Rafa Benitez has experimented with multiple strategies this season, but under what circumstances should Newcastle United use certain formations?
In a season comprised of 38 matches and several domestic cup fixtures, it is normal for a manager to experiment with different formations. However, at this stage in the season, Newcastle United should have an idea of how to play going forward.
This season supporters and pundits have seen Rafa Benitez select the following formations: 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2 and 5-4-1. It is worth mentioning that the 5-4-1 formation was used against Manchester City, but it only lasted for five seconds before shifting into 9-0-1 as Newcastle parked the bus.
Throughout the season Benitez has relied on the 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1 formations, but when should each formation be used?
Formation Analysis: 4-4-2
This is the go-to formation for Benitez if he wants his Magpies to have a style of play that is centered on attacking the opposition. While the 4-4-2 formation can take the opposition by surprise with integrity and confidence, this formation should not be used against clubs in the top eight of the table.
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The reason being that the disparity in quality between teams in the top eight and Newcastle United is too great. The Magpies have the offensive pace to cause any opponent trouble, but this formation is prone to opening the door to counter-attacks and the creation of passing lanes. The current Newcastle roster does not have the ability to stop a breakaway that is led by top Premier League players such as Eden Hazard, Mohamed Salah, Mesut Ozil, Paul Pogba, Dele Alli and Kevin De Bruyne.
This formation should only be used against teams the Magpies can compete with in the bottom half of the table. The 4-4-2 formation does not by any means guarantee a victory for Newcastle United, but it does enable the Magpies to create more scoring opportunities.
Looking at the upcoming fixtures, Rafa Benitez should consider using this formation in the following matches:
January 13 – NUFC vs. Swansea City
February 4 – Crystal Palace vs. NUFC
February 24 – Bournemouth vs. NUFC
March 10 – NUFC vs. Southampton
March 31 – NUFC vs. Huddersfield Town
April 21 – Everton vs. NUFC
April 28 – NUFC vs. West Brom
Formation Analysis: 4-2-3-1
This is Rafa Benitez’s most used formation this season. The 4-2-3-1 shape creates a balanced style of play that limits the offensive production, but also enables midfielders to get back defensively to minimize the number of chances from opposing strikers.
In contrast to the 4-4-2, this formation should be used against superior competition in the top half of the table. Where the 4-4-2 comes with the risk of conceding goals through counter-attacks, the 4-2-3-1 comes with the risk of placing a ceiling on offensive efficiency.
Rafa Benitez has selected the 4-2-3-1 formation 12 times this season, and in those 12 matches the Magpies have only scored 10 goals. It is not fair to say that the formation is solely to blame for the lack of scoring, as the quality of the strikers is a major factor too.
The key flaw with this formation is that only playing with one striker makes it more difficult for Newcastle to score multiple goals in a match. However, the major benefit of this formation is the flexibility in midfield as there will always be at least one midfielder ready to support the lone striker, and at least one midfielder ready to fall back in defense.
Looking at the remaining schedule, Rafa Benitez should consider using this formation in the following matches: