Newcastle head into the weekend on television yet again, with Liverpool the latest visitors to St.James’ Park on Sunday. A defeat last time out Brighton puts us arguably ahead of schedule still, with three wins and 9 points to show from our opening six games.
It is clear that this season will have some ups and downs but we are a well drilled, organised and committed side that does lack a bit of firepower. Drawing blanks at both fellow promoted sides Huddersfield and Brighton suggests as much.
During pre-season, it was reported that Bentiez was considering playing with three centre halves, wanting us to be able to adapt to different game situations and the many formations, game plans and tactics that come with Premier League football.
Liverpool will be a good test as we will have to try and absorb the attacking power of Coutinho, Salah and Firmino. Rafa has almost exclusively stuck to his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation during his tenure at NUFC and this has of course rewarded us with a good start this season and promotion last year. However, the last 12 months has saw the rise again in popularity in the 3-5-2 and tweaking things may give us a slight improvement going forward. What options do we have available to us with the current squad?
Disciplinary issues aside, we currently have a talented player in Shelvey on the bench. If we keep the current formation, he would have to displace either Hayden or Merino as he doesn’t have the pace the play off a striker. Merino has been one of our best players recently and you get the sense Rafa is reluctant to drop the defensive screen Hayden offers. We could switch things slightly to a 4-3-3, with the same side, except Perez and the number ten role making way. This would free up Shelvey and Merino to play with some freedom either side of Hayden. It would be interesting to try this, especially as number 10 is such an issue for us at the moment.
As mentioned, this formation seems to be in fashion at the moment with the likes of Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal adopting it over the last season. Of course, we don’t have the quality they do in their squads but it does have the potential to give you more up front and extra protection at the back. With several more than capable centre-backs (Clark, Lascelles, Mbemba and Lejeune) and potential wing backs who could benefit from this:
The success to the formation though is having athletic and quality full backs who offer a threat going forward, whilst having the stamina to maintain their defensive duties.
The top sides have had success with 3-4-2-1 as they can deploy the likes of Alonso, Rose, Walker, Moses, Bellerin etc. I think Yedlin would be suited to this formation with his electric pace but I would have concerns over the balance on the left side. The injured Dummett is limited physically and going forward and Gamez and Mbemba have filled in well there but it would be doubtful they could offer the threat needed further up the pitch for it to work.
Maybe one to visit if we sign an attacking left back, or could the likes of Aarons or Manquillo do a job there given they’ve played at left-back before?
Perhaps the most unlikely switch would be to 4-4-2, however Benitez refused to rule out the possibility of trying it last season despite very rarely doing so.
It would allow us to play two out and out strikers, with the classic target man (Mitrovic/Joselu) and runner (Gayle) being an option. The number 10 role has often been a pretty anonymous and ineffective position for us over the past 12 months, so it makes you wonder what harm it would do to get rid of it and partner our two best strikers up top?
Rafa played this in the cup last year Birmingham and although it would add more going forward, it would be unlikely we would open ourselves up against better sides using two up front this season.
Would you be happy to see Rafa change our formation this season? Or would Benitez be best served sticking to his trusted formula?