Despite what the scoreline suggested, Newcastle United‘s return to the Champions League for the 1st time in 20 years was no dull affair at all. Facing AC Milan in the fortress called San Siro wasn’t going to be easy but after what transpired for the ‘Rossoneri’ in the past weekend against their derby rivals Inter, Newcastle boarded that flight filled with plenty of hope. But despite that the game ended with the taste that Milan failed to capitalize on their chances despite some strong moments from the Toons.
Let’s dive in as this game records Eddie Howe’s 1st draw of this season after losing 3 and having won only 2 games.
A) Eddie Howe’s Out of Possession (OOP) ideas gave mixed results
Pic 2, 3, 4: Newcastle’s Ideas when not in possession with a 4-5-1/4-4-2 structures
Eddie Howe opted for a narrow 4-5-1/4-4-2 OOP structure which in theory was prepared to keep in mind Milan could play with a 3-2 buildup inverting right back Calabria or play a more simpler 4-1/4-2 in buildup. As Milan emerged with the Latter, in the initial minutes Milan found ball circulation difficult as Howe’s usage of Man-to-man orientations (Pic3), and giving freedom to Longstaff to jump from the 5-man 2nd line (Pic2) in press.
This structure for the 1st 5 minutes or so held both Leao and Theo Hernandez well, forcing them to circulate the ball around and not giving space for them to drive the ball at good angles (Pic 4). But Milan soon realized that Newcastle’s 2nd line being narrow like in Pic 2 could be exploited with some inside runs.
Perhaps the aforementioned thoughts that Newcastle’s press was inadequate at times is best showed with the example above. Players such as Theo Hernandez excel when given a starting momentum to dribble and as such in the above video, Milan’s ideas of having their 8’s drift wide worked whenever Theo was given license to dribble inside as it made wide buildups much easy, disrupted Newcastle’s shape a lot and ultimately like in this case, players had to resolve to fouls and risk being carded to stop direct threat.
Howe’s In Possession Ideas: Better Promise but lacked Accuracy
Pics 5, 6, 7, 8: Eddie Howe’s 4-2-2-2 with a box midfield has initial promise but failed to fire
Howe’s In possession system was more robust, with likes of Tonali, Bruno Guimaraes, Longstaff and Murphy tucking inside in a compact 4 man unit that had good combinational movements to break Milan’s 4-2-3-1 or adjusted into a 4-1-4-1 pressing shape easily. Isak’s ability to drop in or Gordon’s ability to run inwards as Dan burn overlaps on the left was Newcastle’s main chance creation techniques.
Despite Isak’s presence aerially a reasonable threat, Howe’s idea of spamming a ton of crosses wasn’t really going work out against Milan’s well-built CB’s who were able to thwart off most crosses. With Isak’s linkup play, it could be said Howe didn’t really utilize some better combinational play.
Let’s take a look at the whole aforementioned sequence we talked about:
Both Longstaff, Bruno and Murphy play simple 3rd man sequences to beat Milan’s press, Eddie Howe was clever enough to know that Leao’s workrate could be an advantage in exploiting excessive amounts of space on Tripper’s flank on the right, they do that well.
Gordon’s inside runs, Isak’s holdup and combinational play are all solid until when it comes to creating chances, they choose to hot crosses into non-existential aerial targets or have Isak fight for a duel sandwiched between 2 Aerial dominators like Thiaw and Tomori who were in fact exposed (especially Thiaw) against Inter just past weekend with simple cutbacks into feet of attackers or onrushing midfielders, which I felt Newcastle could have easily worked out with the quality they had.
With this being Howe’s 1st game in UCL in a group where there are 3 other experienced and high-quality sides, you could certainly excuse the lack of experience but ultimately for now the draw initially isn’t the worst result. But the implications that this game has will be more important as the Premier League will resume this weekend and Newcastle hope to climb the table after a poor start.
While who makes it out of this Group of ‘death’ is one for all of us football fans to discuss, the hope for Howe would be that it would bring in a lot of credibility if he could steer the ‘Toons’ out of the jaws of death.