There are concerns about the injuries suffered by Jamaal Lascelles and Christian Atsu against Bournemouth at the weekend, while Mikel Merino’s return date is unknown. These are all key players in the current Newcastle United team and it would be a blow if any one of them isn’t fit to start against Manchester United, let alone a combination of the three.
However, we are set to be boosted by a return of a player we haven’t seen since the opening day of the season. According to the Shields Gazette, Paul Dummett is closing in on a return from a hamstring injury and I, for one, can’t wait to see him back on the St James’ Park pitch.
The academy graduate is comparable to marmite when it comes to how United fans view him. Some, myself included, see the value he offers the team and the progression he has made under Rafa Benitez. Meanwhile, he is a common target for others when it comes to venting frustration after a bad defeat. Dummett himself would admit he isn’t the most exciting full-backs. He won’t burst forward and contribute a lot in the attacking third, but he offers consistency at the back and most importantly balance, as he is a naturally left-footed player.
What is the problem caused by having a right-footed left-back?
On Saturday, there were a few issues that were obvious with the performance. The lack of a clinical striker and a lack of dynamism without Merino in the middle of the park were the two most talked about in pubs and on social media after the match. One that was perhaps less clear was the negative effect of playing a right-footed player at left-back. This isn’t a criticism of Javier Manquillo, but rather an observation on the tactical implications of playing the Spaniard out of his natural position.
Every time, Manquillo gets the ball, his first instinct is to cut inside onto his right-foot and that not only makes him predictable to defend against, but it also halts the progression of the forward move. Instead of continuing to move forward down the wing, the 23-year-old often chooses to cut back and lay the ball to Jonjo Shelvey or Florian Lejeune.
According to Squawka, on the seven occasions he had possession in an advanced position down the left-wing, he only played a forward pass twice. The other five passes were moved the ball into a central area. His predictability coupled with playing on his unnatural side led to the full-back completing only 68% of his passes. Only Jonjo Shelvey (67%) had a lower success rate out of the players that started and as the midfielder is regularly looking to play risky passes, that can be forgiven more than it can be for the Manquillo.
Although it may not seem like a bad move to pass the ball inside, our team this season is set-up to attack down the flanks. We don’t possess the quality, especially in the number ten position, to play through the centre and break teams down that way. If our left-back regularly chooses to pass inside rather than progress past the Christian Atsu, or play a through ball to release the winger, it slows down our attacks and thus it wastes the movement of the central players making runs to anticipate a cross. Against Bournemouth, there were a few occasions of Joselu gaining a yard on his marker that were missed as the delivery never came.
There is also a defensive problem caused by fielding a player on the wrong flank and these have been noticeable when Manquillo has faced a winger willing to run at him. Two of the chances Bournemouth created on Saturday came after the Cherries got in behind Manquillo and it is much simpler to beat him on the dribble than it is DeAndre Yedlin. Opposition players know that they have a good chance of bypassing him on the outside as he isn’t as comfortable on his left-foot. This gives the encouragement to the opposition right-back to get forward and overlap, which Simon Francis did on several occasions.
This is a definite weakness we have and it won’t be missed by Jose Mourinho ahead of out match against Manchester United. Antonio Valencia is one of the best attacking full-backs in the Premier League and he will be a big cause of concern on the 18th November.
Is Paul Dummett the answer?
I’m not deluded to think Paul Dummett is the second coming of Paulo Maldini or Roberto Carlos and that his return will mark the start of a winning run, but it is difficult to argue that we won’t benefit from the Welsh international returning from injury. Rafa Benitez loves to have a balanced team and right now, we aren’t balanced. The current system works better with full-backs playing on their natural side.
Defensively, it prevents any clear weakness being presented to the opposition. Dummett is an effective defender, who often surprises when he is up against a quick-footed winger. Last season, Anthony Knockaert was voted the best player in the Championship, but he failed to make a real impact in the two matches against us and our left-back was rightly praised for that. Aerially, he is dominant and will strengthen us at set-piece situations at both ends.
The attacking side is where Dummett needs to improve and there have been signs of progression during the last 12 months. He is now more willing to overlap his winger and put balls into the box. The left-back’s crossing isn’t consistent, but he has the ability to cause problems and that is a line of creativity that is currently lacking from our team with Manquillo at left-back.
There are doubts regarding his ability to play in the Premier League, but a lot can be learned from the quality of clubs interested in a player. For example, Achraf Lazaar left to join the team bottom of Serie A. Vurnon Anita had to remain in the Championship, despite being a free agent. Meanwhile, during the summer, Dummett was linked with Stoke City, while he has been linked to other Premier League clubs in the past.
If our long-term aim is to progress and challenge for European football (takeover permitting) then Dummett is unlikely to be our starting left-back for the next five or six years. However, at the time of writing, we are attempting to establish ourselves in the Premier League as a newly-promoted club and the 26-year-old is perfectly serviceable for such an aim.
The contributions of Dummett are sometimes overlooked and the impact of his injury hasn’t really been widely discussed by the media or supporters as a reason for some of our bad results. Perhaps it hasn’t been a major one, but it is obvious that we’ve missed him. His return will be a huge boost.