Eddie Howe’s Newcastle United agenda - Liam Kennedy analyses personnel changes, a system switch & more

New Newcastle Head Coach Eddie Howe (c) pictured at his unveiling press conference with Director Amanda Staveley at St. James Park on November 10, 2021 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.New Newcastle Head Coach Eddie Howe (c) pictured at his unveiling press conference with Director Amanda Staveley at St. James Park on November 10, 2021 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.
New Newcastle Head Coach Eddie Howe (c) pictured at his unveiling press conference with Director Amanda Staveley at St. James Park on November 10, 2021 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. | Getty Images
Eddie Howe is preparing to take charge of his first Newcastle United game - and Liam Kennedy has been looking at the dilemmas he faces.

It’s a case of new beginnings at Newcastle United this weekend, but will old habits die hard for the Magpies?

Eddie Howe is the new head coach, a new coaching setup is in and some new ideas and methods have been tested on the training pitch during the international break. But will it make a difference?

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Here Liam Kennedy takes a look at the issues on Howe’s agenda, with his Magpies’ managerial debut against Brentford less than 48 hours away.

System switch - four at the back?

One of the most eagerly anticipated moments of the season so far isn’t 3pm on Saturday, it’s probably 60 minutes before.

Fans everywhere are keen to see what team Howe picks against the Bees and the system.

Howe in the past has favoured four at the back, but when this group have played four they’ve often looked too open. Hence, the constant retreat to a five, whether that be under Rafa Benitez, Steve Bruce or Graeme Jones.

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It will be interesting to see how Howe plays this one, as five has often proven United’s safety blanket, although it’s provided little to no comfort of late.

Style and approach

Howe’s teams favour a high-pressing, forward-thinking approach - this couldn’t be further from the style, if that’s what you call it, under previous manager Bruce.

United’s default approach for the last two, in fact, probably four years, has been to allow the opposition the ball, attempt to soak up the pressure and hit on the break, when allowed to do so.

Howe will need to turn this passive approach into a more progressive, offensive one, if United are to break their 11-game winless streak in the Premier League.

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Scoring goals and creating chances, as per earlier this season, has often come with an added defensive fragility. And going the other way, a solid defensive setup, as per Benitez and early Bruce, has often meant the final third, where games are ultimately won, has been severely neglected.

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Getting this balance right has proven too much for the last two managers - will Howe be any different?

Picking players in their proper positions

Too many square pegs in round holes - that was a criticism often thrown Bruce’s way when analysing team selection.

And to be honest, it’s not an unfair evaluation.

United’s squad is not one built with a system or approach in mind, it has been haphazardly assembled, with seemingly no real joined-up thinking.

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Howe, however, has to play with the cards in his hand and I think the hope, from fans, is that he selects as many players in positions that suit them as possible.

Saying it, and doing it are two totally different prospects.

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Finding a position for the likes of Miguel Almiron and Ryan Fraser have proven problematic. Matt Ritchie looks ill-suited to a defensive role, Allan Saint-Maximin’s talents have been wasted, somewhat. And that brings me on to...

Getting the best out of ASM

Saint-Maximin is one of the Premier League’s shining stars, of that there is no doubt.

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In the opening month or two of the season his goals and assists were vital, showing the Frenchman can produce ‘final product’ to add to his obvious flair.

Recently, though, that’s dried up.

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At Brighton ASM was asked to perform a very disciplined part down the left - and did so wonderfully. This did mean he was never far enough up the pitch to hurt the opposition.

Can the right balance be struck by Howe? United need him to unlock that door, because a fit and firing Saint-Maximin is a force to be reckoned with - and one the envy of teams around the Magpies in the relegation dogfight.

This ‘getting the best’ argument could easily be used for Almiron or Joe Willock, both of whom have not looked the same since the summer. In Almiron’s case, probably longer.

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Goalkeeper and defensive reshuffle on the cards?

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Ask any Newcastle fan and they’ll almost certainly tell you three personnel changes Howe can make to instantly upgrade the side - and it just so happens they’re all in the defensive third.

The first involves the goalkeeper. Martin Dubravka is United’s No.1, and for a good reason. The Slovak’s return to the side last season coincided with a serious upturn in fortunes, and defensive improvement.

This is no criticism of steady stand-in Karl Darlow, by the way, who has let no one down. But Dubravka has proven time and time again he’s on a different level for United and a recall must be just around the corner.

Further forward the omission of Federico Fernandez and Fabian Schar has many in the fanbase baffled. The former, more acutely.

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Fernandez, while looking like his better years are definitely behind him, is probably still United’s best defender. That’s what a lack of funding does for a football team.

While Schar has his critics, he’s a very good footballer and the question has to be asked, is he better than Emil Krafth and Ciaran Clark? If so, then he plays, surely?

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