Newcastle United may be sitting pretty at the top of the Championship, but Saturday’s 3-1 defeat to Fulham was Newcastle’s 5th home defeat of the season. As we enter the business end of the season, could 4-4-2 provide the rethink needed to revitalise our home form & secure a return to the Premier League?
With regular 50,000 plus crowds and countless sell outs, St.James’ Park would without doubt top the leagues attendance table. The Magpies home record is however the 7th best in the league, suggesting St.James’ Park has not been the fortress we may have expected this season.
Whilst there’s no need to panic, here’s three reasons why Rafa should give 4-4-2 a go at St.James’ Park:
1. Fit & firing strikers
During the course of the season there has been several fans calling for Benitez to try 2 up top. While Rafa has stuck by his tried and trusted 4-2-3-1 formation, seeing such suggestions fall on deaf ears, could this be the perfect time to finally try 4-4-2?
Not only has Newcastle’s top scorer, Dwight Gayle, returned from injury but Daryl Murphy has played a key role in recent weeks, chipping in with 2 goals and an assist in the last 4 games, offering a focal point and experienced head up top for Newcastle.
Both strikers undoubtedly justify a place in the starting XI. I also believe their playing styles would compliment each other. With Gayle the nuisance and threat in behind, Murphy could be the ideal strike partner, providing a physical presence , capable of hold up the ball and linking the play.
With a similar style to Murphy’s, Aleksandar Mitrovic waits in reserve, but given Gayle’s goalscoring record and Murphy’s recent impact, the two could form a dangerous partnership.
2. Number 10’s failing to make an impact
As previously stated, Benitez favours the 4-2-3-1 formation, requiring a ‘number 10’ to play in the hole between midfield and attack. This role has been shared between Ayoze Perez and Mohammed Diame this season, but it’s fair to say neither player has made the position their own, both showing glimpses but ultimately falling into the bracket of inconsistent and ineffective.
It must be said that Mohammed Diame’s natural position is not as a second striker, having played as a central midfielder for the vast majority of his career with Wigan, West Ham and Hull. It must be said that Rafa’s insistence to use him in this position has left me bemused given he is far more effective in a deeper role.
As far as Ayoze Perez goes, his style suits the position more so than the sizeable Diame. He has, however, failed to execute with any conviction, especially at St.James’ park.
He has a tendency to disappear for large spells, being too easily pushed off the ball and visibly lacking confidence in the final third. There is no doubt his best performances have come away from St.James’ park.
So, whilst the 4-2-3-1 system has been the foundation for NUFC’s outstanding away form, it has been the number 10 role in particular that has been found wanting at St.James’ Park. This makes me wonder what harm it would do to try two up top, following several inept and anonymous home performances from the chosen number 10.
3. A positive approach
Newcastle are top of the league and within touching distance of an immediate return to the Premier League. Saturday’s result against Fulham was a blow in itself, but the performance and negative tactics displayed did not look that of a side top of the table and gunning for promotion.
A switch to 4-4-2 during home games could help NUFC get on the front foot from the off, take the game to sides and show the 52,000 crowd a signal of attacking intent. Surrendering possession and sitting back as we did against Fulham on Saturday will not sit well with the St.James’ Park crowd.
With favourable home games to come against Wigan Athletic and Burton Albion, maybe, moving forward, attack is the best form of defence as Newcastle brace themselves for one final push for promotion.