Newcastle United's winless streak in the Premier League was extended to four on Saturday, following yet another abysmal performance against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. The loss against the Eagles means that Steve Bruce's side have managed to win only once in their last nine league outings while failing to find the back of the net in their last three Premier League games.
While the 5-4-1 setup has provided some defensive stability at the back, Newcastle have found it really tough to score from open plays. Out of the 24 goals they have scored in the league, only 11 have from open plays which is the joint-lowest in the division. With Bruce stating that a change of system is on the cards, let us take a quick look at how Newcastle United could line up with a four-man backline.
Improving goalscoring chances while being wary of possession turnover
In recent games, Newcastle United have been completely outplayed in the middle of the pitch owing to the lack of bodies in the centre. The midfield pairing of Nabil Bentaleb and Sean Longstaff have struggled to initiate any kind of attacks going forward while failing to fulfill the defensive duties as well. Isaac Hayden's crunching challenges in the crucial areas of the park was a major missing in the last two games as Bruce opted to drop him to the bench despite his good run of form.
Newcastle could comfortably switch from a five-man defensive line to a four-at-the-back system if they replace one of the centre-backs with Hayden, who could operate as a holding midfielder. Another differential option for Steve Bruce at this position is Fabian Schar, who has largely spent his career playing as a centre-back. The Swiss International is blessed with the ability to ping long balls and strike from distance apart from his natural defensive traits.
Jonjo Shelvey's ability to release players down the wings with his long diagonals could see him start when fit, while Matty Longstaff could be given a slightly advanced role among the three midfielders.
The full-back choices
The only new signing who can start in this setup is Danny Rose, whose experience and expertise at the back could prove to be crucial. Miguel Almiron's ability to track back to defend could help Rose massively in coping up with the opposition attackers during counter attacks. Injuries to Paul Dummett and Ciaran Clark mean that Matt Ritchie is the only player who could provide a competition to Rose for the left-back position.
The other side of the backline is a major concern for Bruce since the majority of the players have failed to deliver while playing at right-back. Valentino Lazaro and DeAndre Yedlin have the ability to trouble opposition full-backs while going forward but their defensive contributions have been highly questionable. Javier Manquillo, who was quite impressive before sustaining an injury, is expected to be slotted straight back to the starting line-up once he recovers fully.
Tweaking the front-three
The front-three of Allan Saint-Maximin, Almiron and Joelinton have managed to find the back of the net only four times in the league so far, which is largely due to the role they are given in the current setup. While the wingers have put in enormous effort and eagerness to attack, Joelinton has failed to justify his place in the lineup.
Having signed for a reported club record fee of £40 milliion in the summer, the Brazilian has managed to score only once in the league so far. While he can question the lack of service he gets from his team-mates, his inability to position himself within the box has been frustrating to watch for the Toon Army. Joelinton has failed to replicate last season's performances of Salomon Rondon, who is being hugely missed at St James' Park.
A possible solution to end the goal drought could be the inclusion of Dwight Gayle upfront while swapping Almiron and Saint-Maximin's position down the wings. Gayle could provide the mobility that the team currently lacks and he also has the ability to get into goalscoring positions within the box.
Almiron, who enjoyed playing as a No.10 at Atlanta, has often been played out of position at Newcastle. While this setup can't provide him his preferred role, he could be deployed at the left side, where he was used last season by Rafael Benitez. Saint-Maximin's fancy footwork and ability to cross with both feet could prove to be beneficial for Bruce as the French winger is comfortable playing anywhere up top.