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Danny Higginbotham pinpoints Newcastle's defensive problems

“I think Newcastle started the season relatively well, especially defensively. But they have conceded more in the last five - double what they conceded in previous five. It is how they were working as a unit previously. What we were seeing earlier in the season was Shelvey, Merino, Hayden, whoever it may be – when Newcastle went on the attack you had a constant box between the two central midfielders and the two central defenders.

“If the two full-backs attacked and it broke down, you saw Shelvey, Merino or Hayden, more than happy to go into these areas to cover. What that means is that at any time you still have a back four, then the recovery runs from the two full-backs, if necessary, can go into here. So therefore, they aren’t open to the counter. What we have seen in recent weeks has been completely different. They have been a lot more open – maybe it is because they have been desperate for the win, so as the team are committing more players forward.

“I do expect them to go more defensive against Chelsea and get back to where they were. What has been going wrong is that the distance between the two defensive midfielders and the two centre-backs has been too great, so teams have been able to break quickly on them. On a number of occasions over the last few weeks, we have seen the centre-backs having to go out to the full-back positions and the gaps have been too big – full-backs have been struggling to get back to cover.

“They conceded two goals at West Brom from crosses being put into the box and they are actually getting outnumbered in the middle – because the centre-backs are having to go out into the wider areas; centre-backs becoming full-backs. So they have been quite open to be countered on and conceding from crosses. That is something I believe Rafa Benitez will look at and say right, let’s get back to being more defensively stronger. Have that box – the two central midfielders sitting with the two centre-backs.”

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