Well, there’s one obvious thing we learned last night. Time to renew those passports and refamiliarise yourself with Milanese geography. But what about the other, less immediately apparent lessons from a curious old 90 minutes against Leicester? Stephen Ord has five things for you.
1. Wor Flags keep raising the bar
I wasn’t able to be in the East Stand for the game, but my son’s remark from having watched on the tele was that you’d have loved being under that surfer, Dad. He was right. It looked great but the NUFC swirling across the Leazes was also fantastic. I can’t understand why it didn’t happen, before but the amount of time and effort put into it, unrewarded financially, shows the love that people have again for their football club.
It is a measure of the donations, the effort from those who want to do it and the progress in the relationship with the club that not only are these people driven to make them better, but God only knows how good it will be under the lights on a big European night. (For purposes of copyright this can’t be used at Anfield for the next twelve months.)
2. We never do it the easy way!
Conceding against Southampton despite bossing the game, then going on to win. Getting ahead at Leeds to pile the pressure on those around, then conceding a late equaliser with a huge deflection. Nearly throwing it away when in complete control last night. If you think we have completely changed everything about the club, then right now that is just not the case.
A first clean sheet was achieved since Man U on April 2nd (before that in the league it was Palace away in mid-January) shows that we have maintained the ability to attack weaker teams and still largely keep them at bay. However, had Castagne’s shot flown past the Holy Goalie, then that would have looked a lot less secure. I imagine that, come the summer, there may have been reinforcements and possibly a tactical tweak.
3. Next man up mentality carries through this squad
Joelinton injured in the warmup? No problem here’s Elliot Anderson to play on that left side of midfield. Joe Willock is out? Here is Sean Longstaff to plug that hole after missing the last five games. The attitude from front to back of this squad has been that each must take their chance. If you’d told me Jacob Murphy would score twice against Spurs in ten minutes I would have thought you were mad, yet there he was firing it past Lloris and producing another facial expression. His face was close to tears as he spoke last night about the joy of his boyhood club being so good, and him being a part of it.
It was also nice to see the real camaraderie between the players. Pope and Trippier taking the mick out of Longstaff, Joelinton interrupting Burn, deep conversation and long hugs between Alexander Isak and Matt Ritchie. This group have a special level of togetherness that will be threatened by departures and new arrivals. This must be monitored and maintained carefully, especially as the old guard (Ritchie, Lascelles etc) likely depart.
4. Dean Smith pays us a compliment à la Rafa
When Newcastle lost to Manchester City 1-0 in 2017, the manager admitted it was a damage limitation exercise that was done to ensure that goal difference stayed in our favour. Pep Guardiola said it was “difficult to play” against ultra defensive teams. His actual quote was: “We did absolutely everything but it is difficult to play when the other team doesn’t want to play.” So fair enough, he also said it was his job to find a way to beat sides that play like that.
Fast forward to 2023 and sides are coming to SJP to play like that against us, hoping not to get beaten too heavily to put their own chances of survival at risk. Leicester didn’t try and play but they got themselves what could prove to be a crucial point, whilst also nearly stealing it at the end. What a compliment to our players and squad, but also what a conundrum for Eddie Howe to solve. More teams will do this, and it might be that not getting a goal next time does impact us more measurably.
5. Kieran Trippier … from the corner flag
It might just be me, but again it felt like Trippier was shooting from a corner. He tried it a couple of times earlier in the season, but in the last two games has really started aiming for it. Wout Faes really is Sideshow Bob: comedy moments seem to happen to him and he can’t muster any defence from having watched our opener against Brighton and then almost aiming to do the same.
We have not scored anywhere near the amount of goals we should have from chances created by set pieces but this could be a tactic that carries over. As our three biggest targets for set plays have totalled three goals between them this season (Burn, Schär and the goal shy Sven), it could be that we just shoot from all set pieces now…
Stephen Ord @smord84