NUFC: 4-4-2 At It Like Atsu Will See Magpies Through

“We have to be mentally strong. It was great to make my home debut, they are fantastic fans and I’m happy I made my home debut, but right now we have to focus on the next game, which is what is important now.

“Everyone is down after the game, but the manager spoke with us and we have to have the mentality to win the next game… We learn from our mistakes.

“This is football… Each and every day you have to focus and work so hard, because if you lose concentration, you pay for it.”

Christian Atsu, speaking to NUFC TV

On a day in which overconfidence from a 6-game winning run capped by a magnificent 6-0 away victory at QPR swept through St. James’ Park – even reserve keeper Freddie Woodman joked of a “double figures” victory pre-match – substitute Christian Atsu was the brightest spark in Newcastle’s unexpected 0-2 defeat to Wolves.

The 24 year-old Ghana international – replacing the wound-up Matt Ritchie in the 63rd minute before the already-booked Scottish international could be sent off – looked sharp and eager to get Newcastle back into the game.

It was more than could be said for team-mates who lacked urgency, discipline and concentration all day deserving to lose. David Moyes blamed Beyonce & pop concerts for Sunderland’s bad start to the season and maybe Newcastle’s lethargy resulted from the storms that hit Tyneside on Thursday resulting in a  sleepless night on Tyneside.


Vurnon Anita was sent off in the 87th minute after an uncharacteristically wild challenge on Wanderers substitute Ivan Cavaleiro meaning a first, forced rest for the Dutchman allowing DeAndre Yedlin to make his full debut on Tuesday night. And Mo Diame was also lucky not to be sent off for two yellow-card worthy first half tackles although he may not have made the second had he been booked for the first.

‘Never Change A 6-0 Winning Team’

For once, Rafa Benitez got his tactics and selection wrong making three changes and starting forward Ayoze Perez in an unfamiliar left-wing position leaving the rejuvenated Yoan Gouffran and dangerous Atsu on the bench.

Gouffran has been one of the Rafa revelations of the season and Atsu had looked electric on the wing at Loftus Road on Tuesday night when he came on as a 61st minute substitute setting up the 5th goal of the game for Aleksandar Mitrovic with a dangerously drilled shot-cum-cross into the box and hitting the bar himself.

It is a matter of time before a player who scored the African Nations Cup Goal of the Tournament in 2015 makes his goal-scoring mark for Newcastle.

Benitez also benched Aleksandar Mitrovic instead of a much-needed start for crucial match fitness – like many big players, the Serbian international is the type who needs a run of games to fully thrive with game sharpness.

Mitrovic was occasionally effective as a super-sub last season notably at Spurs when he scored yet is better starting holding the ball up as he did on Tuesday night allowing men behind him to flourish and would have been especially effective against a giant Wolves rearguard which Gayle struggled to compete with physically.


When he came on against Wolves, Atsu did as much as anybody in a black and white shirt to change the game, first attacking from the right wing then switching to the left to try his luck and was always available for the ball and willing to dribble determined to make a positive difference.

He almost latched onto the game’s killer pass from JonJo Shelvey in the 68th minute to get one back for The Magpies soon after coming on and a bright overall performance means Atsu has to start on Tuesday night in The EFL Cup tie where they are paired once again with The Molineux outfit.

An instant repeat of the Wolves game just 3 days after Saturday gives Rafa the chance to show his tactical nous:

4-4-2: M ‘n’ M – Mitrovic and Murphy – Can Be The New SAS – Alan Shearer & Chris Sutton – And Strike Goals

“Strategy 24 – Take the line of least expectation : do the unexpected…Sometimes the ordinary is extraordinary because it is unexpected.”

Robert Greene, ‘The 33 Strategies of War’


In the mid-1990s, a tactical trend which dominated the Premier League was two big strikers fed by wingers & Newcastle legend Alan Shearer, honoured mid-week with a statue outside St. James’ Park, was at the forefront of two of the best strike partnerships, with Chris Sutton at Blackburn and Les Ferdinand at Newcastle.

Blackburn Rovers won The Premier League in 1994/5 with a tight 4-4-2 formation with two big strikers and rapid, crossing wingers, quality in central midfield and a stern defence.

It’s very much horses for courses this season and Rafa Benitez has the striking resources to field his own powerful, aerially-dominant strike partnership in the shape of Aleksandar Mitrovic and 33 year-old Republic of Ireland striker Daryl Murphy and he may have to do so to fight fire with fire against a giant Wolves defence.

With two wingers like Christian Atsu and Matt Ritchie on the flanks feeding crosses to the big men in the middle, Newcastle could force the issue against Walter Zenga’s men and give a defence that lapped up long balls to Dwight Gayle on Saturday afternoon something to really think about if not terrorise.

From JonJo Shelvey’s free-kicks and Matt Ritchie’s corners, Newcastle would be dynamite at set-pieces with great headers of the ball Mitrovic and Murphy on centre forward stage backed up by giant defenders Grant Hanley and Jamaal Lascelles or Ciaran Clark, all three of whom have scored from set-pieces this season.

Again on Saturday, Matt Sels was unconvincing so must make way for Karl Darlow, Newcastle lacked a proper defensive shield in midfield, something which the return of Jack Colback as anchor man would immediately address with Shelvey at the tip of the diamond where he can unleash his creativity and flair.

Back to basics is always a good way to stop the rot after defeat and a 4-4-2 of Darlow; Yedlin, Lascelles, Hanley, Dummett; Atsu, Colback, Shelvey, Ritchie; Mitrovic and Murphy up front will get The Magpies the victory they need to keep hopes of a domestic Cup trophy very much alive. Don’t Stop Believin’

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