Newcastle United got their 2020/21 campaign off to the perfect start as they ran out 2–0 winners against West Ham, thanks to goals from summer signings Callum Wilson and Jeff Hendrick on their competitive debuts for the North-East outfit. They were able to take the three points back up North after finidng a way past an out of sorts opposition side that never really got going in the opening game of the season.
The game as a spectacle was somewhat marred by numerous fouls being committed and the use of VAR being necessary to make a final decision in several situations. West ham saw more of the ball, but struggled to create many openings, with perhaps their best chances originating from set pieces. Meanwhile, a new look Newcastle side that contained three debutants (Wilson, Hendrick and Jamal Lewis), looked to get the season off to a positive start having trailed off towards the end of the previous campaign that was, admittedly, hugely disrupted.
Having gone into half time with the scoreline level, Newcastle started the second half brightly and Wilson pounced on a Hendrick flick on to poke past Fabianksi 11 minutes after the restart. Following this goal, NUFC looked dangerous on the counter but perhaps began to tire and sit deeper as the Hammers pushed for an equaliser, but it was in fact Hendrick who put the game beyond doubt in the closing stages as he brilliantly found the roof of the net after some good work by substitute Miguel Almirón.
Newcastle lined up in an almost asymetrical 4–4–2 system that involved most of the attacking play going through Saint-Maximin and Lewis down the left hand side, whilst Hendrick and Manquillo sat a bit deeper on the right for long periods and had more defensive roles in the team. Up top, Steve Bruce elected to go for the “little and large” strike partnership of the pacey marksman Callum Wilson and aerial presence and hold up ability of Andy Carroll. The tried and tested midfield partnership of Isaac Hayden and Jonjo Shelvey played in the centre of the park and similarly, club captain Jamaal Lascelles and Federico Fernandez occupied the two central defensive roles. Javi Manquillo was the preferred choice at right back, whilst Karl Darlow played between the sticks in the absence of the injured Martin Dubravka.
It was quite a surprising lineup from Bruce, with there having been some debate over whether Wilson would be thrown straight into the mix, but few people would have predicted a partnership with Carroll from the start. Whilst the selection of Hendrick over the likes of Almirón, Matt Ritchie and Ryan Fraser (who was yet to get up to full match fitness) raised some eyebrows.
To start with, it seemed for long periods of the first half, that although Hendrick and Manquillo offered some defensive solidity, they lacked a bit of creativity and drive going forward down the right hand side, especially when compared to the attacking output from Saint-Maximin and Lewis down the left.
However, perhaps this initial more defensive approach to the right hand side was in fact very effective due to the knock on effects that it had across the pitch. Hendrick sitting deep, practically nullified any effect that Pablo Fornals was able to have on the game, as he had the least touches of any player on the pitch (27) before being withdrawn with 25 minutes to play. It also reduced the likes of Cresswell’s ability to get to the by-line and deliver crosses into the Soucek and Antonio who can provide a dangerous aerial threat. This forced West Ham to search for alternative means of getting forward and although they did have some joy down their right through Bowen and Fredericks, they were also pegged back by the attacking force that Saint-Maximin and Lewis possessed. Meanwhile, through the middle, Antonio worked hard and did well for his team, but in deeper areas Rice, Noble and Soucek lacked the creativity and vision to unlock the Newcastle defence.
The West Ham full backs were also forced to be wary of bombing forward due to the pace that Newcastle possessed up front through Callum Wilson, who was able to frequently make runs into the channels around the outside of the central defenders and he tried to manufacture 1 v 1 situations with the defenders. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink talked about Wilson making runs too wide and receiving the ball in areas where he could not directly threaten the goal on Sky Sports, yet, although this was true, by receiving the ball in these areas the former Bournemouth striker was able to move his team up the pitch and create space for others. Perhaps too often, Wilson and Carroll found themselves ioslated after linking up in attack, but they worked the opportunities well and this was illustrated by them having a combined total of 7 efforts on goal by the time the half time whistle blew. Shelvey was the player who was instructed to offer support from deeper areas when possible and he did so effectively at stages, making a great run before hitting a powerful strike into the side netting with his best chance.
In the second half, Hendrick and Manquillo seemed to have been given more freedom to get forward and try and escalate the pressure on the home side and this paid off, as Manquillo’s deflected delivery was flicked on by Hendrick at the near post before being prodded home by the Magpies’ £20 million man, Wilson, to give them the lead. Following on from this, the away side looked solid defensively for the most part but around 10 minutes prior to the eventual substitutions they began to drop a bit deeper and the pace began to slow down as the disprupted and short lived pre-season began to take a toll.
However, with Steve Bruce’s new found strength in depth,nthe introduction of Joelinton in place of Saint-Maximin (who had been worn down by being fouled on 8 separate occasions by West ham due to his incredible pace and dribbling) freed up an avenue for Newcastle to make inroads down the left hand side and relieve some pressure. This was followed by Almirón being introduced and the Paraguayan’s speed, energy and link up play proved to be pivotal in Newcastle killing the game off as after some nice interplay with Carroll, he found Hendrick on the edge of the box who fired home with aplomb to seal the three points.
Defensively, Newcastle looked relatively solid, but occasionally struggled with the aerial threat that some of the West Ham players possessed. Ogbonna clattered a header off the crossbar in the opening 45, whilst Soucek saw a great chance fly wide of the post from around 7 yards out. Antonio posed somewhat of a threat, but struggled to regularly get in behind the Magpies’ defensive line due to their lack of creativity in midfield and the nullifying of Fornals by Manquillo and Hendrick. His best chance to catch Newcastle on the counter and drive at the defence came after Lascelles ventured into the opposition half with the ball at his feet before going down too easily and losing possession, exposing his team to the pace and directness of Antonio, but the West ham striker’s effort was comfortably gathered by Darlow. Isaac Hayden must also be given some plaudits for his performance in central midfield, as he battled tenaciously against the three man opposition midfield and more than held his own, once again having a huge impact on his side’s performance from the heart of midfield.
Shape wise, the 4–4–2 that was implemented made the Newcastle side hard to break down, with two banks of four not allowing the West Ham midfielders to penetrate central areas, whilst any joy that they did have came from Fredericks making overlapping runs down their right hand side and exploiting Saint-Maximin’s sometimes frail defensive awareness (although it must be mentioned that he has improved upon this since arriving last summer). We saw a bit of a shift in the mentality of the team in this match compared to the previous campaign, as last season NUFC were the team that allowed the most opposition attacking actions before making a challenge, and at times we were happy to slip back into this style, sitting deep and challenging West Ham to break them down which is something they struggled to do.
Yet, we also saw glimpses of a more front foot defensive approach, the addition of Wilson (known for his pressing) meant that on occasion, Newcastle would pick their moments to step up and try and apply some pressure to the opposition defenders when they were in possession. The team had previously been criticised for being too negative when defending and this showed a slight shift away from that, although it seemed there was still some work to be done, with gaps appearing when the likes of Carroll were unable to keep up with the pace of the press at times.
Overall, Newcastle came up against an out of sorts West Ham side who will need to quickly revisit the drawing board or they could find themsleves in trouble by the middle stage of the season, especially given their opening 6 or 7 fixtures. However, nothing should be taken away from Steve Bruce’s side’s performance that deserves a lot of credit. Bruce took somewhat of a gamble by starting both Carroll and Wilson, whilst also starting Hendrick down the right, but it seemed a very calculated decision and one that he will be happy paid off.
Bolstered by the new signings that they were in desperate need of, there was a definite mood shift on Tyneside in the week leading up to this match and this topped it off brilliantly. They must now look to capitalise on this promising start (which, it’s important to remember, is all it actually is at this stage: a start), and the good mood around the camp, to put together a run of results and good performances over the first few weeks that they can build upon as the season progresses.
Individual Player Analysis
Darlow did not face much of a challenge in goal today, but most of what was thrown his way he dealt with adequately. The 29 year old shot stopper went into this game having just signed a new 5 year deal and looking to repay the faith shown in him by the club in the absence of regular number 1 Martin Dubravka. West Ham rattled the crossbar twice but there was little that Darlow could have done about either of those efforts, he comfortably collected some efforts, such as Antonio’s when he tried to cut in and slot home from the edge of the area.
The one real save he had to make was from a Yarmolenko strike, which he parried, but failed to direct away from goal as the ball bounced back into Lascelles before dropping kindly for the keeper. Aerially he preferred to remain on his line than to come out and try to claim or punch the cross, but he was quick off his line at one stage to dive on a loose ball. Darlow’s distribution was average, looking to find the head of Carroll with mixed success, a relatively solid display.
The Spaniard did well from right back, and has really come into his own over the last season or so, capitalising on the injuries and poor form of Deandre Yedlin. He was rewarded with a new 4 year contract over the summer and did nothing to suggest that was a mistake in this match. In the first half he lacked a bit in the way of meaningful attacking output due to the tactics implemeted, but in the second he showed more of a willingess to get forward and tried to put crosses in, one of which resulted in the opening goal.
Defensively, he was solid, keeping Fornals quiet and regaining possession for his side through successful tackles on 5 separate occasions, more than any other player on the pitch. Quite surpisingly given his stature, Manquillo also did well around on the cover at the back post and made a couple of important headed clearances. Strong defensively and did a job going forward, a good performamce.
Captain Lascelles had a mixed performance. Winning some big headers and clearing effectively at times, but also struggling against the very physical Antonio on occasion and losing some aerial duels to the like sof Soucek and Ogbonna in his own penalty area that almost lead to his team conceding. He marshalled and organised the defence well alongside the experienced Fernandez and made good decisions when dropping deep to give himself an extra yard.
He saw very little of the ball, but was relatively efficient with his passing (completing 20 of 23), however, he did make one bizarre decision in the first half to try and carry the ball out of defence deep into West Ham territory, only to then lose out and expose his team hugely to the counter attack and he was fortunate that Antonio wasn’t more clinical in front of goal. A tricky game against a mobile and skilful yet physical striker, but he will be happy with the clean sheet and the way they defended as a team on the whole.
Fernandez was solid and consistent at the back, rarely putting a foot wrong. The Argentine 31 year old experienced some similar problems to Lascelles when defending aerial balls or set piece deliveries, but he never looked out of his comfort zone during open play and he covered well if any of his teammates were caught out of position. His passing was steady, yet unremarkable and he will also be pleased to have started the season with a clean sheet away from home.
New signing Jamal Lewis looked a quality addition down the left hand side with bags of potential, even if he isn’t quite yet the finished product. The young left back looked eager to get forward and support Saint-Maximin down the left flank, and made a couple of good overlapping runs to draw defenders away from the Frenchman. He is in his own right a threat going forward and was able to link up well with the likes of Carroll and Saint-Maximin, making some creative and dangerous passes and crosses around the penalty area, completing 3 key passes in the match, the joint most out of all the NUFC players. He did show some frailty on occasion by selling his teammates short in midfield areas, but he seemed composed and confident in possession for the most part.
Defensively, the Northern Irish international made some impressive recovery tackles and got back into position quickly if he was ever caught high up the pitch. He did show some indecision when on the back foot in 1 v1 situations, appearing unsure whether or not to commit to a tackle and as a result allowed perhaps one or two crosses that could have been prevented. Lewis showed a good turn of pace and was confident in his ability on the ball, any defensive indecision is completely understandable given that it was his debut with new teammates and that he is still such a young player, but he clearly has a lot of potential and I’m looking forward to watching him develop.
After what was a quiet and somewhat underwhelming first half, Jeff Hendrick came to life in the second period, flicking on for Wilson to open the scoring before going on to wrap up the game in the clsoing stages with a thunderous strike from the edge of the area. The Republic of Ireland international looked very comfortbale when defending, and showed a decent reading of the game to cut out some passes and regain possession. Whilst he was never caught out of position and seemed to have a decent understanding with Manquillo behind him. He made good use of his physicality when in duels and worked hard for the side, a trait highly valued by the Toon Army fan base.
On the ball, he took a bit of time to settle, seeing a couple of loose passes go astray and having one or two heavy touches, but as the game progressed he became more astute and began to generate more of a threat down the right. Hendrick displayed quick feet to beat defenders and looked comfortable in possession. His movement was another point of interest, as he would stay fairly wide, when his team had the ball in midfield but as soon as the ball was played to Manquillo on the right hand touchline, Hendrick looked to get into the area and become a target at the front post, something that worked very effectively for the first goal.
Tactically it was an intriguing decision to play Hendrick down the right, but in the end it paid off for Steve Bruce, who saw Hendrick go on to score a brilliant goal from the edge of the box that took displayed impressive levels of composure and technique to pick his spot and fire home. The 28 year old will be delighted to have gotten off to such a good start, assisting the first and scoring the second in a 2–0 win whilst also contributing defensively.
Jonjo Shelvey didn’t have his most influential game from midfield, but still contributed to his side’s performance and played in an important part in claiming the three points. The central midfielder looked to pick out progressive passes to his teammates, and sprayed some nice balls wide to the likes of Manquillo and Lewis in order to switch the play and give the team width, whilst Newcastle had the added threat of playing balls down the sides of the centre backs for Wilson to run on to, and he made 3 key passes in the match. He was perhaps a bit more conservative with his passing in this game, not always attempting the killer ball but instead opting to retain possession at times and this allowed Newcastle to settle on the ball and look to shift the West Ham defence.
Shelvey was also tasked with playing higher up the pitch than he has done before, playing slightly more of an advanced playmaker role as opposed to sitting very deep and looking to play 70 yard passes to the wingers which he has done previously. This was highlighted on a couple of occasions when he hit the side netting afetr making a run to support Wilson and then later on when his shot was blocked after a Joelinton lay off. He worked hard in the midfield pairing, battling well and it was a good all round performance from the 28 year old.
Fresh off the back of signing a new 6 year deal with the club, Isaac Hayden put in a thoroughly impressive performance as Newcastle came out victorious. At the heart of the midfield, Hayden battled away and worked incredibly hard against a team with a numerical advantage in the middle of the park (although at times it didn’t seem like West Ham were playing 3 central midfielders, largely down to Hayden’s performance, but also the home side’s own failings).
The 25 year old defensive midfield player was booked early on, maybe a bit harshly given that it was his first tackle, and I personally worried that this may hinder his ability to impact the game due to the disciplinary tightrope that he would be forced to walk for the rest of the match. Yet, barring one other foul, Hayden was clean but firm in the middle of the park, showing great timing to nip in and win the ball in important 50/50’s whilst also screening the defence effectively. The Hayden-Shelvey axis has worked well previously due to the former’s ability to graft and do the dirty work for his team, therefore freeing up space for the latter to be a creative force in the middle of the park, and this was another classic example of that.
Hayden is occasionally criticised for his limitations with the ball at his feet, but he understands his role in this Newcastle side perfectly and there are arguably few better in the league when it comes to his specific role. On the ball in this game, he was not overly ambitious and rarely ran with it or tried to pick out spectacular passes. Instead, he went about his business in a professional and understated manner, ending the match with a 93% pass completion rate and recycling possession effectively in the middle of the park. An excellent performance from the English midfielder who rarely fails to impress.
Talismanic winger Allan Saint-Maximin was once again a joy to watch from a Newcastle fan’s perspective. The Frenchman is electric on the ball and you can’t help but feel he is going to create something every time he has it at his feet. The fact that the previous two statements ring true for this match, and yet it wasn't even one of his more influential games in a Newcastle shirt, tells you everything you need to know about his ability. He picked up the ball in dangerous areas in the half spaces and in midfield areas, not too deep which was often a problem at stages last campaign, and was able to run at the defence with freedom, causing all sorts of problems for the West Ham team.
The winger danced past challenges at times, but his ability to get into the final third was often hindered by being constantly fouled (8 times before being withdrawn) which, the opposition had evidently decided, was the best way to stop him! His ability to draw fouls meant that his team were able to progress up the pitch and it really should have forced more bookings than it did (with Fredericks only receiving one in the second half despite committing some reckless challenges on the Frenchman in the first period).
The 23 year old began to develop a bit of an understanding with new left back Lewis and this could be an exciting partnership going forward this season as they continue to play together (although it may be slightly suspect defensively at times!). Saint-Maximin completed 19 of his 20 attempted passes and although he wasn’t overly influential in the final third in this match, he continued to be an important outlet for his team by winning fouls or injecting pace into the attack.
As mentioned previously, defensively he has improved since arriving on Tyneside, but it’s never going to be his strong point and really it doesn’t ever need to be. His positioning and awareness was suspect at times, allowing Fredericks to get in behind him on a couple of occasions but he worked relatively hard to track back and always offered a threat on the counter.
Overall another exciting performance from the electric winger, who will be looking to build on last season, although he may be in for a bit of rough treatment if other teams adopt the same strategy as West Ham.
A debut goal, a win and a promising all round performance from Newcastle’s new marksman. Wilson was brought in to add goals to the team, and that’s just what he did, grabbing a typical poachers goal by popping up inside the 6 yard box and prodding home. The fact that in his post-match interview he stated that he wass unhappy with himself for not getting a hat-trick and “only scoring the one” should tell you everything about the type of player he is: one who is hungry for goals and not willing to sit on his laurels. It was a good performance for Wilson to build upon as he offered more than just an added goal threat, providing an outlet on the counter attack and bringing others into play by running the channels and waiting for support.
He displayed a willingess to work hard for the team, as expected given his pressing stats at Bournemouth, and when on the ball he used quick feet and decent vision to try and create opportunities for his teammates. Alongside Carroll, they formed a very traditional strike partnerhsip, with Wilson looking to feed off the target man and, as Wilson mentioned after the match, he looked make runs into the space vacated by the defenders who were conerned about challenging with Carroll for aerial balls. In front of goal, Wilson had a couple of sighters before eventually finding the back of the net. He got across his man at the front post to get on the end of Lewis crosses and direct a shot towards goal, but he maybe found himself too far in front of the near post. He made no mistake when opening his account, finding himself in the right place at the right time from 5 yards out, something that Newcastle were screaming out for last season.
There’s a new striker in the North-East and everyone associated with the club will be delighted with the start he’s gotten off to, now he must try to kick on and consistently pop up with goals throughout the season. Judging by his track record in the league and his interviews since joining the club, he certainly has the quality and mentality to do so.
Andy Carroll was handed a start after getting almost a full pre-season under his belt and scoring a couple in friendlies, and he did not disappoint. The striker was put in the team to do a very specific job and he did this very effectively, winning 11 aerial duels, more than twice the number of the next highest player.
He was aggressive when challenging in the air and this was effective, but perhaps he was fortunate to not find himself on a yellow card or worse. In the opening few seconds of the game, he was gulity of somewhat leading with an elbow and catching Soucek in the face, but was let off by VAR in a decision that maybe could have gone either way. It is a contact sport and winning headers can often involve collisions, but he may need to be careful in future games as he may not get away with such a light punishment of just a foul in future.
He developed a dangerous partnership with Wilson, making some good flick ons for his new teammate, whilst he also posed an obvious aerial threat in the penalty area and showed his frustration at missing a good opportunity from a corner. Interestingly, on several occasions, rather than looking to recieve the ball with his back to goal and lay it off to a teammate, he attempted to swivel and get a shot off, which had some success as he saw a couple get blocked and one fly just wide via a deflection.
Mobility is, and always will be, Carroll’s biggest issue, undertsandably he is never going to be a threat in behind and that isn’t his job, but he did struggle at times to get into a dangerous area quick enough when Wilson had run into the channel and held up the ball. He looked to tire towards the end of the match, but was kept on due to his defensive aerial presence that he can offer from opposition set pieces, especially against a side with players such as Soucek, Rice, Ogbonna, Diop and Antonio who can all pose a threat from such situations.
Carroll did his job well, but must be careful with the way he goes into challenges and at times he struggled to keep up with the pace of the counter attacks that his team were able to build.
Joelinton (On at 75 for Allan Saint-Maximin)
After a difficult first season on Tyneside, due to several reasons that were not all his fault, following his big money move from Hoffenheim, Joelinton started this game on the bench and was brought on for the last 15 down the left wing. He brought an added aerial presence when defending set pieces and won an important header, but he also offered an outlet going forward. The Brazilian seemed quite sharp and straight away looked to cut inside and get a shot off, something he didn’t do enough of last season. A relatively effective cameo appearance from the 24 year old who could have a big season ahead of him if given the chance.
Miguel Almirón (On at 85 for Callum Wilson)
Despite only coming on for the last five minutes, Almirón looked lively and had an almost instant impact, linking up neatly with Carroll before picking out Hendrick to fire home. He brought energy that Newcastle were beginning to lack in the closing stages and perhaps the only criticism that could be made of Bruce was delaying the substitutions too long (having said that, his team won 2–0 and the system and new signings worked well — so I’m not going to criticise what was a good day at the office for the manager). Prior to the final whistle the Paraguayan looked to break clear and go through, showing a great turn of pace to get into the position, but his shot was blocked and it went wide for a Newcastle corner. A short lived yet effective appearance from last season’s top scorer.
I’ll keep this section brief (unlike the rest of this piece!). To put it simply, this was bad from West Ham and David Moyes. Despite the off-field issues and Newcastle playing well, the home side could have, and should have, put up more of a fight and shown more quality. Their midfield lacked creatvity, highly rated Declan Rice had a poor game (in the midst of perhaps a big money move away from London Stadium), and their defence lacked organisation and cohesiveness. Having ended last season so brightly, Moyes would have been hoping that they could continue that form, but they were way off the pace today and they will need an instant reaction, with a tough run of fixtures coming up.
Going forward, Antonio battled hard and displayed a desire to fight for his team, whilst Bowen also looked like he could be a threat at stages. Fornals was incredibly ineffective before being replaced by the the more threatening Yarmolenko and they looked most dangerous from set pieces where they could send their big men up to attack the ball. A poor showing to compound the negative mood surrounding the club.
Most impressive opposition player: Michail Antonio