Following Newcastle United’s victory over PSG last night, there’s no denying that it marked a substantial milestone in the Eddie Howe project since 2021. Newcastle were resilient throughout the game, and for a team that fielded as many as 7 players making their UCL debut against AC Milan. For Eddie Howe to outclass Luis Enrique, a previous treble winner and a PSG squad boasting significant experience, even if it’s just a temporary success with more to come, this stands as the pinnacle of his coaching career.
Let’s take a deep dive to see how Eddie Howe’s structural ideas were fundamental in getting the better of Enrique’s PSG who seemed out of their depth for most of the game.
Newcastle United Out of Possession (OOP): One of the most potent pressing structures seen in Europe
Pics 1, 2, 3, 4: Newcastle’s 4-5-1 settled defensive structure and the 4-3-3 starting press structure
From the 1st whistle, it was really quite evident that PSG’s in-possession structure (which we will explore in detail as well) with 4 attackers would make or break depending on how they’d handle the Newcatsle’s signature pressing style.
With 3 players that start man to man and consequently shift the pressure onto wide areas (Pic 3), Newcastle ensured they thwarted every single PSG possession in the 1st few minutes which took away PSG’s rhythm. This challenge for PSG was exacerbated in the second phase (when PSG had more settled possession after overcoming the press), as shown in Pictures 1, 2, and 4. Newcastle’s 4-5-1 just closed all central lanes and any attempts of PSG to draw pressure to find gaps and play through went in vain (the video next is perhaps a brilliant example).
The video above perfectly demonstrates Newcatsle’s off-ball structure. They start in a 4-5-1 shape, cut central lanes and as PSG try to draw the press and play out, Newcastle players close the options brilliantly and choke PSG to almost concede a turnover in their own defensive 3rd.
And nothing better proves the point when Newcastle’s opening goal was a result of the same aspect: Man to man press from Newcastle that closed the central lanes for Paris and left Marquinhos no choice but to try something audacious and end up giving up a goal. It may be seen as a gift from PSG but you cannot argue that forcing a mistake with their press from one of the most experienced CBs in Europe like Marquinhos was a testament to Magpies’s off-ball structure.
In Possession structure: PSG’s Missed opportunity
Pics 5, 6, 7, 8: PSG’s in possession structure
Enrique’s in possession structure came under increased scrutiny after the Spanish coach put more emphasis on playing a transitional game that would depend a lot on beating Newcastle’s press at its face.
The 4-2-4 structure (Pic 5, 7) that had to balance movements between Kolo Muani-Mbappe-Dembele and Ramos simply couldn’t click and Enrique’s trials of a 4-4-2 box midfield structure with Hakimi-Muani keeping width and Mbappe-Dembele as advanced 10’s ( Pic 8) and also a 3 back structure (Pic 6) with Lucas Hernandez playing as the LCB couldnt afford the balance and control that Enrique desired.
The early chance that PSG had by overloading the left flank and isolating Dembele in a transition represented the only chance, a chance that would have turned the entire outlook of the game if they took it. These kinds of transitional movements though were few in the game and you have to once again credit Newcastlt’s approach in OOP to nullify any PSG threat.
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) October 4, 2023
With the win and its margin, it was enough to take Newcastle to the top of the table currently in Group F. With Milan and Borrusia Dortmund playing out a stalemate on the same night, PSG would be relieved for now to find themselves in 2nd.
But as volatile as the teams of this group are, there’s a good chance one more strong victory for Newcastle (next against Dortmund at home) should see them establish a firm advantage to secure the Knockout places.