Rafa’s XI: Could a change in formation be on the cards?

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?

(Fancy writing for us? Send any articles/ideas over to us at NUFCblogsubmissions@gmail.com & we’ll get back to you!)

About Simon Riddlesden

Lifelong Newcastle United fan and East Stand season ticket holder. Observations from a supporter who has followed NUFC during Champions League participation and through relegation, taking me from Milan to Scunthorpe.

17 thoughts on “Rafa’s XI: Could a change in formation be on the cards?

  1. Simon: I have not much idea of what to play. You know Liverpool will play the high press so how do you counter? Do you have whippets upfront and have Shelvey and/or Mereno feed them (not quarterbacking though 🙂 ? Or do you have Joselu and/or Mitro as an outlet and do a Fat Sam approach and beat them with set pieces?

    It is a dilemma. Rafa will come up with a plan. I will be shocked if we play 3 at the back. It will be whippets or bullies. Or start with bullies and then end with whippets 🙂

    I am looking forward to this game because as you say Simon it is a bit of a tactical conundrum.


  2. I watched Real Madrid against Dortmund who still play like a Klopp team. Madrid’s plan was to let Dortmund attack but keep Bale and Ronaldo on the half way line for a quick break. It was a great game and Madrid could have had 7 and Dortmund 4.

    So that is my plan. Get Cristiano and Bale in as ringers and Modric and Ramos as well. Sorted.


  3. Nice to see ERIC back the other guy was a bit bullish 😆 :lol:,I don’t think Rafa will change his system one bit,maybe he will bring Aaron’s in and leave Atu on the bench it’s about the only change I can see,I would like to see Shelvey brought in and drop Perez but don’t think it will happen


  4. I don’t think Rafa will deviate from his preferred formation. He’s clearly been reluctant to do so far. Hayden will probably tire and Jonjo come on. Mitro on for Joselu maybe. One thing for certain he’ll have a very detailed plan to stop the reds. I expect it to be like the Spurs game. We’ve won the last 3 at home against them so there’s some hope.

    Eric – I’ve lived with American tv in the past. You have my sympathies.


  5. I cannot figure out Liverpool. They win 4-0 one week and lose 5-0 the next. Even though they went down to 10 men against Citeh Klopp didn’t change his tactics.

    I don’t want to just see us sit back and cede all of the possession though.


  6. You sure about nil-nil Shamrock or are you doing the Costanza principle?

    Liverpool away games, goals against:

    Watford – 3
    Man City – 5
    Leicester -2


  7. I’m with Sham. That 4-3-3 looks the one.
    The extra midfielder should help the defence against Liverpools attack.

    We would need to have Atsu & Ritchie tighter to Joselu though IMO to give him more of a chance. If they are out on the wingers that’s too much distance and will be easy for pool to defend. Rafa usually prefers his wingers to be on the outside of the fullbacks but I think they would need to be between the centreback and fullback.


  8. Don’t think Sunday’s game is one for experimentation with formation but I wouldn’t mind changes in personnel. I would stick with Joselu and Hayden. I have my doubts about Shelvey’s pace and defensive capabilities. Perez needs to be rested and Diame has not set the world on fire. I wouldn’t mind seeing Saivet come off the bench late on in the game — seems to read the game well and is an accurate passer. Anyway looking forward to Sunday whatever our setup.


  9. Uncle Ed has an article on Merse’s latest prediction and has a new photo of him. I did not think it was possible but his head seems to have actually grown and looks more like a balloon where a kid has drawn eyes, nose and mouth on than ever. Him and Stephen Fry are now twins and competing to see who can have the most enormous heads.

    And that got me thinking about twin-towns and who Sunderland would be twinned with. The Daily Telegraph have an article on the 20 worst cites to live in on earth and surprisingly Sunderland wasn’t on it. Number 8 was Brazzertown, Congo (real place) and I think that has been proposed to be twinned with Sunderland. Baghdad was number 1.


  10. * Brazzaville.

    Honest mistake, it exists. It really does.

    Wayne Rooney is thinking about going there during the International break.


  11. Olly: how the hell did you find a Scouserwho is not an ex-player that isn’t on the Telly, in the papers pontificating, on Talk Sport or generally talking about Liverpool all of the time until my heart gives out because I have heard it all so, so many times before… So, so many times.


  12. Well I’ve searched everywhere and cannot find any pundit or newspaper that gives the toon any chance against Pool does this play on players minds if things start going bad or will it work the other way and drive them on its a funny one


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