This is the third post in this “We Are United” series with Newcastle United – click here to read from the beginning if you’ve not already done so 👌.
Kevin Keegan made Newcastle into “The Entertainers”; Ruud Gullit tried to bring “Sexy Football” to the North East; Graeme Souness didn’t really want us playing football at all; Bobby Robson turned St. James Park into a fortress with well organised intelligent football; Rafa made us difficult to beat and took advantage of breaking on the counter and maximising set pieces. Are we forgetting anyone?
It’s early days here on Tyneside however one thing is for sure – in Almiron, Saint-Maximin and Atsu we have bags of pace and flair; with Saint-Maximin, Benavente and Ritchie we have a solid combination of quality wingers and wing backs; in Jonjo Shelvey we have one of the best English passers of the ball and intriguingly, we have some excellent ball playing centre backs (e.g. Schar and Vanheusden) that could potentially play a role in helping us transition play and break on the counter. This writer’s brain is already in overdrive..
The board want to see us play Attacking football, but we aren’t ready for that yet. Even against the newly promoted sides, three points will never be an easy feat therefore the plan is to meet in the middle whereby we will focus on building a balanced Wide Play tactical style, closing down our opponents with a high line and then breaking on the counter with pace primarily down the flanks through our wingers/wing backs, quickly getting supply to our Inside Forwards and/or to the likes of Joelinton or Morelos playing on the shoulder of the opposing back line. Sounds easy right?
With football and life in general on lockdown I’ve found myself watching a lot of classic Premier League games from the 90’s and early 00’s, and in particular it dawned on me that for a long period the most successful teams thrived on having a powerful prolific strike partnership. When Blackburn won the Premier League in 1995, it was mostly down to the 49 goals scored by the Shearer & Sutton partnership. This continued at Newcastle when Shearer arrived, whereby his partnership with Les Ferdinand (49 goals combined) nearly bagged them the title until they fell at the last hurdle. Man United’s dominance in the 1990’s and early 2000’s also relied heavily on Striker duos – evolving from Hughes & Cantona to Cole & Yorke and later Rooney & Van Nistelrooy. Arsenal did it with Bergkamp and Wright/Henry and even Liverpool were a force to be reckoned with due to their Strike partnerships – Fowler & Collymore in the late 90’s and then Heskey and Owen in the early 2000’s, not to mention the more recent successful pairing of Sturridge and Suarez just a few years ago.
I was also intrigued/impressed to see that Newcastle have two of the most prolific partnerships in Premier League history which gives further food for thought as to how we can replicate and emulate the clubs best years in this save.
Cole & Beardsley
Suarez & Sturridge
Shearer & Sutton
Shearer & Ferdinand
Phillips & Quinn
Fowler & Collymore
Gudjohnsen & Hasselbaink
Rooney & van Nistelrooy
Yorke & Cole
Henry & Bergkamp
Premier League Top 10 Striker Partnerships
It would appear that this has somewhat changed in recent years perhaps due to overseas influence and the emergence of what I would call goal-scoring wingers or inside forwards akin to the likes of Salah, Hazard, Sterling, Sanchez and Mané. Having players like these means that a lot of the top sides now tend to lead with one primary Striker (think Firmino at Liverpool, Aguero at City, Kane at Spurs or Lukaku at United). In previous versions of FM I have often gone with 1 striker formations, however looking at Newcastle’s previous Striker duos and seeing as we have footballing nostalgia all over the place in this save it’s decided – we will build a tactic around a two-striker formation. Are Joelinton and Morelos the new Shearer and Ferdinand? (Writer’s note: pray that Joelinton is better in FM than IRL).
In addition to the two-striker obsession, three things are playing on my mind when thinking about tactics:
Newcastle actually play pretty well with three at the back IRL
We’ve got Fabian Schar in this squad who is known for roaming forward and scoring a few thunderbastards in his time
Libero – I’ve heard @CurtyFM talk so much about the Libero on the 5* Potential Podcast that I can’t stray away from it – having never tried it in FM and with the likes of Schar and Vanheusden available, it’s time to experiment.
Great – so now we need a tactic that facilitates 2 Strikers, 3 at the back, width and pace on the flanks and a Libero for good measure…
This is both intriguing and a headache in that it doesn’t facilitate the likes of all our wingers such as Saint Maximin or Atsu, so failing that we will revert to a custom 4-4-2 which allows us to bring in Wingers/Inside Forwards and maintain our 2 Striker partnership.
For our preferred formation to work, our Wing Backs will need to be extremely influential on the game not just defensively but as one of our main attacking outlets with us looking to play the overlap and get early crosses in. Matt Ritchie will be perfect for the Left Wing Back slot however following the sale of DeAndre Yedlin we are only left with Emil Krafth as a natural in that position (and he isn’t very good). With about £20m in the bank following sales of Yedlin, Jacob Murphy, Florian Lejeune and Yoshinori Muto we go back to the Player Search to see who fits the bill (Writer’s note: the next Warren Barton?).
Both Maffeo and Aarons look world class, despite the tempation of saving £20m by signing Maffeo, it’s hard to look past Aarons especially if we actually do want to sign someone to be the next Warren Barton (same nationality and position). We agree terms and the NUFC helicopter is fueled and en-route to Carrow Road when suddenly this happens:
As if Newcastle fans haven’t had enough to deal with regarding their own takeover, the move is cancelled due to the same happening at Norwich and suddenly we are in a predicament; Maffeo won’t enter discussions again following us cancelling previous negotiations – do we look for an alternative or wait until the next window/season to bring in Aarons? We decide on the latter, keeping the funds for future endeavors and instead hit the loan market for the free signing of Pedro Porro (Man City), who can play anywhere on the right hand side of the pitch whether Full Back, Wing Back or Right-Wing. Not a bad comprimise hopefully.
So – we have our objectives, transfers, tactic and nostalgia all in place, let’s do a quick recap on our squad and best XI before we kick off the new 2020/2021 season (remember we have skipped ahead to start fresh following the Steve Bruce/Coronavirus plagued season of 2019/2020.
Season 1 – August
After all that – let’s see how it fared out shall we?
It wasn’t terrible…it just wasn’t…well anything. Hammerings against Leeds and ManUnited either side of spirited performances against Tottenham and West Ham meant that we had a pretty unremarkable start to the season – the less said about our Cup exit to SheffieldUnited the better as both teams scored every penalty until our goalkeeper MartinDubravka heart-breakingly missed our 11th spot-kick to send us out of the League Cup 2nd round.
Now I’m not one to panic but after some uninspirational midfield performances by Matty Longstaff and Isaac Hayden and considering we still have the funds saved following the collapse of the Max Aarons deal, perhaps there’s time to bring in one more player and add some badly needed quality and depth to our midfield. With the board wanting us to sign players under the age of 23 for the first team we initially start looking at a few players such as Jamie Shackleton (Leeds), Mateus Vital (Corinthians) and Ebere Eze (QPR) however we are quickly priced out of moves for most of them. Then we come across this guy:
Not only have we heard of this guy in real life where even recently he has been linked with moves to Arsenal and Inter – he also looks wicked in FM and the icing on the cake is that he appears interested in a move to the club. Our initial bids of £15m and £18m are flat out rejected with no counter offers, however then something wonderful happened which I have never once experienced previously in Football Manager….
GET IN! Mike Ashley’s days are clearly behind us as the board agree to drum up £29 million to sign Dominik Szoboslai from Red Bull Salzburg – this is next level stuff and surely he can help to move this club back to elite levels which Toon fans haven’t seen for more than 25 years now. The future is bright in the North East. (Writers note: don’t f*cking jinx it).