How Eddie Howe's offensive brand of football will evolve this squad
When Eddie Howe was announced as our new head coach I felt a mixture of emotions, when I think of Howe's Bournemouth, two things come to mind: progressive football but still taking Bournemouth down.
I admittedly wasn't keen on Howe but my opinion was based on the fact he got relegated which doesn't tell the full story and shouldn't define him as a manager. With his first game coming up against Brentford, I wondered if his style of play and team selections at Bournemouth would correlate well with our squad.
My question now is - why Eddie Howe? what is it about his tactical identity and demeanour that makes him the right man to save our season while improving these players? His distinguished tactical vision gave Bournemouth a reputation as a club that plays attractive football while aiming for 40 points, the style in which they accomplished their goals is a credit to Howe as a tactician and a coach.
The aim of this tactical analysis is to hopefully do an ok job at explaining Howe's tactical style and predict how United could look under him with the current personnel available.
The 3 main headings are Defence, Midfield, Attack, and Set Pieces. Before I start, it is worth mentioning that what I have observed are my opinion nor does it mean that Howe is going to automatically refer back to these previous tactics. I am sharing my observations to (hopefully) give anyone that reads this an understanding of Howe's team setups and how different opposition strengths and weaknesses are combatted.
Eddie Howe sets up his teams to play attacking, possession-based football, his teams counter-press aggressively and look to counter-attack quickly. Their offensive build-up is predicated by rotating the ball until they find an opening to transition the ball into the final 1/3, then creating an attacking opportunity from through balls to wingers or to the on-running strikers.
At Bournemouth in the Premier League, Howe experimented with variants of the 4-5-1 and the 4-4-2. The 4-4-2 and its variants became the go-to for Howe from the 17/18 season onwards and Bournemouth, without knowing for sure, my guess as to why they went for the 4-4-2 is down to losing Jack Wilshere after the end of his loan.
While Howe is meticulous in his use of a back four, he can be flexible in his approach and adapts his team selection to combat the opposition's strengths and weaknesses, by alternating players between the two lines, switching between a 4-4-2 and 4-1-4-1 too.
This part of the analysis is based on observations taken from watching Bournemouth play two different sides in the Premier League, A: Bournemouth 4-0 Chelsea B: Bournemouth 3-3 Watford Source: Footballia.
Thankfully Howe won't have a headache when it comes to his goalkeeping options, in theory, the obvious choice for Howe is to keep Martin Dubravka as the number 1 and have Karl Darlow as number 2, and despite Dubravka's recent absences due to injury any other keeper with minutes this season still feels more of a risk to start ahead of Dubravka.
At Bournemouth Howe had Artur Boruc and Asmir Begovic who were more renowned for their shot-stopping abilities rather than their sweeping and ball-playing abilities. However, this is not saying that goalkeepers are exempt from Howe's build-up play, as part of Howe's principles of possession the goalkeeper will need to be able to maintain a standard of ball control and passing abilities to allow their side to retain control of the ball in their own 1/3.
I will be impressed if Howe starts a back 4 against Brentford, out of the 4 centre backs we have, on the surface only two appear suitable for a back 4: Schar and Fernandez, and that's not to play down Lascelles and Clark's abilities, as in the Championship and our first season back in the PL, they formed a solid partnership.
Schar is a good ball-playing defender who could be suitable in Howe's strategy. Howe's teams are patient in possession and build-up, so there will be moments of building up transitions from the back, which requires the centre-backs, full-backs and centre mids using short pass combinations to bypass the press and progress the ball, breaking through the oppositions' first line of defence, especially when being pressed high.
The role of the full-backs potentially Lewis and Manquillo on either side of Schar and Fernandez will play an important role in the team with carrying the ball into the 1/3 closest to the opposition's goal and with passing build-up. At Bournemouth the fullbacks made the second most tackles per position, this could be the case with us again. Firstly, as Howe's teams often defend in a vertically compact 4-4-1-1/4-4-2. The full-backs will block passing lanes while tucking and positioning in the half-space, forcing the opposition to go long or build-up using the space on the wings. Secondly, due to the intense counter-pressing system that Howe insists on, the players in front or near the full-backs could commit individual errors which place the responsibility on the full-backs to win back the ball.
How Bournemouth defend video
This section of the analysis gave me a headache, our midfield has at times looked anonymous in games either from lack of fitness, clear tactical instructions as well as players being played away from their preferred positions. Under Bruce, we would win games mainly by bypassing the centre of midfield by attacking with width, Shelvey and Willock were the only midfielders when played that had clear instruction.
Presuming Howe selects wingers over wing-backs, his traditional winger play as inverted wingers - which is a tactic that wingers can cut in onto their strong foot. The starting point here is the reunion with Ryan Fraser, we know what he was about at Bournemouth, agile and a direct runner who can cross and shoot. However, that version of Fraser was from 2-3 years ago now and he has only played 1,466 minutes of club football, including 200 minutes this season. Despite his lack of game time, he is still 27 and if Howe can coach him back to similar heights of the 18/19 season along with his chemistry on the pitch Wilson could be massive in escaping the drop. It's a good thing that we have enough competition on the wings to mean that Fraser doesn't receive a free pass. If Allan Saint-Maximin isn't fancied as a striker then he has started as an inverted winger, while Jacob Murphy doesn't have the same attacking output as Fraser or ASM, he has shown he has a good engine, a partnership on the left with Jamal Lewis could be a success.
The right-wing position for inverted wingers is Miguel Almiron and Matt Ritchie, similar to Fraser, Ritchie has worked with Howe at Bournemouth and should we go ahead with wingers, there is an argument to be made for Ritchie starting ahead of Almiron due to on the field leadership and work rate for the team. The case for Almiron is his pace and also work rate, he covers a lot of ground quickly and can be deadly on the counter, the case against Almiron is consistency on the ball, a lot of his come across as rushed, and can disappear in games.
The centre midfielders also remain unknown, while at Bournemouth Howe did at times effectively used 3 central midfielders in a 4-2-3-1 with Jack Wilshere playing as a 10 in the front 4, the more consistent selection was a double pivot which entails two number 6's. It could be said that Howe's centre mids at Bournemouth came with their own limitations, they were physical, big and strong. The centre mid options at United there is a liable option away from the classic 6 and look towards the options in Joe Willock and Sean Longstaff, who have both played as a midfield pivot before and possess the right attributes to fit in well with Howe's tactical principles.
Central midfield contributions video
Looking at the squad, Howe has very few options in attack. Although the obvious choice for an attacking pair based on the statistics that matter the most Allan Saint-Maximin and Callum Wilson would make the strike force, there could be room in this strike force for Joelinton. In the attack, Howe has favoured pace, spatial awareness, pressing and a clinical finisher so he doesn't ask for much...
Joelinton's pressing and spatial awareness is something that the team could benefit from with Howe's tactics, especially in cases of counter-pressing. His teams defend in the 4-4-1-1 with one out and out centre forward staying furthest forward and the other dropping into midfield to help with the counter-press and provide passing options. This provides prevents any midfield overloads and allows the holders to drop an extra yard deeper to protect the back 4, and once they win the ball back from intense pressure, Joelinton's capability to hold up the ball or run in behind might flourish and become crucial in transition.
Strikers and team play goals video
Bournemouth were impressive at scoring from set-pieces, between the starts of the 18/19 and 19/20 season, Bournemouth scored 22 goals from set-pieces, and at the time that ranked them 2nd behind Liverpool who scored 30.
Ryan Fraser particularly exceeded in crossing from open play and set-pieces, Brooks and Stanislas all had good technique. For United, I guess this is another argument 'for' Ryan Fraser to start for Newcastle and possibly Almiron as Howe's corner and free-kick routines had a Left and a Right footer standing behind the ball.
Perhaps set pieces will open the door for Dwight Gayle to find a way back into the team, although he is relatively short, his poaching attribute could help secure a couple of crucial points from set-piece situations.
Set pieces: free kicks and corners video
No system is without its weaknesses, although the 4-4-2 is a flexible shape with players dropping in, effective while compact, there are high psychological and physical demands from the players to make it work.
Within the shape itself, identified weakness with any 4-4-2 includes:
Space between the lines
A danger of overloads if advanced players aren't defensively aware
The counter-pressing style will demand the players to win their engagements, but should the press fail, this aggression comes with the risk of being exposed at the back.
Possible XI & Final thoughts
From what I've observed after analysing Eddie Howe's tactics, is that his teams are fun, forward-thinking and brave and that's the brand of football I have been craving for as a Newcastle fan. I look at a team like Southampton and what Ralph Hassenhutl has done with a squad with similar skills as ours is incredible, they aren't afraid to play on the front foot or afraid to go head to head with the titans of the league. I am aware that this season will continue to be a rollercoaster of ups and downs, regardless of whether we stay up or go down under Howe I think the football is in good hands.
Eddie Howe's Black & White Army!