautovic and led to West Ham scoring, Henri Saivet played well. His free-kick goal in the tenth minute revived Newcastle United and he continued to perform in the midfield.
His work ethic in winning 50-50 balls and his ability to spread the ball out wide to both Atsu and Ritchie proved one thing – his season debut should not have come after 19 matches. The long list of midfielders on the roster might make it difficult for playing time, but he showed that he can play and fill the void of Merino or Shelvey in a crucial match.
Hungry for Goals
Newcastle United were only able to score 16 goals in 18 matches prior to playing West Ham. However, the Magpies were full of confidence as they constantly attacked West Ham’s defense through Ritchie, Atsu, Yedlin and Manquillo.
In order to avoid relegation, the Magpies need to play with the same sense of urgency on the offensive end as they did against West Ham.
Although the Magpies conceded two goals in their victory, Rob Elliot did not disappoint Rafa Benitez and the Toon Army with his performance. Elliot made some important saves and made all the right decisions when it came to protecting the goal on set pieces.
His ability to stop Andre Ayew’s penalty and maintain the lead for Newcastle United was more than just a crucial save. Elliot’s work served as a reminder for why he should continue starting over Karl Darlow in goal.