Tactics writer Sam Tighe previews Southampton's trip to the north east to take on a Newcastle side in red-hot form.
Six games remain in Newcastle United’s season. What’s the mood as we enter the final month of the campaign?
There’ll be an air of confidence at St. James’ Park as Southampton walk out on Sunday – and rightly so. They’ve scored ten goals in their last two games, following up the 6-1 dismantling of Tottenham Hotspur last weekend with a 4-1 win over Everton in midweek.
The Spurs performance was frightening; the scoreboard read 5-0 after just 22 minutes, and as poor as the visitors were, Newcastle were every bit as good as the result suggested.
There’s a strong belief and an incredible intensity to their play and they’re starting games very fast, establishing a high tempo that opponents are struggling with.
What should Southampton expect tactically?
Southampton should expect to be pressed hard in possession, right from the word go. That’s pretty much Newcastle’s playing identity now, and while it can sometimes leave them exposed, it’s generally a very effective strategy and a key part of establishing that high tempo.
Saints’ centre-backs will need to pick their forward passes carefully and try to play through Newcastle’s pressure; if you can breach the first line, the midfield may open up. Roméo Lavia’s press-resistance at the base of midfield could prove invaluable here.
Newcastle will likely take the lion’s share of the ball as Bruno Guimarães dictates play. His clever, disguised final-third passes are a threat and he keeps the Magpies ticking over high up the pitch.
Their left side has been a real threat of late, with Joelinton’s purposeful runs – both on and off the ball – causing defenders a lot of problems. Combine that with Joe Willock’s box-to-box work from the left–central-midfield role and it’s become a key area of late.
How can Saints threaten Newcastle?
The ferocity and energy of Newcastle’s press is often their great strength – but it can occasionally mark their downfall if the synergy is off.
Earlier this month they lost 3-0 to Aston Villa in a game where their press was picked and played through. Rubén Selles will no doubt have seen it and know there are ways to navigate it, using the Magpies’ own aggression against them.
There should also be space in behind the defensive line to play into and aim for, while counter-attacking scenarios should readily present themselves too. Playing in this more direct fashion is a less risky way of circumventing Newcastle’s pressure from the front.
Ché Adams’s return to fitness is a huge boost for the club. His impact off the bench in midweek was almost perfect – an equaliser ruled offside by the length of his own big toe – so he’ll be hoping to get back on the scoresheet permanently here.
Predicted XI (4-3-3): Pope, Trippier, Schär, Botman, Burn; Bruno, Longstaff, Willock; Murphy, Isak, Joelinton.
-After playing in midweek, Eddie Howe will likely rotate the first XI a little again
-Murphy and Burn came off the bench against Everton but could resume their starting roles here
-Isak and Callum Wilson are pushing each other for the striker’s spot; they can play together, but rarely do
-Trippier’s set-piece majesty is something to be wary of; his deliveries can rival even those of James Ward-Prowse