Danny Higginbotham analyses Newcastle's recent defensive problems
Newcastle ended a run of four straight defeats with their fightback to draw 2-2 at West Brom in midweek, but problems remain for Rafa Benitez.
It does not get any easier either as they travel to Chelsea to face the Premier League champions at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, live on Sky Sports.
Here, Sky Sports’ tactics expert Danny Higginbotham analyses what they have been doing differently and why he expects them to get back to their best against Chelsea…
I think Newcastle started the season relatively well, especially defensively, but if you look at the last five games they have conceded double in the last five than they did in the previous five before that. It is how they are working as a unit on the defensive side of things.
Chelsea vs Newcastle
December 2, 2017, 11:30am
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What was happening earlier in the season was that if Newcastle went on the attack they had a constant box between the central defenders and the central midfielders.
This box is fundamental. It is key to everything. The full-backs were giving the width but if it broke down players such as Jonjo Shelvey, Mikel Merino and Isaac Hayden could go and cover.
This meant that they still had their back four shape and their defensive setup. They were not so open to the counter-attack and it led to them picking up some results and some clean sheets.
What has happened in recent weeks is that this has been completely different. They have been a lot more open.
Whether that is because they are a bit more desperate for that win so the team is committing more players forward I do not know, but the space between the defenders and the midfielders has been too great.
All of a sudden teams have been able to break quickly on them. The number of occasions in recent weeks that the central defenders have had to go out [wide], the gaps have been too big.
They conceded two goals against West Brom from crosses into the box and they are actually getting outnumbered in the middle because the centre-backs are having to go out into the wide areas and become full-backs leaving space in the middle, which is more often than not the place where goals are scored.
The recovery run for the likes of Shelvey, Merino and the full-backs has been a lot harder than it normally would be because the gaps have been so great. That’s something that I believe Rafa Benitez will look at and say, ‘OK, we’re playing against Chelsea and nobody is expecting us to get anything so let’s go back to being more defensively strong’.
I expect them to be more defensive against Chelsea and get back to where they were.