How Eddie Howe’s Newcastle neutralised Kylian Mbappe

When facing Paris Saint-Germain, there are two defensive questions to answer: how to stop their attacking collective and how to stop Kylian Mbappe.

It’s not a simple equation, because even if you disrupt PSG’s rhythm and restrict their chances, one moment of brilliance from Mbappe can turn things around. “I struggle to think of any better players in the world than him at the moment,” Newcastle United’s head coach, Eddie Howe, told TNT Sports before his side met the French champions on Wednesday evening.

“He has that mix of technical ability, superb athleticism and speed, with goalscoring ability as well. We have to stop him, but we have to also stop the supply to him. We can’t purely focus on one player, even if we know how good he is.”

However hard this equation was to solve, Newcastle managed it — but how?

The start wasn’t promising. Initially, it looked like PSG’s four attackers were going to disturb Newcastle’s defence, with Randal Kolo Muani and Mbappe rotating positions down the left.

Four minutes in, PSG manage to play through Newcastle’s high press as Mbappe drags Jamaal Lascelles out wide…

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… creating space for Kolo Muani to attack. Lascelles is forced to focus on Warren Zaire-Emery’s pass to Mbappe, allowing Kolo Muani to attack the space…

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… which makes Fabian Schar and Dan Burn (white) move across and shift markers. The consequence is that Ousmane Dembele becomes completely free on the right side…

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… and Mbappe finds his France team-mate…

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… whose shot barely misses the target.

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Perhaps this is what Luis Enrique had in mind when he started with four attackers in a 4-2-4 formation.

However, the numerical disadvantage they had in midfield against Newcastle’s trio of Sean Longstaff, Bruno Guimaraes and Sandro Tonali made the build-up phase much harder for PSG, especially with Newcastle’s back line comfortably defending man-to-man.

When Newcastle dropped deeper into a mid-block, that approach also helped stop Mbappe. Man-marking the France forward when he wanted to drop from a central position meant that PSG couldn’t easily play through Newcastle’s defensive block.

Whenever Mbappe tried to drop to offer a passing option, Lascelles followed him up the pitch…

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… limiting Mbappe’s time on the ball until Newcastle’s midfield trio recovered.

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In this example, Lucas Hernandez plays the ball down the line to Bradley Barcola, who came on for Kolo Muani in the second half…

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… but because Lascelles has pushed up, Mbappe is no longer a passing option for Barcola. Under pressure from Kieran Trippier, Barcola loses the ball with his first touch, and Newcastle regain possession.

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After Dembele’s shot on four minutes, Lascelles and Trippier became much more alert when it came to switching markers. Here, Mbappe tries to drift towards the left wing to offer himself as a passing option but Lascelles is already signalling for someone to mark the PSG forward.

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Then, as Hernandez plays the ball into Mbappe…

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… Trippier switches his focus and leaves Kolo Muani for Lascelles to pick up. The England right-back’s pressure means that Mbappe can’t turn, and is forced to pass back to his defence.

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PSG’s 4-2-4 shape also played into Newcastle’s hands when Howe’s side were defending in their own half…

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… because the success of the Newcastle defenders in their one-on-one matchups meant that one of the Newcastle midfielders could drop to support without worrying about PSG’s double pivot in midfield. Here, Longstaff moves across to support Newcastle’s right side against Mbappe…

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… and when the latter tries to combine with Kolo Muani…

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… Guimaraes drops to win the ball, because there is no threat from a third PSG midfielder or a player moving in between the lines.

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In another example, Trippier and Lascelles are marking Mbappe and Kolo Muani, while Newcastle’s three-versus-two in midfield means that Longstaff (Newcastle No 36) can move across to support the right side of the defence.

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As Mbappe and Kolo Muani try to combine down the left wing, Longstaff drops…

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… and prevents Kolo Muani from completing the one-two pass with Mbappe.

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In the second half, Mbappe’s initial position was more central, next to Goncalo Ramos, and you could see how keen Newcastle’s right winger — whether it was Miguel Almiron or Jacob Murphy — was to block the passing lane into Mbappe.

In this example, Murphy is positioned between Vitinha and Hernandez as Milan Skriniar plays the pass into Vitinha.

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Once Vitinha receives the ball, Murphy quickly drops to block the passing lane into Mbappe, even if it means Hernandez will be free.

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After that, Lascelles’ tight marking and the additional player Newcastle have in midfield, in Guimaraes, smother Mbappe when he receives Vitinha’s pass.

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Mbappe manages to win a free kick in the centre circle, but Newcastle’s main task of limiting his threat has been accomplished.

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All these features of Newcastle’s defensive approach could be summarised in one sequence in the 70th minute of the game. Here, Almiron looks over his left shoulder to scan the surroundings and know the positions of the players behind him. With Longstaff in a higher central position…

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… Almiron moves into a narrower position to block the passing lane into Mbappe, instead of moving wide to press Hernandez.

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The Paraguayan waits until the ball is played into PSG’s left-back, and then moves out to press him while blocking the passing angle into Mbappe. Hernandez then plays the ball down the line into Barcola…

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… as Longstaff tracks back and Lascelles moves up to mark Mbappe. Again, because Guimaraes and Elliot Anderson can match PSG’s double pivot (black), Longstaff can drop and support his right side without worrying about any midfield run behind him. This allows the Newcastle midfielder to be more aggressive when tracking back, and win the ball in this example.

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As Howe explained before the game, it’s not only about stopping Mbappe — it is about stopping him while maintaining your overall defensive organisation and limiting PSG’s attack as a whole.

Halting the collective while neutralising the threat of the individuals is football’s ultimate defensive task — in their 4-1 win against PSG, Newcastle achieved it.



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