How can Unai Emery’s tactics save Newcastle from relegation?

Unai Emery has been named as a leading contender for the vacant Newcastle managerial post, with the Spaniard reportedly set to be appointed before this weekend.

Emery, who has Premier League experience with Arsenal, will surely need to hit the ground running. Newcastle currently sit 19th in the Premier League table. They have four points – six away from safety.

The Magpies are also winless this term after ten games and are out of the Carabao Cup as well.

New ownership has led to optimism around St James’ Park for a bright future in the top flight – but the club’s first priority is to stay there this season.

How could Emery and his tactics help Newcastle to do exactly that if he is appointed? Let’s take a look.

The Emery formation

One starting point for Emery at Newcastle would be to establish a clear formation that can nurture a specific style of play.

The Magpies have predominantly used a three-at-the-back formation for most of the last few years under Steve Bruce. The former boss said in 2019 that he did not have the players to adapt to his attacking style.

But that could be set to change if Emery gets the job.

Throughout most of his time at Arsenal, Emery opted for a more traditional 4-2-3-1. He also used a 4-4-2, as well as a back three in some European games.

Emery’s arrival would surely come as a bonus to Joe Willock, who could become the team’s focal point.

Unai Emery Willock
Image Credit: Getty

Willock regularly operated in both the central and attacking midfield roles during his time playing under the Spaniard at Arsenal.

The statistics

Emery’s Villarreal side has ranked highly for passes completed in LaLiga this season. Their 4,756 short passes completed is bettered by only Barcelona and Real Madrid (via the official LaLiga website).

In addition, only Athletic Bilbao have completed fewer than their 272 long passes.

A criticism levelled at him during his final days of Arsenal was the side’s lack of invention in possession – particularly their range of passing. But, if anything, Emery’s style would be a complete contrast to what Newcastle currently employ, and would open them up to potentially playing in a more attacking manner.

We saw attempts by Arsenal to play out from the back under Emery’s reign. He would no doubt try to do the same at Newcastle, therefore improving their possession statistics.

The Magpies rank lowest when it comes to passes completed (3,180) in the Premier League this season. In addition, they have recorded an average possession figure of 37 per cent per game (via Transfrmarket). That is also the lowest in the division.

Image Credit: Premier League official statistics

What is Emery’s style and how could it help Newcastle?

In Emery’s style, full backs would regularly push on to support the attack. That in turn allowed wingers to cut inside and play in more central areas.

At Arsenal, we would also regularly see the two central midfielders drop deeper in possession.

At Villarreal – as per The Tactics Show – Emery has used a similar style. When the full backs press on in a 4-4-2, one midfielder drops back to form a three-man defence. In Fabian Schar, for instance, the Magpies have a midfielder whose ball playing ability is such that he could operate in a defensive midfield role and have the positional knowledge to drop into a back three when required.

YouTube video

Hard-working, box-to-box midfielders are a fixture in most Emery sides, meaning that the likes of Sean Longstaff and Isaac Hayden could be given their chance to shine in the Spaniard’s early games.

The use of two strikers almost seems like a dying art these days. If Emery decides to utilise them in the Premier League, though, Newcastle do have the personnel.

The Spaniard could go for a classic hold up play and pace combination, playing Joelinton alongside Callum Wilson and Allan Saint-Maximin. But Saint-Maximin’s talents could be utilised on the wing as well. He could drop inside and cause plenty of problems.

Emery certainly has a lot to get his teeth stuck into if he is given the job. But with his past record, playing style and ability to dip into the transfer market in January, Newcastle fans will finally have some hope that they can remain in the top flight.

Featured Image Credit: Getty